Another review is online at The Corner Table. Check out my review of Over the Rhine’s new album Snow Angels!
My latest article, a review of Sufjan Stevens’ Songs For Christmas boxed set is now online at The Corner Table. Go! Read! Comment! Good Times!
For the last couple of years, we’ve made it an annual tradition to travel to Nashville to see Andrew Peterson’s Christmas show. We would travel to the city for a couple of days and hang out in places like Fido and Bookman, gawk at all of the decorations at the Opryland Hotel, and then wrap the trip up with the concert. This year we didn’t go and I have to confess that it’s left a void in our Christmas. It’s funny how after only two annual meetings, people can leave such memorable marks. We definitely have experienced some loneliness apart from all those people this Christmas.
Fortunately, while we couldn’t go to Nashville to see Andrew Peterson’s concert, he brought the concert to us! Peterson and friends (friends in this case, being a smaller cast than a traditional Nashville show, but still a formidable cast of characters including Gabe Scott, Ben Shive, Cason Cooley, Josh Coffey, Eric Peters, Garrett Buell, Andy Gullahorn, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Jill Phillips) took the show on tour and made a stop at a church in Fayetteville, GA. The concert was the centerpiece of a week at the church redecorated and put on display as a Charles Dickens village which was in a word, charming. Church members dressed up as various characters from store owners to children with cute fake British accents offering treats, from carolers to bobbies swinging nightsticks. Had it not been so cold outside and we didn’t want to get a good seat for the concert, Adriene and I might have strolled around the village a little more, but alas, the warmth inside called.
As has been the pattern of past years, the concert opened “in the round”, which in the words of Peterson is a Nashville way of saying, “if you thought that last song was terrible, someone different will play a different song next.” Peterson started the show with one of his songs and then Webb, McCracken, Phillips, Gullahorn, and Peters each took a turn performing twice. Derek Webb debuted a new song that reminded me slightly of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin'” and played his challenging song, “Rich Young Ruler.” Sandra McCracken played two songs from her new album Gravity|Love joined by husband Webb on guitar. Jill Phillips treated the crowd to probably the two best songs from her album, Nobody’s Got It All Together, the title track and a vocally lush version of “The Door” aided by her husband Andy Gullahorn and Sandra McCracken. Gullahorn provided two cleverly written songs evoking chuckles from the crowd. The pleasant surprise of the evening for me was Eric Peters, delivering two songs with strong vocals and guitar work (Adriene said he reminded her of Glen Phillips.)
After a short intermission and a hymn by Peterson to get everyone back into the room, the band launched into Peterson’s Christmas album Behold The Lamb of God playing the entire album from beginning to end in order, much like a Christmas musical. I never cease to be amazed how deftly the performers move from instrument to instrument and on and off the stage in careful order, never interrupting the tempo of the show. Peterson is the keystone to the performance, leading the concert with vocals and guitar, but humbly gives the artists he shares the stage with plenty of room to display their considerable talents. The absence of Andrew Osenga on electric guitar was felt, as his wife had given birth to their second child only days ago, but Andy Gullahorn filled in ably on selected pieces. The centerpiece of the concert is Jill Phillips’ vocal performance of “Labor Of Love” which would fail to move only the most ardent of Christmas-haters. From there, the whole show comes together into a conclusion featuring all of the singers on stage singing the reprise and concluding with the crowd singing “O Come Let Us Adore Him” as the artists quietly leave.
What I love most about the album and concert is that Peterson calls it “the true tall tale of Christmas” and reflects it accurately, beginning not with Christmas Eve, but going back further in time. By starting with Abraham and working forward through the history of the Jewish nation, Peterson gives the listener a taste of the anticipation that was palpable at that time in history. Next, he brackets the centerpiece of the album (“Labor of Love”) with Christmas hymns (“O Come, O Come Emanuel” and “The Holly and The Ivy”) to give notice to the importance of the birth of Christ and then takes it a step further, giving us the real, dirty and yet beautiful image of the birth in the manger. The end is a wonderful reprisal and conclusion bringing everything together.
In some ways, these Christmas shows were the genesis for The Square Peg Alliance and has led to some wonderful things, including some great “in the round” shows in Nashville this past year as the friendships between all these artists have grown deeper. Hopefully, the whole concept behind The Square Peg Alliance will continue to grow and all these artists will have more opportunities to collaborate together on projects much like “Behold The Lamb of God.” As Christmas starts to really go into another gear this week and next, I’m thankful for a reminder of why we celebrate this time of year, and hopefully recharged to remember what we’re doing amidst all the political correctness and commercials for diamonds and luxury SUV’s.