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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jars of Clay -- Jars of Clay

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Jars of Clay's self-titled album is one of the most beloved, hyped debut's of the last twenty years. As good as it is, the band have probably released a couple of albums in the last two decades that are better. That doesn't diminish the magic of Jars of Clay, though. In lieu of writing a normal old review or retrospective, how about I just do a song by song breakdown, isolating the magical moments in each? No? Well, I'm gonna do it anyway. Sonic has Pretzel Dogs now, so pop out and grab one of those and come back when I'm finished.
1. Liquid: The urgency of the opening strings and acoustic guitar really set the tone for this album. Then those Gregorian chants hint. Overall, there is maybe ten seconds of Gregorian chanting on this song, but it automatically gives Jars of Clay an epic frame. Acoustic rock isn't really a genre that's been fleshed out this way before. Also, the subliminal aggression of the bass line in the verses means the intensity never bleeds out of the song for a second.
2. Sinking:Here's where the beauty of the album is really simple, yet again subliminal: The background sound of bugs calling throughout the song brings to mind the charm of a warm, Southern night, though many listeners may not even notice. The fiddle-ish violin does the same, while the reverb of the harmonies calls to mind a bit of a medieval feeling. It's down home and ancient at the same time.
3. Love Song for a Savior: The flute (actually a recorder) after the choruses, coupled with a generous amount of mandolin, add a Celtic feeling to the whimsical country mood, but the drum loops (used for much of the album) and really, the sentiments, are modern.
4. Like a Child The violin and recorder again give a Celtic tone, while retaining the album's country (as in "out in the country," not country as a genre) flavor. This rural, Southern feeling, melded with a modern edge, never leaves throughout the entirety of the album.:
5. Art in Me:There's some kind of 90's coffee-house vibe underneath this song that blends perfectly with the rest of Jars of Clay. The earnestness of this song brings out the earnestness in the rest of the album. Actually, only a young band could be this earnest, and anyone looking for that in later albums, even the ones that are probably better than this one, aren't going to find it.
6. He:The more depressed tone of this song brings a sort of balance to the album. Life can't all be happily running through fields. Sometimes life is incredibly painful. I think, while this isn't the strongest track on the album, it's the cornerstone that holds the whole thing together.
7. Boy on a String:This song also contains a pretty major 90's vibe. The quick tempo and the, by this point, magical strings, add a lot to the song, but I'll tell you the secret mojo of this song. It's Stephen Mason's backup vocal of the line "Crowds will go away," that sounds like it is coming from the deck of a passing Dartmouth University Boys Club yacht.
8. Flood: Their biggest hit by far. The urgency of the song is a big reason, as well as the chord progression. Acoustic guitars rarely sound this dangerous. What makes the song, in my opinion, is the sudden drop into the Gothic string chamber of the bridge. It's beautiful and puts the song, which really does evoke its title, into slow-motion. The radio-single version that was missing the bridge was severely lacking.
9. Worlds Apart:Well, where to start. How about how this is the best song Peter Gabriel never wrote. How about the rustling wind-chimes that begin the song, which could be superfluous, but actually serve to announce an oncoming emotional storm in a way that again matches the rural tone of the album. How about that Gabriel-esque drum pattern, so slow and deep and heavy. Speaking of Gabriel, how about the low, intense, steady cadence Dan Haseltine uses throughout the sing. How about the female vocals that come out of nowhere, but feel like they've been there throughout the album. How about the intensity of that ad-libbed bridge (reportedly, Dan Haseltine broke into tears during its recording) with the building tom-tom hits that would catch Peter Gabriel's ear, even in a crowded, buzzing subway. How about I just said Peter Gabriel's name four times, yet this song still manages to hold on to the same tone and flavor as the rest of Jars of Clay.

10. Blind:Since the strings have been the secret star of the album, how fitting to let them carry Jars of Clay away. "Blind" gives the feeling of a camera panning through dusty barns on an August evening, over hillsides, and into the forest. Then there's that secret track that only serves to build anticipation for the next release. And then afterward there's the hidden twenty minutes of the string section rehearsing "Blind" as a gift to all the nerds who have been gushing about the string section for the last forty-five minutes.

1995 Essential
1. Liquid 3:31
2. Sinking 3:47
3. Love Song for a Savior 4:46
4. Like a Child 4:35
5. Art in Me 3:58
6. He 5:19
7. Boy on a String 3:31
8. Flood 3:31
9. Worlds Apart 5:18
10. Blind 27:16

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