Home > CCM, Christian Music, Christian Pop, Christian Rap, Christian Rock, Jesus Music > 70. Jars of Clay – Jars of Clay

70. Jars of Clay – Jars of Clay


Jars of Clay

In 1994 a quirky, acoustic quartet from Greenville College sent a demo tape into a “New band” contest being put on by the Gospel Music Association. The quartet was invited to Nashville to perform as a finalist for the contest and ended up winning. CCM was never the same.

Jars of Clay’s completely original, quirky, acoustic, folky alternative debut released bowed a year later. There was an immediate positive response to the very likable acoustic sound that didn’t sound like much else in the Christian Music market. Driven by acoustic guitars, subdued drums and bass and tastefully supportive strings, song after the song on the album became radio standards. All this while lyrically sounding at time “aloof” (for lack of a better term) to using the tried and true religious phrases used by their contemporaries.

But no one saw what was to come. Little by little the song “Flood” started getting airplay on College, Modern Rock and CHR radio stations around the country. The little label the band was signed to, Essential, received help from their parent company who paid for a video and radio marketing support and put the song into the Top 40. The video also became a staple on VH1 and MTV. It was a hit by any measure.

But “Flood” was not the only amazing song on the project. The album kicks off with “Liquid,” an acoustically driven alternative rocker that also features something akin to an hauntingly Gregorian Chant backing vocals. The song pictures the crucifixion and the “liquid” that was spilt by Jesus with the refrain “He didn’t die for nothing…”

“Sinking” deals with the struggles many have felt trying to deny the One they need the most.

Deny myself, deny my heart
Deny your hand, deny your help
and you offer me eternity
but why should I buy that?

You see that I can play a pretty convincing role
So I don’t need you, I don’t think I need you

But as the book of Romans states no one can escape the reality of the creator no matter the determination of the individual to deny His existence.

But you see through my forever lies
And you are not believing
And I see in your forever eyes
That you are forever healing

The first huge Christian radio hit, “Love Song for a Savior” follows. Here the poet describes those who seemingly are unable to see the truth of the Gospel as it appears right before their eyes. He longs for those people to reach out and love His Savior. When all adjectives suffer from insufficiency to describe the eternal worth and glory of Jesus the author simplifies matters down to the desire to simply say “I Love You.”

“Like a Child” continued the hit parade, but with the Jack Johnson like acoustic pop driving the verses before a more conventional chorus. The song is a call to have a childlike faith in an adult world. the “fiddle” work makes the song work in the bridge, but some may want to do without the small child speaking; myself included.

If any critique can be made is the tendency for the production to be repetitive. Songs like “Art in me” can get lost when they sound so much like other songs on the album.

“He” is one of truly unique offerings on the album, and remains a favorite based on how different it sounds at times compared to the rest of the album while fitting in perfectly. Same for “Boy on a String,” which lyrically reminds me more of what Steve Hindalong would write.

The lyrics of this project are so reminiscent of the Psalms. There are doubts, struggles, proclamations and adoration’s…quite often in the same song. The most Psalm-like is the mega-hit “Flood.” The prophet/psalmist is surrounded by the struggles of life and looking upward for his refuge.

Downpour on my soul
Splashing in the ocean, I’m losing control
Dark sky all around
I can’t feel my feet touching the ground

As the acoustic driven rock songs comes to a screeching halt midway through a shocking string section changes the mood and direction of the song. Here though the poet cries out…

Calm the storms that drench my eyes
Dry the streams still flowing
Cast down all the waves of sin
And guilt that overthrow me

Lift me up – when I’m falling
Lift me up – I’m weak and I’m dying
Lift me up – I need you to hold me
Lift me up – Keep me from drowning again

The hit was produced, along with “Liquid” by former King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew. Belew has also worked extensively with Rick Altizer on several projects.

The song itself was played to death and many complain of it being tiring after so many years, but, quite frankly, it’s a testament to the song that is has remained a favorite for some 15 years. And, detractors be damned, it’s also a very well written and conceived song. Completely different from anything that was on the radio at the time. How many hits at the time of Backstreet Boys zenith included a classical music influenced string oriented bridge?

The best song, though, may end up being “Worlds Apart.” Musically, lyrically and vocally, the song is a stand out. It walks this very fine line if being both haunting and hopeful.

the albums closer is the simple and beautiful “Blind.” Primarily strings and acoustic guitar accompanying Haseltine’s most restrained vocals, this song of love and faith is a perfect close.

Very few albums remain as consistently current and as consistently viable as this one. Though the band would continue to create amazing music (If I Left the Zoo, Redemption Songs, Good Monsters) with very few misses (Much Afraid, Who Are Instead), it was this self titled debut that set the standard.

  1. aarjayaitch
    May 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Another good description of an album that defies description. I disagree that Much Afraid is a miss. Unless you mean that it missed the popularity of the debut…

    • shawnuel
      May 7, 2011 at 4:27 am

      Agreed. Much Afraid might be their most underrated album. I also like Who We Are Instead.

  2. Shawn McLaughlin
    May 6, 2011 at 2:11 am

    I love how much “Flood” sounds like America’s “Horse With No Name” in the chorus. No question that “Liquid” is the high point of this album for me. Also like the jig & drum machine vibe of “Like a Child” while “Worlds Apart” is everything Dave said and more. Simply one of the best songs released in the Christian market place. Ever.

    • Bill B
      May 7, 2011 at 3:04 am

      Agree Shawn. World’s Apart is one of the best Christian songs ever recorded. Especially love their version from Stringtown album.

  3. Bill B
    May 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

    You failed to mention Jars of Clays best song among there MANY great songs–World’s Apart. This album along with Good Monsters are Jars of Clay’s best. I would put this album MUCH higher and expect Good Monsters to be near the top.

    As to JOC’s ‘misses’? Much Afraid and Who We Are Instead tie for my second favorite of their albums. If I Left the Zoo is the ‘miss’.

    Of course, these are just my opinions. 🙂

  4. Bill B
    May 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Okay, my mistake. YOU DID MENTION World’s Apart. SORRY!! I missed that teenie paragraph. 🙂

  5. shawnuel
    May 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I LOVE “If I Left the Zoo.” Eleventh Hour is the only album I didn’t care for too much. To a lesser extent, The Shelter and the hymns album were a little “industry” for me.

  6. May 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I think this is a good album but still very overrated. I don’t own any other albums from this band. Still, “Liquid”, “Words Apart” and of course “Flood” are my favs. “Love Song for a Savior” is a sick song, I think.

  7. Kit
    November 29, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Much Afraid is my favorite of theirs by far. They had me by a string with If I Left the Zoo, then pretty much lost me more and more after that.

  8. Keith Wiederwax
    November 18, 2012 at 2:23 am

    I have to ask when you first heard them and if you saw them in concert first? (While they sound good in concert, they have next to no personality or charisma.) I ask because to me, this album has to be in the top 25 at least. You really nailed how much of a sea change in the Christian music industry DC Talk’s Jesus Freak was, but you apparently didn’t feel the full impact of change that this album brought. There really wasn’t anything out there at the time that combined the simple stripped down acoustic guitars and raw honest lyrics of this album and it impacted both Christian and secular worlds. To me this album was a game changer and is in my personal top ten. I don’t expect everyone to rate it that highly but #70?!

  9. March 6, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Agree with Keith. Just remember the impact. When internet browsing was still young, you would find people “on the net” in the late nineties, regardless of religion, quoting Jars of Clay as musical influence but seldom DC Talk even in Christian circles. This stopped after Much Afraid, when their market was narrowed down to “Christian” by If I left the Zoo, and their sound just wasn’t as novel or relevant in the mainstream (not that their quality was any less, nor that they haven’t grown since). Still, their self-titled (not my favorite, by the way), really is a milestone for “Christian” music.

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