On Andy & Jill

By

The musical bumper sticker on my car during the ol’ college years would have definitely read “I’d Rather Be Listening To Acoustic Music.” Therein was my initial foray into the early careers of Square Peg artists like our own Proprietor. I found great enjoyment in the Texan college worship scene (early Crowder, Robbie Seay, Justin Barnard, anyone?). And the great unknown (acoustic) rock over which I stumbled came in the form of Jill Phillips.

The destination? A Caedmon’s Call show just outside of Columbus, Ohio with some friends. Opening was a young man who called himself Bebo. I didn’t even know there was another opening act. But out steps this young woman to warm up the crowd. The place was serving refreshments and, since she wasn’t Bebo, I went to get more punch.

If you’ve ever heard the music of Jill Phillips, you know what I’m referring to when I say that back at the refreshments table, I froze . The initial, inviting strums and rhythm of “Steel Bars” began to play and I thought, “Wow, this is really pretty good.” But then she started singing. I’m glad I never went back to my group of friends because it would have been embarrassing to cry in front of them.

“So this is how it feels at the rock bottom of despair
When the house that I built comes crashing down
And this is how it feels when I know the man that I say I am
Is not the man that I am when no one is around

This is how it feels to come alive again
And start fighting back to gain control
And this is how it feels to let freedom in
And break these chains that enslave my soul”

The song explores the slow, freeing realization of grace and forgiveness in such beautiful ways and I was moved while I myself was just trying to move away to get something to drink.

I’ve been hooked ever since. I bought a copy of the album right there and my journey has continued through all the rest. On the brilliant God and Money, again I found myself transfixed by the very first song, “Last Time,” written by Jill and co-writer/collaborator/husband Andy Gullahorn.  It’s another song of sin management and our attempts to get things right with God and really echoed where I was at in my own life. Other beautiful songs like the title track, “You Don’t Belong Here” and “Falling into God” only further served to cement my love for their music.

Overall, Andy and Jill’s music have been a vital part of my spiritual soundtrack. It was in a period of absolute depression and devastation that I found Writing on the Wall, which included my favorite Jill Phillips track: “Wrecking Ball.”

“Piece together these little mysteries
It isn’t hard to see the writing on the wall
Triumph and tragedy, only God can be
Both the builder and the wrecking ball”

It was the story of the Israelites who found that God safely leads through both the wilderness and the Promised Land and sometimes trust in Him is all you have. It was a beautiful reminder during a period when I was completely alone, isolated and angry at the cosmic being who put me there.

It’s been a beautiful ride thus far with these two in my (now) iTunes. On her latest, Nobody’s Got It All Together, the sonic trend continues toward vulnerable, authentic artistry of one sinner/saint singing amidst the rest of us. It’s another fantastic effort in a catalog I was lucky enough to find. It’s amazing to me how God uses simple acoustic shows to begin to weave a thread into your life so that he can deliver the perfect song at the right time years and years later.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


9 Comments

  1. lyndsay

    bravo! amen! with a birthday coming up, i’m definitely going to complete my jill/andy collection. thanks so much for posting your thoughts.

    “It’s amazing to me how God uses simple acoustic shows to begin to weave a thread into your life so that he can deliver the perfect song at the right time years and years later.”
    i echo this wholeheartedly. God used andrew peterson’s “carried along” to gently bring me back to His side in college. i wasn’t straying too terribly, but my heart was pouting, if you will. every concert i go to of his (of every square peg, actually) turns out to be more of a worship service and a reminder of how tenderly and fiercely my papa God actually loves me than just an entertaining concert. i continue to be beyond thankful that these people are willing to use their creativity as their living!!

  2. Ryan

    Matt,
    Such good memories from the Jill/Bebo/CC tour. I think I was in the second row.
    Thanks for name dropping the less known, but no less talented Barnard.
    -ry

  3. Ron Davis

    Oh, and let’s not forget that in addition to the great music, Jill is one of the kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever met. And that husband of hers isn’t too bad of a guy either. 🙂

    I was at New City Cafe in Knoxville for one of the last shows there before it closed. I don’t remember the details of the show, but Jill and Andy were there with our Proprietor. They played 2 shows that night, and I was slipping inside the room as they finished up the early show. Jill’s final song was “I Am.” I’ve heard her sing that one many times before, both live and on the CD, but that time she sang it, the whole room came to a complete silence. It was like hearing it for the first time all over again. And though I really liked that song before, now it’s one of my favorites. It’s rare that I’m so physically moved by a song I’ve heard a thousand times before.

  4. Kendall

    Thank you so much for this. Jill’s music in particular has meant so much to me over the past year or so since I first discovered Nobody’s Got It All Together. When I first got that album, I must’ve listened to the title track 10 times a day (I really mean that.) It was just what I needed to hear at that time in my life. That entire album can still move me to tears, and I’ve listened to it many times.

    I’ve since been trying to complete my Jill Phillips collection, and my husband and I both continued to be moved by her music.

  5. Kevin

    “It’s amazing to me how God uses simple acoustic shows to begin to weave a thread into your life so that he can deliver the perfect song at the right time years and years later.”

    I don’t think you could have said it any better. Several years ago I heard “love and thunder” for the first time. Even after all these years of listening to that album (and other albums) a certain song or phrase will sink in for the first time and encourage my faith in God and love for life. For example, the song “tools” was the only track on the album that my friend who owned “love and thunder” skipped. It was only till a couple years later that I realized that AP was singing about the life tools his grandpa gave him. My grandpa (I call him Bapa) lives next door and has given me those same types of tools. The song really put words and a tune to my own experience and helped me to even better appreciate the living example that Bapa has given me. Recently I found some of Jill’s songs and have found them comforting and encouraging in lonely and discouraging times. “I Am” and “Nobody’s Got it All Together” are my favorites. Whether you want to call it cross promotion or God’s leading it doesn’t matter ’cause it’s opened me up to more of His musical treasure. Good music and God’s truth are truly a gift and the great thing is that the gift just keeps getting bigger along the journey.

  6. Chris from PA

    It was that first album/cd that got me hooked though it would be years before actually seeing Jill sing a song in concert and not one of her own but rather singing the lyrics of another as she moaned the ache of the mother giving birth to our Savior while I listened with a thousand others on a wooden bench beneath the glow of an auditorium’s stage that has stood for a hundred years in a little Tennesee town called Nashville. It also took me a few years before I could buy another one of her cd’s as that first one had said so much I felt like I would be betraying an old friend by purchasing the possibility of its replacement…and yet, I find myself going back to that original scratched up disc time and time again. And it’s my cd…one of the few I won’t lend out… Buy your own… It’s worth the trip back in time…

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