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.