Christian Music That Doesn’t Suck # 10

Today’s band is not unheard of. in fact, the culture is pretty well aware of their existence. But still, i feel the qualify for this series.

Jars of Clay entered the scene back in the mid-1990’s.They were one of the first major crossover acts. Oddly enough, their early success was for some of the least compelling releases.

clay pots

This is not to say their debut was awful fair. It was a decent first effort, and felt pretty fresh at the time. The opening track Liquid had a haunting instrumentation, almost like something you would hear in an old Church service. But then the drums and guitars kicked in. Lead singer Haseltine sang the verse, and then was joined by an almost chant-like background vocals. It was pretty exciting. The big hit, of course, was Flood. The song sang of the turmoil of doubt and hope in God was a radio hit. It was easily the most interesting song on the disc, especially as they did not seem to continue the inventiveness of Liquid or Flood throughout the CD. This is not to say there were not other good songs. There were, but much of the rest of the album would have been at home on ACR stations.

Two years later, Jars of Clay gave a preview of their second CD, a song called Crazy Times. This was very solid song, but also very mainstream alternative. That foreshadowed the entire disc Much Afraid, which was an enjoyable listen, full of songs that touched on faith as a life full of fear and trembling. The title was based on a book called Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The most upbeat songs were Crazy Times and Five Candles (You Were There)…but other than that? It was a mellow affair. It was a decent effort, but the band was still growing.

1999 the band gave us If I Left the Zoo. honestly, this is probably their least memorable disc. It has a couple good songs, but it felt like the band was to busy trying to channel to many influences. Clearly, they were looking to experiment, rather than repeat their past success. But really, this did not work in their favor, turning out only a couple standout tunes-Forgetful You and I’m Alright. What I would note is that this disc hints that the band has a better ear for rock than people might realize. Their ratio has always been more mellow to upbeat. I would like to see them really work on a rock album, where this is only one or two mellow songs.

The follow-up, the Eleventh hour was the band’s first attempt at producing themselves. It played it pretty safe, covering the musical grounds of their previous efforts(especially their first two discs). The band also continued to have more poetry based lyrics, instead of making clear cut faith pronouncements. This did not seem to hurt the band to much. I feel like one of the real standout tracks of the Eleventh Hour was Revolution. Shortly after the band released a compilation called Furthermore, featuring alternate studio takes and live performances/ Truth be told, the only thing I have from that CD is their inspired (yet faithful) take on Adam Again’s Dig.

2004 saw the release of Who We Are Instead. This is one of their most mature and overall strongest releases. It’s a bit more direct in it’s faith and more acoustic based. What makes it all come together is that this feels like the band in it’s own element, but does not merely re-hash previous work. I find the songs inspiring and their focus on caring for people in pain really gives the songs a larger dimension. Standout songs for me are Trouble Is, Lonely People, Lesser Things and Faith Enough. But the entire disc is excellent.

The band followed up with Redemption Songs, which was a reworking of old hymns and spirituals. Honestly, I thought this was okay. It would maybe stand out more if the whole Praise and Worship genre had not exploded a few years prior, almost giving a feel of jumping on a band wagon, rather than a genuine offering of artistic praise. Still, there are good tracks included here.

There most recent offering was 2006’s Good Monsters. Simply put, this is an excellent work up there with Who We Are Instead, and well worth owning. Musically, it can be pretty aggressive. Lyrically it is challenging and addresses the fine line of seeking righteousness and admitting our fragile-ness. It is a heartfelt and well written disc. It comes the closest to being that rock album I want from the band. It’s worth owning.

There were two best of’s released in the last couple years. One was released this year, since the band has left Essential Records. The second best of album features a great new rock number called Love Is the Protest. I have been grooving on this one on my iPod a lot lately.

The band has matured quite a bit. Truth be told, (as pointed out by my friend Peter) they probably have out of the eight CDs, four GREAT albums. Two of which are Good Monsters and Who We Are Instead. The other two CDs could have been assembled by grabbing tracks from the other six CDs.
By the way, I am thinking of opening this up to other readers, giving other people a chance to add a band to this list. E-mail me @ if you are interested.

7 thoughts on “Christian Music That Doesn’t Suck # 10 Leave a comment

  1. I remember hearing Jars along with the Newsboys for the first time back in the 90’s. Pretty much shattered my preconceived notions about Christian rock

  2. Jars of Clay was part of the last (at least for now) gasp of awesomeness in the CCM scene. DC talk, Jars, Third Day, Newsboys, and Audio Adrenaline all released some impressive work starting in the mid-90s. I was partial to Jars’ self-titled album. OK, the self-produced tracks were mellower and less creative than the work Adrian Belew did on “Liquid” and “Flood.” But the “acoustic guitars over drum machines” sound was unusual, and I missed it on their future albums. It was what set them apart, at first anyway, even though they couldn’t pull it off live. I’d rate them as follows:

    Jars of Clay: 4.5/5 (highlights: Worlds Apart, Liquid, Boy on a String)
    Much Afraid: 4/5 (Portrait of an Apology, Fade to Grey, Hymn)
    If I Left the Zoo 3.5/5 (Unforgetful You, Can’t Erase It)
    The Eleventh Hour 2/5 (no great songs)
    Furthermore 2/5 (no great songs; Adam Again did “Dig” better)
    Who We Are Instead 2/5 (no great songs; America did “Lonely People” better)
    Redemption Songs 3/5 (O Come and Mourn, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks)
    Good Monsters 4/5 (Dead Man, All My Tears, Light Gives Heat)

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