In 2013, after more than a decade playing music full time, pianist and songwriter Matt Munhall felt like he finally hit the creative apex he'd been climbing toward. For his fourth studio album, 700 Miles, he traveled to the Nashville studio of producer Brad Jones, and the experience brought the best out of Munhall - not to mention contributions from Bob Dylan's guitarist, Charlie Sexton.

In 2013, after more than a decade playing music full time, pianist and songwriter Matt Munhall felt like he finally hit the creative apex he'd been climbing toward. For his fourth studio album, 700 Miles, he traveled to the Nashville studio of producer Brad Jones, and the experience brought the best out of Munhall - not to mention contributions from Bob Dylan's guitarist, Charlie Sexton.

"That record was kind of magical for me," Munhall said recently at a coffee shop, seated next to his 7-year-old son, Luke. "Then I hired a publicist, and it was a disaster. Turns out my music isn't that marketable."

After receiving thousands of dollars from Munhall, the publicist couldn't figure out how to market his music, which has a classic, untrendy sound in the vein of Randy Newman or John Fullbright. Munhall hit the road for about two weeks during the publicity campaign, but he came home dejected. "I got on the mountaintop of creativity, but then I tried to create a mountaintop of success," he said. "There was always a monkey on my back saying, 'Dude, you should be doing this or that. You should be recognized.' Like, why can't I be in this magazine? What's the trick?"

For Munhall's new record, Walking to the Light, he returned to Nashville to work with Jones and had a similarly great experience, but this time, he didn't fabricate another treacherous mountain of success to climb. "With this record, I went back to being who I am," said Munhall, who has weekly gigs at the Top steakhouse, the Walrus and Eddie Merlot's and will play two release shows at the McConnell Arts Center on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 14 and 15. "I'm like the neighborhood shaman. Everyone knows Matt Munhall will show up and do his thing for you. He'll come to a funeral or a wedding or play rock 'n' roll at a bar or whatever. … I can get more happiness and peace out of that."

Munhall's family and his faith provided much of the inspiration for Walking to the Light. Growing up one of nine siblings in Worthington, Munhall, 34, was raised an orthodox Catholic under the tutelage of his father, the family's General MacArthur figure who called all the shots and ran a strict, orderly household. It all came to a head for Munhall the day he wasn't allowed to go on a date with his future wife.

"I was kicked out of the house at 18. … My dad was in one of his moods and said, 'You're not going anywhere. I might need you for something.' He was just being arbitrary and controlling," Munhall said. "So I stood in the doorway of his room until he physically tried to move me, and then I physically tried to move him. And he was like, 'You're outta here.'"

While he and his father eventually made amends, leaving home gave Munhall the freedom to explore his faith and his music on his own. "I went from being that circumscribed kid to being still Catholic, but more contemplatively Catholic," said Munhall, who also makes yearly visits to the Abbey of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky for meditative retreats. "I always kept my music and religion separate in my head. But I heard other artists, like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, bring it in. I never denied it in my music, but I never wanted it to be the prevalent aspect. [On 700 Miles], I finally did what I thought was my first explicit God song. This record, I finally said, 'Jesus.'"

On "Some Call Me Lonely," which Munhall co-wrote with frequent collaborator Parker MacDonell, he tells a story from the perspective of Jesus, focusing on Christ's low station in life. "So when they call you a loser, know my work with you has just begun," he sings.

Luke's first day of kindergarten provided the inspiration for "Evening Street," which depicts Munhall on a busy morning, occupying himself with menial tasks to take his mind off the monumental change about to take place.

"We were walking to school, and I was concerned, because the first day of preschool he cried and hugged me extra tight," Munhall said. "But I was more nervous than he was. He was humming and snapping. He's like, 'Dad, I got this.' Then I went home and I added the rest. ... That was a gift song."

Munhall also wrote "Sunshiner" directly to his son, but in light of the marriage that ended when Luke was 16 months old. "'Sunshiner' is a way to tell your child - when you're divorced and you've had a hard marriage - that you still respect his mother, and that you're still the most important thing for both of us, and that she'll always be your mom," Munhall said. "It was a hard one to get to the point where I could write it, but once I wrote it I was really happy I did. You know 'fake it till you make it'? That song is the making it."