Frederick Buechner said, 'The story of one of us is the story of us all.'
Perhaps this explains why we are drawn to great storytellers, why we yearn for connection with those whose own stories seep with imagination.
Singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson fits inside both of those categories. And the most recent chapter for this prolific storyteller includes a stunning new album, Resurrection Letters, Volume II.
Since completing his last album, The Far Country, independently, Peterson recently signed on with Nashville-based Centricity Music for the Resurrection Letters, Volume II release. His career accomplishments, including the Top 10 radio hit "Nothing to Say" and a Dove Award nomination for his song "Family Man,â€ make Peterson a reputable addition to Centricityâ€™s roster. The respect, according to Peterson, is mutual.
â€œThe thing that first drew me to Centricity was that they like and believe in my music. That seems kind of silly, like it should go without saying that a label would actually care deeply about your songs, but you'd be surprised how often they just don't. This new situation feels like I'm part of a team,â€ explains Peterson. â€œI wanted to do everything I could to get these new songs into the world to do their work.â€
The idea for Resurrection Letters, Volume II came to Peterson unexpectedly last Holy Week while writing a series of meditations for his website, andrew-peterson.com. One of his online readers called those writings â€œresurrection lettersâ€, and a light went on. â€œI knew I wanted that to be the title of the album, but I didn't know why,â€ says Peterson. â€œThen I saw that the songs I was writing were mostly connected by that theme.â€
The songs flowed in the days and weeks to follow, lyrics mostly about death and rebirth, about the way that picture pervades all of creation. It wasnâ€™t long before Peterson had returned to local Nashville recording spots (with befitting literary names like Mole End Studio and Night Owlâ€™s Nest) to begin tracking. As with his preceding two albums, Andy Gullahorn and Ben Shive, the co-producers and fellow sojourners he calls the Captains Courageous, accompanied Peterson.
â€œI've been making music with Ben and Andy for years now, and we've found a good rhythm,â€ Peterson says. â€œThey're both exceptional musicians and songwriters, men from whom I have learned a lot, both about music and about God. They were around when all these songs were being written, and even co-wrote several of them with me, so there was never really much choice in my mind about who would produce the album.â€
Throughout his dozen-year career, Peterson has managed to attract a remarkable cast of musicians to his projects. Alison Krauss and Ron Block of Union Station are previous contributors, and for Resurrection Letters, Volume II he called upon folk artist Pierce Pettis for vocal backing and the legendary Stuart Duncan to bow his fiddle on a song. The recording also features Jill Phillips, Andrew Osenga (Caedmonâ€™s Call), Gary Burnette, Don Chaffer (Waterdeep), multi-instrumentalist Gabe Scott, percussionist Ken Lewis, and of course Petersonâ€™s prodigious collaborator, Shive, who produced, played piano, and conceived the albumâ€™s lush string arrangements.
â€œOne of the most exciting things that we were able to do was the choir,â€ Peterson says. â€œBen [Shive] and I had the idea to record a choir for the end of the song â€˜The Good Confession,â€™ so we put the word out that we were looking for people to sing on the record. People drove and flew from all over the country, many of them people I recognized from our shows. We gathered about forty folks who had never heard this song, and recorded them singing, â€˜I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God.â€™ It was beautiful. Hearing that choir enter at the end of the song is my favorite moment on the record.â€
During the recording though, Peterson realized that he had more to say. He recalls, â€œFolks have asked me over the years if I'd consider putting together an Easter album, something similar to Behold the Lamb of Godâ€ (his popular Christmas project and accompanying annual tour). â€œI've resisted that because I feel like Behold the Lamb is in some ways as much an Easter celebration as a Christmas one. I felt good about this album, the sound of it, and the songs I had written. But one day I woke up feeling like this was the second half of the story. These songs are about our lives in the wake of Christ's resurrection. Not until I was mostly finished with this record did I realize that I still want to write an album about the actual death and resurrection of Jesus.â€
For this reason (and because he liked the quirkiness of the idea), Peterson decided to label the project as Volume II. Volume I will be the follow-up, though it has yet to be written.
Petersonâ€™s songs have long centered on family and faith, and Resurrection Letters, Volume II offers no exception. â€œAll Things Newâ€, the first single, is at the heart of the album. According to the artist, the song offers an invitation to believe in the stories of Christ, in His promise to purify us from the inside out.
â€œWhen at Easter we sing, â€˜Christ the Lord is Risen Today,â€™ we're proclaiming that He is the resurrection and the life. It isn't just something that happened, or just something that's going to happen--it's happening now. The sun is always rising somewhere,â€ Peterson says. â€œI know that if I'm able to keep my eyes open, to really pay attention to the days as I move through them, there's a wealth of inspiration.â€
That inspiration also found its way into another song, "Windows in the World,â€ which carries the theme deeper. â€œGod litters our paths with little moments of truth, signs along the way that speak of His purposes,â€ he continues. â€œSometimes those signposts, or bread crumbs, are general, like the change of seasons, the way a seed falls to the earth, dies, and rises again. Other times those signs are very specific, like the sacraments of Communion and marriage. These are pictures that God uses to remind us that we are called to a deep and lasting relationship with Him.â€
When not pouring imagery into his songs, Peterson focuses on another kind of writing. Last March, Waterbrook Press published the authorâ€™s first fantasy novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, to critical acclaim. Garrison Keillorâ€™s News from Lake Wobegon and The Chronicles of Narnia, along with bedtime tales Peterson spun for his daughter Skye and two sons Aedan and Jesse, inspired the book. In fact, heâ€™s has already begun penning the second installment of the Wingfeather Saga series. In 2007, a richly illustrated childrenâ€™s book, The Ballad of Matthewâ€™s Begats (Thomas Nelson), became a visual companion to Petersonâ€™s song of the same name. In addition, heâ€™s been lending his diverse talents to the VeggieTales establishment, co-writing three childrenâ€™s songs with solo artist and friend, Randall Goodgame.
Many would consider the current setting of Petersonâ€™s multi-faceted work somewhat idyllic. Last year, he relocated his family of five to a charming little house on the side of a hill just south of Nashville. The storybook dwelling offers a respite from the artistâ€™s hectic schedule, while also quenching the boyish side of Peterson, always thirsty for a new adventure.
â€œThere are woods to play in, a front porch to palaver from, and rabbits and deer aplenty. We call it the Warren--a fancy name for a rabbit hole--because of the rabbits in the yard and the fact that I had just finished Watership Down when we bought the place,â€ Peterson says. â€œJunipers, hackberry trees, and white oaks abound, not to mention the pumpkins, apple trees, and blueberry bushes we planted. There's a dried up pond, a tree house, a front porch swing, and our oldest friends in Nashville as neighbors. Weâ€™re very grateful.â€
Usually found with his hands dipped inside several honey pots at once, Peterson has also launched an online artistsâ€™ community known as The Rabbit Room (www.rabbitroom.com). Here songwriters, artists, and authors converge to share ideas. Music can be heard, new and used books from favorite writers can be purchased. Itâ€™s a place where imagination roams free and connection is made, two elements that seem to permeate everything Peterson touches.
â€œTo love, to hope, to dream is to exercise the imagination, and the more you use it the bigger and better it becomes,â€ says the writer. â€œI try to be constantly aware of the gift it is to be alive, to recognize that the world is full of surprises, that God isn't hiding behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz, concealing Himself because He's smaller than what He projects. Instead, the veil that conceals God's fullness exists because of his mercy, because our minds couldnâ€™t contain him and would probably fry to a crisp. He shows himself to us in small doses, urging our imaginations to expand that we might find ourselves lost in wonder, truly awake and able to see the world not just as it is but as it will one day be.â€