Jars of Clay – 20: I am not the only one to blame for this.

Jars-of-Clay-20-cover-artArtist: Jars of Clay
Album: 20
Year: 2014
Grade: A-

In Brief: It’s an absolute treat to hear a favorite band revisit their entire discography, leaving almost no stone unturned as they celebrate a milestone anniversary. These mostly acoustic remakes of fan favorite songs are a delightful walk down memory lane, and hopefully they will demonstrate the diversity of the Jars catalogue to new listeners, as well as old fans who never really kept up with them past the first few albums.

I wish that every devoted fan who had followed a band through the peaks and valleys of a long career, sticking with them through numerous stylistic changes and the fickle winds of change in the mainstream music industry, could experience the sort of amazing gift that Jars of Clay has been giving to their fans as they’ve celebrated their 20th anniversary this year. A lot of bands would probably be content to let less successful entries in their discographies languish in obscurity, having moved on to bigger and better things. For a while, I thought that Jars had decided to do this with some of my personal favorite albums of theirs, which were almost entirely absent from their live setlists for many years. There were several great songs that I’d never heard them perform live, and wondered if I would ever get the chance, despite the fact that I’d need both fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve seen them in concert. And then they decided to kick the year off by performing a live webcast of their very first album, in acoustic format, from their home studio straight to our computer screens. I made the mistake of missing out on that one, but they’ve kept that ball rolling throughout the year so far, devoting themselves to one album per month, re-learning nearly every song from more than a few track listings that I may still know by heart, but that needed a little cobweb-dusting for their own brains to remember how they all went. The willingness to revisit old songs, and some rather deep album cuts at that, has been a dream come true for me as a fan. But they didn’t stop there.

The band’s latest album, 20, is not only a love letter from a band to its fans, but also one from the fans right back to the band, since all of us who pledged money to make it happen got to vote on the songs that would be included. We were polled on our two favorite songs from each Jars of Clay studio album (excluding Christmas Songs and, somewhat puzzlingly, The Shelter), and the top vote-getters were re-recorded by the band, in a mostly acoustic setting, updated somewhat to fit their current sensibilities, but for the most part retaining the lovely poetic flourishes and sometimes playful nuances that we all knew and loved them for. Two tracks from nine albums only adds up to eighteen, of course, so the collection is rounded out with two brand new songs, both cuts that were considered for last year’s Inland but ultimately dropped from that project. While those two tracks have the unenviable task of competing with songs that have intertwined themselves with fond memories and formational spiritual experiences from literally half my life ago, they’re definitely still memorable in the unpredictable way that new Jars songs usually are – they throw you for a loop based on what you’re used to from the band, but they’re so good for the soul once you get the hang of them.

Of course, the downside to any best-of compilation, especially one for a band with such impressive longevity, is that it’s downright impossible to make the definitive collection that hits every career highlight and fan favorite. Even with the crowdsourced tracklisting, there are some surprising omissions, most notably the band’s lone mainstream hit, “Flood”. It says a lot about the group’s first album that the two most beloved songs from that one ended up trumping the one that the outside world would recognize most easily. I have a funny relationship with “Flood”, in that I never tire of listening to it, but I do tire of it (and much of that first album, as great as I still think it may be) getting a disproportionate amount of attention compared to everything else this band has to offer. The band has been visibly tired of playing it at times, but they’ve also had fun revisiting it and tweaking our expectations of it over the years, so I don’t mind that it gets to sit this one out. I have to give credit where it’s due – I’ve ragged on the Jars of Clay fanbase many times over the years for gravitating toward the obvious feel-good CCM singles and not cheering as loudly for some of the deeper, more gut-wrenching album tracks as I would have wished whenever the band played live. My estimation of that fanbase was unfair, because they dug deep and chose a lot of my personal favorite gems that I once thought would never have seen the light of day again. Be forewarned: If you still think of Jars of Clay as a “rock” act and you tend to gravitate toward the catchier, more up-tempo, and more guitar-driven tracks on their records, then this largely mellow compilation may disappoint you slightly. If you’ve had to reach for the Kleenex box during a particularly hard-hitting song several times over the years, or if you’ve just had to pause and stand in awe of the talent an infinitely creative God gave to finitely creative people, then 20 will definitely be more up your alley.

Which is not to say that the band gave the electric guitars, drums, and amps a rest all the way through this one. A few songs are actually a bit edgier in their new incarnations than before. It just takes a little while for most of those to show up, since the collection is front-loaded with tracks that exemplify the band’s “acoustic sensitive” side. Truthfully, I don’t fully understand the track order on this one. It would seem like a no-brainer to just advance through the songs from each album, two by two, until we finally catch up to the present day. But the compilation jumps back and forth in time, with the older material from the 90s and early 2000s contained mostly on the first disc, which ends with the two brand new songs before we continue with the mid-to-late 2000s and finally the more recent past on the second disc, only to then come full circle with a track from their first album closing things out. The result is more like a scrapbook than a linear journey through the band’s history. The order as it stands doesn’t really do much to help the project pacing-wise, but there honestly isn’t a track on this thing that I didn’t strongly like or downright adore in its original version, so of course it’s still an exciting listen as I try to wrap my head around the changes they decided to make in these new versions. Of course, if you know all of these songs as intimately as I do, you’re likely to nitpick every missing background vocal and production gimmick and whatnot from the originals, not realizing at first that reimagining them as if the band were first recording them today was part of the point. Some do manage to outpace the originals, I think, which is no small task. There are only a small handful of disappointments disappointments among this wealth of remakes, mostly due to unexpectedly slow tempos used where an original version felt a bit more lively. Ultimately, none of these small complaints can diminish this incredible act of gift-giving on the band’s part. I’d have been stoked even if the band took my lobbying for one solitary dark horse track to be included on a compilation of previously recorded material or an impromptu unplugged performance such as their webcasts. So to actually have some fractional measure of real participation in this project kind of felt like Christmas, my birthday, and the last day of school all rolled into one.

INDIVIDUAL TRACKS:

1. Fade to Grey
It might seem surprising that this collection opens with a track from the band’s second album, 1997’s Much Afraid, but the diehard fans all know that this track, originally recorded on the demo Frail, was actually the first song that the band wrote together. The change between the original original and the Much Afraid version was quite striking; in contrast, this one takes the lyrics and structure we all know so well from the latter and removes to programming and electric guitar, leaving the furious acoustic strumming and an intricate string arrangement to slowly build up to the cold but fantastic climax that made the song such an obvious highlight all those years ago. I still prefer the Much Afraid version because it seems to slightly edge this one out in terms of pure kinetic energy. But this one’s an excellent example of how the group can faithfully rework their more up-tempo and rock-oriented material in more of an “unplugged” format.
Grade: A

2. Worlds Apart
Just try to leave this song off of a Jars of Clay compilation. Go on, I dare you. The fans froth over to near-riot proportions whenever this one gets cut from a live setlist due to time constraints, so it’s pretty obvious that this one, and not “Flood”, is the quintessential Jars of Clay song. I can’t argue. While there were times when I thought it needed a break in favor of other powerful, epic ballads that were written for their later records, it’s still a powerful confession, a big rushing wave of emotion that’s hard not to get swept up in. On the band’s debut album, which heavily featured classical instrumentation and drum programming, sort of a novelty combination at the time, this was one of the few tracks that dispensed with the churning rhythms and just let the band’s “chamber pop” muse run wild. So there was no better name to turn to when they needed a killer string arrangement for the remake than Jeremy Larson, a gifted producer and multi-instrumentalist whose praises I’ve sung several times ever since I first discovered his solo work in 2011 (and retroactively, realized his genius on several songs he assisted Sleeping at Last with before that). In a nice little continuity nod, the guys even brought back Mancy A’lan Kane, who contributed those tear-jerkingly lovely female vocals to the original, to reprise her role here. Now married, and very pregnant at the time of recording, she sounds no less lovely than she did in her teenage years. I may miss the woodwinds from the original, but for a remake that captures the spirit of that song without replaying all of its intricate instrumental parts note for note, I can’t say that this one is any less excellent. (I suspect it would have been impossible to be more.)
Grade: A+

3. Tea and Sympathy
Much Afraid makes its second appearance, not with the comparatively overexposed rocker “Crazy Times”, and surprisingly not with the band’s unofficial theme song “Frail”, but with this Britpop-inflected breakup song, which almost sounds out of place with its lyrical cold open separated from the sharp ending of “Fade to Grey” by the long and intense “Worlds Apart” (which really sounds like the sort of thing you’d expect later in an album, even if it is a classic). Since the original was awash in strings and had more of a laid-back pace to begin with, there’s not too much different here, aside from the fact that they can’t rely on endlessly overdubbed background vocals to give the song that “90’s-era Beatles homage” ambiance that the original sported. I’m still glad it’s here, and that it’s featured so early on, as it hints at the more relationship-oriented songs that the band would explore on later records, reminding us that a “Christian band” can still write about the sort of heartbreak and social awkwardness that pretty much everyone on the planet has to deal with at one point or another, without having to qualify it by name-dropping God at least once every four minutes.
Grade: A-

4. Silence
Out of all my “dark horse favorites” that I never would have expected in a million years that a lot of other fans would have voted on, especially concerning the high number of catchy pop songs to be found on 2002’s The Eleventh Hour, this one turned out to be the absolute most pleasant surprise of the entire collection. With its intentionally murky production values and its moody melody, Dan Haseltine‘s honest cry to the Heavens of “I got a question, where are You?” isn’t the sort of thing I’d expect a lot of the CCM audience to relate to, aside from those mature enough to have been through the “dark night of the soul” and to still stick with the faith – and let’s be honest, you can’t go through something like that without being tempted to bail. Hearing a group who was at one point the flagship band for Christian rock in general admit to feeling that sort of absence was refreshing when I came across this song, not long after having gone through such a confusing struggle myself. Now while I liked that original arrangement, I could see why some folks found it off-putting. And I was sort of annoyed that the band never really played it live, only teasing at it slightly via a snippet that transitioned into the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” on their tour that year. Now it feels like they’ve fully owned their live performance of that song, letting a finger-picked acoustic guitar replace whatever weird keyboard-like instrument originally plinked out its memorable melody, and bringing back Larson for another killer string arrangement, one which perfectly fits the combination of irrational hope and spiritual turmoil contained in the lyrics. This version not only improves on one of my all-time favorites, it also revamps it in a way that I’m hoping will make more fans stand up and take notice of it when they might have glossed over it the first time around.
Grade: A+

5. No One Loves Me Like You
While acoustic guitars have always been a big part of the classic Jars of Clay sound, this odd-man-out from 1999’s If I Left the Zoo (which was actually a refugee from the Much Afraid sessions, rejected at the time because it sounded to much like the Hoover vacuum cleaner jingle, “Nobody does it like you!”) felt like their first real foray into the folk/Americana sound that they would then build upon in the early 2000s. I didn’t like it at first. It was too “spacious”, coming in the middle of a quirky alternative pop/rock album. But it grew on me a great deal many years later, especially after it resurfaced during one of their live acoustic shows, and now I’ve come to love the accordion, mandolin, and bass-heavy arrangement of the original. The remake keeps the mandolin, ditches the accordion in favor of a stronger piano melody, and for the most part keeps the rest of it the same, perhaps letting the acoustic instruments play around a bit more where there used to be a lot of bare space (something that the band and producer Dennis Herring apparently argued over a fair amount back in those days). The laid-back feel of this song about grace and gratitude fits the 20 compilation much better than the album it originally came from.
Grade: B+

6. Collide
The other entry from Zoo, which is probably one of the band’s least-liked and most misunderstood albums overall, was one of my immediate favorites from that album. I still love the maudlin, almost comical piano intro that leads into what was one of the band’s most hard-driving rockers at the time, a song which explores a doubting man’s inability to accept the concept of grace. At least, I always thought that was what it was about – this was a phase in the band’s history when their lyrics tended to be more obscure and open to several different interpretations. The band opts for a semi-acoustic remake here, replacing Matt Odmark‘s rhythm guitar with an acoustic, but still allowing Steve Mason to turn in a compelling lead performance on the electric. Charlie Lowell‘s piano (an instrument highlighted more on Zoo than it had been on the band’s previous recordings) is much higher in the mix this time around, rather than confined to the intro and the bridge, which is a bit strange at first but ultimately helps to differentiate this version from the original. I love how the cello joins in at the bridge, playing along with that iconically weird melody. The entire band joins in on the “I know there’s something else it’s supposed to be!” vamp that I think Steve sang by himself originally, and in general it just sounds like they had loads of fun revisiting this one.
Grade: A

7. Jealous Kind
For no apparent reason, we’re suddenly jumping to the group’s fifth album, 2003’s rootsy Who We Are Instead, for another one of those deeply spiritual and confessional songs that the fan voting for this project has almost overwhelmingly gravitated toward. That’s not a complaint at all, since this pensive piano ballad which cautiously begins to morph into a mellow Gospel spiritual toward the end was one of my personal favorite entries on one of the group’s most laid-back albums. As they did for “Worlds Apart”, an important vocal contributor is brought back to reprise her role on this one. You just can’t make this one work nearly as well without the soulful voice of Ashley Cleveland… though that hasn’t stopped Steve from making an admirable attempt whenever the group plays it live. I can’t cite a whole lot of difference between this one and the original, but this is one of those songs that seems almost too fragile to mess with, so I’m fine with that.
Grade: A

8. God Will Lift Up Your Head
Good Lord, what happened here? The band was on a winning streak, and I thought it was about to continue with this one, which had the nice surprise of confusing me as to what song it was at the beginning, since I wasn’t looking at the track listing and I couldn’t recognize it from the tense strings and the quick drum beat, which I think raises the tempo a hair from the original. When Dan starts to sing the first line of this hymn, already radically re-envisioned in its previous incarnation on 2005’s Redemption Songs (it couldn’t have been too poppy back when the Shakers were singing it, after all), I’m floored in a good way. I wouldn’t have thought a more rocked-out take on what was previously a fun acoustic pop/rock sort of tune could work, but it does… right up until the chorus takes a hard left turn, slowing down the tempo to a languid, syncopated rhythm and just taking all of the juice out of it in an attempt to make it more… soulful or something. Apparently this is a nod to how the band had originally considered recording the song, when the bosses at Essential Records said “no” because they wanted an up-tempo single to make a hymns record that they were already feeling rather iffy about more marketable. And while I had my issues with the label meddling in the recording process for this album, this is one rare case where I have to say, the label was right. The tempo shifts back and forth are just awkward, squandering whatever potential the new arrangement seemed to have at first. Ultimately, the slower chorus makes way for an entirely new outro that the original song didn’t have, so there’s a slight silver lining… but it probably would have sounded a lot better to just stick with one pace or the other for the entire thing. I personally voted for this song – it’s my #2 favorite from Redemption Songs after the criminally underrated “Thou Lovely Source of True Delight”. But had I known they were going to hack and slash at it like this, I would have picked something else.
Grade: D+

9. Ghost in the Moon
The first of the two new songs finds the band singing the blues… or at least, their sparse, folk/rock-savvy approximation of it. Even though it reminds me of musical idioms they toyed with on Who We Are Instead, I can’t say that the stark arrangement here brings to mind any of their past work. it’s a leftover from the Inland sessions, but I can see why it wouldn’t have fit into that album too wellIt’s a risk-taking song, that like some of their most confessional material, is honest that even though it knows joy will come in the morning, sometimes you just need to howl at the moon with the losers and the dogs, into the long, cold, dark night. This one’s about as far from radio-friendly as the band has ever been – I still find it quite memorable, and I’m actually enchanted by the murky, stumbling-around-in-the-dark texture of the percussion and the background vocals that are warped just enough to sound like an eerie echo from a decades-old recording. It’s not too far from the kind of thing I’d expect from a Josh Ritter or a Joe Henry… and then suddenly Steve chimes in with an unexpectedly grimy electric guitar solo, and I can’t help but think of U2‘s “Love Is Blindness” and Over the Rhine‘s “When I Go”, both haunting, album-closing songs that mine similarly dark emotions to great effect.
Grade: A

10. If You Love Her
Having the two new songs back-to-back here feels a bit premature – when you’re running down a hitlist of career highlights, it sort of seems like you should spread out the vignettes of what the future might sound like, or else leave them for the very end. This gorgeously fragile love song would have been the perfect note to close on, but I will say that at the end of disc one, it still fulfills that “closing thought” role quite well. The acoustic instruments, the string arrangement, and the vocal harmonies flow like a gentle river on a pristine spring day. It seems at first to be about putting your money – or more accurately, your spare time – where your mouth is when it comes to a romantic relationship or a marriage. Actually show that person some love instead of just saying it, in other words. But then I listen a bit more closely and realize that “her” might not be a human female, but rather the entire Church, which Christ has called us to love, but that we often fail to love well despite being part of that body. We speak lots of pretty words about the love we’re supposed to have, but we often fall short on such basic tasks as listening when our brothers and sisters are hurting, or bringing water to the thirsty, and so forth. I appreciate this sentiment coming from a group that has spearheaded efforts such as Blood:Water Mission to make sure they’re not just blowing smoke when they talk about the love that we Christians are supposed to be known for.
Grade: A+

11. Trouble Is
During their webcast for Who We Are Instead, the band mentioned that they’d been reworking this one and that they felt like they’d really nailed it. I have to agree. This one was an obvious favorite on that record due to its savvy mix of Southern-fried rock and twangy country sensibilities, and in an interesting move for a largely acoustic collection, they’ve gone almost full electric with the remake, still keeping a good amount of the soulful grit, but amping up the drums and guitars a bit more, leaving a bit less open space and indulging themselves in the jam session a bit more. While I love the original for its savvy balance of energy and restraint, I think I like the unrestrained take on it even more. This one should be a total crowd-pleaser if the band chooses to perform it live this way going forward.
Grade: A+

12. Something Beautiful
Our second pick from The Eleventh Hour finds that sweet spot where melancholy introspection meets grace and assurance – an uneasy balance that can be difficult for an honest Christian songwriter to attain. I can imagine it struck a chord with a wide variety of listeners for that reason, though I didn’t know it was a fan favorite to the extent that it would beat out some of the more upbeat songs from that record. (You could throw a dart blindfolded at the front half of that album and hit a personal favorite of mine, so I’m not complaining.) Where the original recording of this one benefitted from a moody, acoustic opening that slowly morphed into an electric and eclectic alt-pop anthem, this one suffers slightly for sticking to an acoustic arrangement, largely because there used to be this compelling guitar solo in the bridge, where now the band just sort of collapses into an awkward ditch without much really going on. Most of the song is still delicious, and I still relate strongly to its plea of “Change this something normal into something beautiful”. I just wish Steve and/or Matt had found a distortion-free way to make up for what was lost in the middle eight.
Grade: B+

13. I Need Thee Every Hour
The hymns chosen for the Redemption Songs project were largely obscure, with only a few being the type that your average Joe Churchgoer would recognize, so I can’t say I’m surprised that one of the more recognizable ones won the vote. I thought the band’s brisk arrangement of this tune back in 2005 was a smart one – it tweaked the melody and chord progression ever so slightly to give it a flattering alt-pop makeover without sounding like the band was trying too hard to make it sound “cool”. This version stays true to the mood and tempo of their previous take, altering the percussion and some of the melody lines slightly, maybe taking it a slight bit farther in the pop direction and away from the rootsy sound they were really into at the time, but still ringing out with strong vocal melodies and that urgent sense of needing God’s guidance. This one won’t turn as many heads as… well, that other song about heads. But for me, it’s definitely the stronger of the two re-arrangements from Redemption Songs.
Grade: A-

14. Boys (Lesson One)
2009’s The Long Fall Back to Earth gets similar treatment to The Eleventh Hour here, in that it’s an unabashedly pop album being somewhat strangely represented by two of its mellowest songs. The first of the two is a tender ballad written for the band members’ young children, pulling no punches about the unfair challenges they’re gonna face as they get older, but saying those words of encouragement that every kid needs to hear, urging them to stay in the game and to know they’ve always got a place to run to if they need it. The original felt a bit like an uncomplicated folk song forced to play dress-up with its electronic clicks and whirrs and so forth bringing it into the overall sound of The Long Fall, so perhaps it’s better off unplugged, with the string arrangement to help guide the way. Both versions are strong, but I’ll be honest and say that the song has never ranked among my favorites – its melody isn’t as strong as some of their harder-hitting ballads, so I usually just go “that’s cute” and move on.
Grade: B

15. Dead Man (Carry Me)
I’ve learned how to roll with the band’s stylistic changes over the years, but I have to say that one of the most fun curveballs they ever threw my way was when they went all “glammy garage band” for their first single from 2006’s Good Monsters, putting a highly danceable drum beat and a fun little stabbing guitar riff front and center, several years after some fans had begun to worry that they’d abandoned the rock & roll side of their sound for good. Having such a stripped-down acoustic take to represent that song here doesn’t really do my memory of that surprise justice. Of course I’m always excited to hear energetic and/or heavily produced pop and rock songs get reworked in more of an intimate format. And they do about as well with that here as I’ve heard them do in the past. But this song, clever as it may be lyrically, really needs the sonic oomph of a full band arrangement to get it going. Otherwise it’s just a cute little bonus track. The drums do pick up a bit later in this version, and the busy string arrangement does try to bring back some of that chugging energy… but it’s too little too late at that point, I’m afraid.
Grade: B

16. Oh My God
Speaking of surprises and my memories of them, this long-winded ballad was one of the biggest surprises on Good Monsters, and for the same reasons I’m assuming fans picked songs like “Silence”, “Jealous Kind”, and of course “Worlds Apart”, it gets reprised here, as stark and as hard-hitting as it always was. “Unplugging” a song like this one, which laments all of the world’s overwhelming problems and how one man praying for God to intervene in them can’t help but drown in the despair of his inability to even process all of those injustices, doesn’t really change it a whole lot. The big, crashing climax that comes at the end of this one as the tempo rather unnervingly begins to creep up on you was the big surprise at first, and the song has held a lot of staying power even once you’re used to being startled by its unresolved ending. So I can’t say that being faithful to it results in anything less than another excellent recording of it. But I don’t know, maybe this one would have called for something a little more daring in the remake, just to push it over the edge and recapture some of the “Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!” reaction from the first time we all listened to it.
Grade: A-

17. Safe to Land
I’ve developed such a strong relationship with this beautiful song ever since I first heard it on 2008’s Closer EP (the same recording later ended up on The Long Fall Back to Earth, of course), that I’ve had to seriously consider whether it might have dethroned my personal long-time favorite Jars song, “Like a Child” (which I knew didn’t have a prayer of getting picked over the heavy-hitters from their first album, but I digress). In the context of The Long Fall‘s throwback electro-pop approach, this one was a beautiful island of melancholy that used the band’s newfound love of pop and all things programmed to masterful ambient effect. Its metaphor of a relationship as a pilot struggling to land in harsh weather while awaiting approval from a seemingly indifferent controller on the ground has hit far closer to home than I’ve wanted to admit at times during the years between that album’s release and Inland. And it’s lost none of its power when the band’s played it in more of an intimate, unplugged fashion, given that underneath all the sonic glow, the heart of the song is a very simple finger-picked chord progression, around which beautiful things could be painted with almost any sonic color available. The way that the strings follow the backing vocal melody original sung by Steve is just perfect. Everything about this song still slays me.
Grade: A+

18. Inland
Inland just came out last year, and while I definitely have my favorites from that album, it seems almost too new for strong nostalgia to have set in yet. Regardless, I can’t say the title track is one that I personally would have picked, given the presence of so many stronger songs. But for whatever reason, the fans related strongly to the album’s closing anthem of ditching the prescribed map and finding your own way to… happiness, spiritual well-being, what have you. It’s one of those tracks that is welcoming and comforting, but that could also have been easily misread by an audience intent on looking for God and Jesus references to validate that a band is “still Christian”. So I’m actually sort of glad that they got what this song was and wasn’t saying. Where the original was a bit of an awkward mix of “earthy folk/rock anthem” and “synthetic indie pop experiment”, this one improves on the formula by livening up the percussion a bit and having Charlie switch over to acoustic piano. Steve could use a little help on the backing vocals at the end – he sounds a little limp all by himself. But ultimately, I prefer this version to the original.
Grade: B

19. Love in Hard Times
It seems weird to go backward from Inland‘s conclusion to one of its “emotional core” songs from midway through the album, but this is one of those songs that has such strong lyrics and such a compelling melody, I’d probably love it just about anywhere with any arrangement. The original was driven by an electric guitar, but still maintained that folksy “introspective road trip” sort of feel with Dan’s emotional “Woo-hoo”s and a harmonica, the latter of which is missing here. But the band lovingly reconstructs it with acoustic guitar following the original electric lead rather faithfully, the cello and melodica certainly make up for anything missing from the original mix, and the percussion scaled back slightly to bring a bit more of the sensitivity of the song to the forefront. It’s a powerful song of reconciliation that speaks volumes to me as a married man, and I’ve compared it to “Safe to Land” in the past, so I guess it would have been weird to have those two songs back to back. In any event, I’m stoked that so many fans agreed with me about this one being a highlight, and that the band was able to come up with a convincingly different take on it despite still being rather close to the original version.
Grade: A

20. Love Song for a Savior
After finally catching up with the present, we are flung back into the band’s early years as the project wraps up, with this rather strange and slow take on one of the songs that originally persuaded me to check out the band’s first album. The brightly-colored original, with its definitive “Jars of Clay strum” and its happy-go-lucky recorder and its gooey background vocals, may be one of the most misunderstood songs in the Jars catalogue, due to its flowery words about falling in love with Jesus connecting with a lot of Christians, but those same Christians not always taking to heart the song’s message that a true relationship is about more than just those flowery words. (Possible parallel to “If You Love Her”? You be the judge.) In more recent years, this one has achieved a bit of infamy as “The Christian Mingle song”, due to its misguided use in ads for the online dating service. I can’t blame the song itself for it, but it’s an interesting example of our uncomfortable tendency to reduce the human-divine relationship to more manageable, and sometimes woefully insufficient, romantic terms. Anyway… the remake. As mentioned above, it’s rather slow. The acoustic guitar is almost completely gone, replaced by ponderous piano chords. As a result, the song doesn’t really feel comfortable in its own skin until a lush string arrangement begins to seep in partway through. Then it starts to feel like a regal wedding dance in comparison to the original’s innocent teenage game of hide-and-seek in a field. It’s an interesting alternate interpretation of a classic that the band’s revisited several times over the years, and I can understand them wanting to do something different, but this one really threatens to collapse under its own weight before it finally gets going, which is an awful risky move to make with such a beloved song, and a weird way to close out the compilation for sure.
Grade: C+

I should mention that, since this band is bound and determined to be the gift that keeps on giving this year, they’re actually hosting a 20th anniversary weekend in Nashville next month. Tickets for the event are already sold out, and sadly I can’t make it due to my travel budget being blown (besides, I’m incredibly fortunate to have gotten so much from them without seeing them face-to-face this year as it is). Still, how cool is it that a band would even put something like that together? It’s bound to be full of anecdotes and rarities and spontaneous good stuff. I’ll be watching YouTube for the shaky iPhone-filmed highlights, I guess.

WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Fade to Grey $1.75
Worlds Apart $2
Tea and Sympathy $1.50
Silence $2
No One Loves Me Like You $1.25
Collide $1.75
Jealous Kind $1.75
God Will Lift Up Your Head -$.25
Ghost in the Moon $1.75
If You Love Her $2
Trouble Is $2
Something Beautiful $1.25
I Need Thee Every Hour $1.50
Boys (Lesson One) $1
Dead Man (Carry Me) $1
Oh My God $1.50
Safe to Land $2
Inland $1
Love in Hard Times $1.75
Love Song for a Savior $.50
TOTAL: $29

BAND MEMBERS:
Dan Haseltine: Lead vocals, percussion, melodica
Charlie Lowell: Piano, keyboards, backing vocals
Steve Mason: Acoustic and electric guitars, bass, backing vocals
Matt Odmark: Acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, backing vocals

MORE USEFUL LINKS:
http://www.jarsofclay.com
http://www.facebook.com/jarsofclay
http://www.jarchives.com

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9 thoughts on “Jars of Clay – 20: I am not the only one to blame for this.

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