70. Jars of Clay – Jars of Clay
JARS OF CLAY (1995)
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.