36. 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 determiniation 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.”

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

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.


6 responses to this post.

  1. I saw them after this came out at a club in Ft Myers FL. The place was packed but only about 100 people seemed to be there for the show. All the people drinking and hanging out were not really paying attention until about 3 quarters through the set they played “Flood” and as I looked around everyone had that look on their face like “oh this is the band that does this song!” It was kinda funny. The opening act was Michael McDermott who I met. He was really nice. Anyway, I love the blog. We have a similar taste in music as you can see if you visit mine. I’m a little younger so I was more influenced by the metal, punk and alt rock scene but I love the classics too. Keep up the good work.


  2. Posted by Shawn McLaughlin on February 20, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Oooh…Michael McDermott. LOVED that guy. Jars took a few years before their live show caught up with their recorded work. They were no great shakes on the first couple of tours. That might be part of the reason the crowd didn’t seem interested.


  3. […] you go back to Larry Norman, Keith Green or Steve Taylor, or more recent groups like DC Talk or Jars of Clay. Perhaps you think of Christian faith-influenced albums by artists like Bob Dylan or […]


  4. Posted by Keith on September 6, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Love this blog and I am really enjoying this list. However, I am surprised that this album is not higher on it. I think this album was almost as game changing as DCT’s “Jesus Freak”. You are right to say that there was nothing like this in Christian music at the time and it was a game changer. And talk about the impact! After getting hooked on “Flood” all those secular kids bought the album and were exposed to those great, honest, soul searching lyrics

    And how can you review this album and not talk about the final song, “Worlds Apart”? It’s only one of the bands favorite songs and one they have used to close out concerts. The lyrics are incredible and still move me to tears every time I fully immerse myself in the song.

    So I’m loving your list, just feel you short changed this album a little.


  5. […] go back to Larry Norman, Keith Green or Steve Taylor, or more recent groups like DC Talk or Jars of Clay. Perhaps you think of Christian faith-influenced albums by artists like Bob Dylan […]


  6. Quite some time later, but I agree with Keith.

    I feel DC Talk was a change of pace for the Christian industry, but this album shook both industries and was a huge musical influence for young adults from 96 to 98 regardless of religious beliefs. Jesus Freak basically made Christian kids proud that they could listen to cool rock music, but the lyrics were more segregative, more typically Christian-for-Christians. Something you could hear at Sunday school or youth group when it they got “edgier” (with the Jesus tattoos and all). Still, Jesus Freak is quite an important album for the Christian music culture, and oh did I listen to it back in the time.

    Now, from Jars of Clay, I find Much Afraid, if not their most important, their best accomplished CD musically, and beautiful lyrically, though by now they have matured as shown in Good Monsters and Inland and their growth makes it clear this is one of their first albums. Still, Much Afraid is one of the few albums from any artist I can come back to and enjoy every single sound in it.

    I kind of like this other list here: http://stillsearching.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/best-%E2%80%9Cchristian%E2%80%9D-albums-of-all-time/ (not as comprehensive as yours of course and focuses mostly on the late nineties to early 2000s with an exception that was widely listened to during those years anyway):

    I love your list and your writing though. I was thinking tonight of finding some Christian stuff to listen to instead of just music from today. I ended up researching a bit about Adam Again and got to some of your entries. Really enjoyed it.


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