Friday, December 06, 2013
They don't believe in oceans; you, you were a sailor
who burned your ship and walked on, far away you walked on;
you keep turning inland, where no man is an island-
it's where you're supposed to be.
You keep heading inland, where no man is an island -
come on home to me.
Afraid of your convictions, they said the land will change you;
steady your confession, your course make no corrections.
When you are a stranger, hold your tongue and wager
that love will set you free...
until it sets you free.
You keep walking inland, where no man is an island - come on home to me
Jars of Clay keep moving forward, while any of their peers who have managed to somehow stay standing lumber about like zombies. Jars' commitment to progression against sedentation continues to pay off transcendentally. They keep moving inland. Their competition is sunburned and stuck on the beach.
It's time for you to listen to Jars of Clay.
2013 Gray Matters
1. After the Fight 4:32
2. Age of Immature Mistakes 3:53
3. Reckless Forgiver 3:52
4. Human Race 3:57
5. Love in Hard Times 4:31
6. Pennsylvania 4:33
7. Loneliness & Alcohol 4:45
8. I Don't Want You to Forget 3:49
9. Fall Asleep 4:41
10. Skin & Bones 3:52
11. Left Undone 3:58
12. Inland 4:13
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Striking again when the iron was hot, Jars of Clay released The Shelter barely a year after their previous release, The Long Fall Back to Earth. Never content to do the same thing twice, The Shelter marks another first in Jars of Clay's impressive, extensive catalogue. The Shelter is Jars of Clay's first album to be written directly toward and for The Church. The songs explore the Body of Christ's parts' relationship with each other, while uniting those parts in worship. It's another stunning achievement in a catalogue full of stunning achievements.
Jars of Clay again fuse their excellent songwriting with a new style. The biggest influence on this album sounds like Arcade Fire, with all the group singing and focus on community. There are two slight departures which serve as improvements here, though, and I don't mean to knock Arcade Fire, a pretty good band in their own right. The first departure is that everyone featured on this album can sing. Anyone who has ever listened to an Arcade Fire album knows that singing isn't that band's strong suit, no matter how many people are standing at the mic. Jars of Clay somehow assembled a massive who's who in the Christian music industry to sing along on this album, and every guest leaves their mark. Even tobyMac, who's solo work has not exactly been my cup of tea, wanders through the title track to drop a line, and comes off sounding a bit like Bambi's father. You know, he doesn't come around often, but when he does, he seems so wizened and powerful, you have to listen to him. The Prince of the Forest.
The second departure is that Jars of Clay actually have a cause to rally around. I'm not knocking generalized unity, togetherness, and whatever it is Arcade Fire are yelling about into megaphones, but in the end, I find that to be a bit empty. With a stated common goal of worship, The Shelter is more cohesive and focused than anything put out by the band I've been comparing to this album.
At this point, though, 20 years into their career, Jars of Clay need be compared to no one. They've created nine unique and wonderful albums (well, expect for that one I don't like very much), and they're as high on the music mountain as anyone making it these days.
2010 Gray Matters/Essential Records
1. Small Rebellions (featuring Brandon Heath) 4:48
2. Call My Name (featuring Thad Cockrell, Audrey Assad) 4:08
3. We Will Follow (featuring Gungor) 4:09
4. Eyes Wide Open (featuring Mac Powell (of Third Day), Derek Webb, Burlap to Cashmere) 4:28
5. Shelter (featuring Brandon Heath, Audrey Assad, tobyMac) 4:50
6. Out of My Hands (featuring Leigh Nash, Mike Donehey (of Tenth Avenue North)) 4:14
7. No Greater Love 4:07
8. Run In The Night (Psalm 27) (featuring Thad Cockrell) 5:25
9. Lay It Down (featuring David Crowder, Dawn Michele (of Fireflight)) 4:03
10. Love Will Find Us (featuring Sara Groves, Matt Maher) 5:45
11. Benediction (featuring Amy Grant) 2:52
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Where Jars of Clay's Good Monsters dealt with the macro of the biggest issues in life, The Long Fall Back to Earth deals with the micro realm of relationships. The former deals with man's relation to the universe and the Almighty, but The Long Fall Back to Earth deals with our relationships with each other. Jars of Clay incorporate more of an electronic, slight 80's flavor into their sound while doing their usual stellar job of holding on to their own identity. The good news is that the band further the level of excellence they reached with the preceding album. The bad news is that if you like bad music, you won't find any here.
Actually, I don't have much more to say. Jars of Clay, at this point in their career, are at the top of the songwriting chain. In any genre of music they attempt, they find wild success. Remember the last Coldplay album? Coldplay tried and mostly failed to successfully blend their sound with quirky electronics. Jars of Clay attempted the same thing on The Long Fall Back to Earth, and was wildly successful...two years before that Coldplay album was even released. "Scenic Route" essentially does everything Coldplay tried to do on that album in one song, except it's excellent.
Maybe that's just because Dan Haseltine is a far better lyricist than Chris Martin. The unique perspectives he finds song to song from people yearning for connection with others strike gold again and again. Maybe Jars of Clay are just a far more talented band than Coldplay. Why am I still talking about Coldplay? Jars of Clay are one of the best, and certainly one of the more underrated bands on the planet today. If you miss out on the work they've released in the last decade, you are doing yourself a disservice. You can't say you haven't been told.
2009 Gray Matters/Essential Records
1. The Long Fall 2:19
2. Weapons 3:28
3. Two Hands 4:26
4. Heaven 3:18
5. Closer 3:56
6. Safe to Land 4:47
7. Headphones 4:54
8. Don't Stop 3:44
9. Boys (Lesson One) 4:01
10. Hero 4:52
11. Scenic Route 5:41
12. There Might Be a Light 3:56
13. Forgive Me 3:53
14. Heart 5:50
Monday, November 18, 2013
If you want to skip the decade of experimentation Jars of Clay went through between releasing their first album, and absolutely perfecting their craft, you can go straight to Good Monsters. You shouldn't do that, because you would be missing out on several very good albums, but Good Monsterssees the band reaching the rare mountaintop of "great band."
Where to start describing it, though?
Good Monsters mixes together every sound Jars of Clay have ever explored with a wash of something new. The result is something the band had to refer to as "our first rock record" simply because they couldn't say, "Our first record that blows everything else our peers are recording out of the water." All this to say, you could tag this with a genre, "rock,"indie-rock," "rock with a sometimes gospel flavor," but you wouldn't be doing the album justice. Good Monsters is something altogether new, and this is Jars of Clay.
The album begins with "Work," perhaps the most conventional song, and a great jumping off point. The song combines a driving beat and fun sense of urgency with the power the band has wielded since its infancy. Also, the video.
"Work"'s chorus line, "I don't want to be alone," nicely sums up the themes of the album. This is the human condition in a nutshell. These first songs show a bit of a Police influence (the band did tour with Sting in the late 90's), which is kind of ironic, as track seven, "Oh My God," works as a direct response to that band's song of the same name. Also, "Oh My God" is one of the best songs any band have ever recorded, if not just simply the best song ever recorded. Yes, I just typed that, and considering it's been a long time since I first heard the song, and I still feel that way, I have to be correct, and you have to agree. If that line I highlighted from the first song is the human condition in a nutshell, "Oh My God" is the human condition in six soul-wrenching minutes.
The final line, "this is our greatest offense," has a double-meaning that opens up a million possibilities, and the fact that this song makes even early favorites like "World's Apart" nearly seem pedestrian is a miracle. The song is incredible, and as a centerpiece to an album, you can't ask for better. The following song, "Surprise," begins with the opening line "Shoot a dream in your arm, and sleep away," which only serves to make "Oh My God," even more powerful. That's how an album is supposed to work, and Good Monsters is an incredible achievement. It takes the band's exploration of their Christian faith to a depth and complexity no other band is even touching upon, and places it atop the most creative and enjoyable mix of music the band have composed to date. This album and this band should be consistently going platinum instead of just being spoken of with awe and hushed tones by dorky bloggers. It's time for Jars of Clay to get their due.
2006 Essential Records
1. Work 3:53
2. Dead Man (Carry Me) 3:20
3. All My Tears 3:45
4. Even Angels Cry 4:22
5. There Is a River 3:51
6. Good Monsters 4:05
7. Oh My God 6:06
8. Surprise 3:50
9. Take Me Higher 4:40
10. Mirrors & Smoke 3:58
11. Light Gives Heat 4:42
12. Water Under The Bridge 3:58
Friday, November 15, 2013
While it may not have sold a million copies, Jars of Clay's fifth album, Who We Are Instead, was quite well received. The band decided to explore the sound and themes of that album even further by taking the next logical step: releasing an album entirely composed of re-envisioned hymns. However, Jars of Clay are wise enough not to attempt to breathe new life into these songs--they understand they have to let these songs breathe new life into them.
The joy the band is experiencing by simply playing these songs is infectious and powerful. Nothing here sounds like it was written hundreds of years ago, yet the collection feels ancient all the same. Redemption Songs takes the gospel and country flavors of Who We Are Instead and infuses into them a touch of what, in 2005, would have been called "indie quirk." In other words, there's a twinkle and a bounce to these songs that sets the collection apart from other Jars of Clay albums. Though it is a natural progression from its predecessor, Redemption Songs continues the tradition of no Jars of Clay album sounding like another. Going back to the second sentence in this paragraph, despite the constant hops in genre, there's an underlying timeless identity to every Jars of Clay release, and Redemption Songs is no different. And let us not forget how powerful this band can sound.
1. God Be Merciful to Me (Psalm 51) 4:31
2. I Need Thee Every Hour 3:47
3. God Will Lift Up Your Head 4:22
4. I'll Fly Away (featuring Sarah Kelly) 4:42
5. Nothing But the Blood (featuring The Blind Boys of Alabama) 4:13
6. Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder 4:23
7. O Come and Mourn With Me Awhile (featuring Martin Smith) 4:04
8. Hiding Place 4:06
9. Jesus, I Lift My Eyes 3:28
10. It Is Well With My Soul 3:54
11. On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand (featuring The Blind Boys of Alabama) 4:32
12. Thou Lovely Source of True Delight 4:31
13. They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love 3:02
Monday, November 11, 2013
As several great bands have done for their fifth album, Jars of Clay looked west. Who We Are Instead incorporates a country-gospel feel into the band's sound. But just as U2 sounds only like U2 on The Joshua Tree, Who We Are Instead sounds only like Jars of Clay. This isn't a country album, this is a Jars of Clay album with alt-country flavors.
Jars also decided to take a page from the humble themes of Johnny Cash, who's work inspired much of this album. Who We Are Instead wrestles with grace, throughout, in a meditative,thoughtful, and sometimes difficult fashion.
The song, "Jealous Kind," does so most explicitly
"Trying to jump away from rock that keeps on spreading/For solace in the shift of the sinking sand/I'd rather feel the pain all too familar/than be broken by a lover I don't understand." If you aren't following my U2 logic, this song is Jars of Clay's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
Who We Are Instead is also a lot of fun. All that pedal steel isn't there to depress--there's as much foot-stomping as contemplation. The only flaw is the inclusion of Jars of Clay's cover of "Lonely People." I'm a big fan of America's original, and I even like Jars of Clay's interpretation. It just doesn't fit on the album, and as track three, it takes a little bit away from Who We Are Instead's building momentum. Without that minor gaff, Who We Are Instead is a near perfect album from a bunch of desert-walking Southerners, working out their salvation in fear and trembling. Or if you're not into that, from a bunch of talented, smart dudes who harness emotion really well. Either way, it's brilliant.
2003 Essential Records
1. Sunny Days 3:30
2. Amazing Grace (featuring Ashley Cleveland) 5:18
3. Lonely People (America cover) 2:45
4. Only Alive 4:04
5. Trouble Is 3:50
6. Faith Enough 5:24
7. Show You Love 3:33
8. Lesser Things 4:36
9. I'm In The Way 2:33
10. Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (Gavin Bryars cover) 3:39
11. Jealous Kind (featuring Ashley Cleveland) 4:10
12. Sing 4:11
13. My Heavenly 3:29
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
It's safe to say I might never completely understand the way I feel about Jars of Clay's third album, If I Left the Zoo. I don't hate it, but it's very far from my favorite. Compared to the rest of the band's work, it is a little short on power. There aren't many moments on If I Left the Zoo that come close to the power of a "World's Apart" or a "Frail." Also, with the band attempting to explore new directions, If I Left the Zoo is short on focus, as well. Fourth album, The Eleventh Hour, rectifies these problems. That sentence was meant to be serious, but rectify just sounds too much like rectum.
The Eleventh Hour has a clear focus musically and lyrically. Soundwise, The Eleventh Hour explores an expansive, Euro-rock style. Does that make any sense? The songs sound big, the drums go back and and forth between...
Crap. Here's the problem I always have promoting Jars of Clay:
No one wants to listen to the band's work past their debut. Obviously, that was a great album, and none of the rest of their work sounds like it, but Jars of Clay got out from under the weight of it, and anyone who appreciates good music needs to do the same.
The Eleventh Hour doesn't sound like the self-titled album. It uses electric guitars much more, and the bottom end is far more driving and rockish, and far less hip-hop sounding than the debut's. The songs focus on "need" as the centerpiece, and lead single "I Need You" spells out the theme. "I Need You" is a very simple song with the chorus simply those words repeated as nearly a mantra. The simplicity actually becomes mystical, and the song takes on a power the band would prove they could wield for the next decade, and possibly for the next ten years and the next until they are just a bunch of superhuman skeletons, holding guitars.
If you didn't like that, I'm going to review six more albums by this band, and they all sound different. I'm not going to bring up their debut again, and I am just going to act like Jars of Clay are the great band they are.
SPOILER ALERT: ALL SIX ALBUMS ARE GETTING RAVE REVIEWS.
Showing great depth, the song immediately after "I Need You" is "Silence," which follows the cry of "I need You" with the question "Where are you?" It's a difficult song, but if you've been through anything, you can empathize. Bringing up the rear, the title track maturely explores the idea of "need" to its conclusion, with a dogged hope and resolve that is tear-inducing if you have feelings. If you do have feelings but can't get into the band's faith, someone made a video for the song with the Doctor as Jesus, and Amy as the attractive ginger you pretend to be in the mirror when no one is around. Since I enjoy Jesus, Doctor Who, and Jars of Clay, this video gets triple points. This review also gets triple points for using the words "rectum," "crap," "bottom, and "rear."
I'm gonna go redeem those points right now and get a sandwich. What, did you think I was gonna say fish fingers and custard?
1. Disappear 3:56
2. Something Beautiful 3:46
3. Revolution 3:42
4. Fly 3:20
5. I Need You 3:40
6. Silence 5:17
7. Scarlet 3:32
8. Whatever She Wants 3:43
9. The Eleventh Hour 4:27
10. These Ordinary Days 3:04
11. The Edge of Water 3:54