Jars of Clay take their name from 2 Corinthians 4:7 which reads: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”. The group was formed at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois in the early 1990’s. They released their self-titled debut album in 1995. The song ‘Flood’ hit No 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No 12 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. Jars of Clay toured with the likes of PFR, Matchbox Twenty, and Sting. The group put out a Christmas EP at the end of ’95 and a version of it was re-released in ’97. MUCH AFRAID also came out in 1997 (Essential/Silvertone). It was produced by Stephen Lipson (Annie Lennox, Cher) and won a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel album. On this record, Jars of Clay is: Dan Haseltine (vocals/percussion), Matthew Odmark (guitar/mandolin/vocals), Charlie Lowell (keyboards/piano/organ/vocals), and Stephen Mason (guitar/bass/vocals). Greg Wells plays a lot of drums and bass on this record. He would go on to produce for OneRepublic and Katy Perry.
‘Overjoyed’ is a light rock song that is a conversation with one’s Creator: “You name me/Who am I/That I should company with something so divine?/Mercy waits/Overjoyed/Prospects of finding freeing/Freeing me/Love is the thing this time I’m sure/And I couldn’t need You more now/The way that You saw things were so pure/Overjoyed”. ‘Fade to Grey’ is a commercial sounding pop song that includes the Nashville Strings arranged by Ron Huff. These lyrics make it clear that God desires spiritual intimacy with us: “And then I see You there/With Your arms open wide and You try to embrace me/These lonely tears I cry/They keep me in chains and I wish they’d release me/Cold is the night but/Colder still is the heart made of stone turned from clay/And if You follow me/You’ll see all the black, all the white, fade to grey”.
‘Tea and Sympathy’ uses the London Strings and is about a relationship on the rocks: “Fare thee well/Trade in all our words for tea and sympathy/Wonder why we tried, for things could never be/Play our heart’s lament like an unrehearsed symphony/Not intend/To leave this castle full of empty rooms/Our love the captive in the tower never rescued/And all the victory songs/Seemed to be playing out of tune”. The lead single from the record ‘Crazy Times’ is another commercial sounding song and includes a nice electric guitar solo. It is about one who is struggling greatly: “You try to climb a broken ladder/Grip the missing rungs/And fall down, down, down, down/Seems some time ago you said this wouldn’t last/And now you sit here crying, yeah/Beside your bed/You feel left for dead/You kneel in the dark/It takes more than your saline eyes/To make things right”.
The next track ‘Frail’ was originally an instrumental on their 1994 demo recording. Here it is a tranquil number, almost seven minutes long. It uses English horn and strings. Now it contains these reflective lyrics: “If I was not so weak/If I was not so cold/If I was not so scared of being broken/Growing old/I would be/I would be/Frail”. These lyrics from ‘Five Candles (You Were There)’ talk about depending on another. No man is an island: “I close my eyes and make a wish/Turn out the lights and take a breath/Pray that when the wick is burned/You would say that it’s all about love/You were there when I needed you/You were there when the skies broke wide, wide open/You were there when I needed you/You were there when the skies broke wide, wide open”.
‘Weighed Down’ expresses a desire for God to shine through our weakness and frailties: “Light of the world/Are You still here?/And are we illuminating/When love becomes a delicate display/So weak, dissolved by anything?/Love lies here waiting all alone/Can a king be a king/Weighed down?” ‘Portrait of an Apology’ is kind of a boring song. It has lyrics I need someone to please translate for me: “Try to explain/The way that the frame/Doesn’t quite fit the image/Or surround the edge/It stands on display/What do you see?/Behold all the new grey/What’s become of the old me?/’Cause I remember it much redder/And I remember it much brighter”.
‘Truce’ was the album’s fifth and last radio single and it was the fifth to hit No 1 on Christian radio. Musically it is upbeat adult pop, but again it has lyrics that are hard to interpret: “I stand here wondering/And I’m waiting/My ear is twisted in all the thoughts/A glimpse of truce just because/It’s always almost never close/I close my eyes, hide the distance/Waiting around for some kind of peace/Hoping you’ll find me in my need”.
The title track ‘Much Afraid’ is a slow, reverent one. It speaks of Christ’s faithfulness to us in every circumstance we find ourselves in: “Empty again/Sunken down so far/So scared to fall/Might not get up again/So I lay at Your feet/All my brokenness/I carry all my burdens to You/All of these things/Held up in vain/No reason or rhyme/Just the scars that remain/Of all of these things/I’m so much afraid/Scared out of my mind/By the demons I’ve made/Sweet Jesus, You never ever let me go/Oh, sweet Jesus, You never ever let me go”. ‘Hymn’ is an easy listening song, in the vein of James Taylor, from a humble heart: “Oh gaze of love so melt my pride/That I may in Your house but kneel/And in my brokenness to cry/Spring worship unto Thee/Sweet Jesus carry me away/From cold of night and dust of day/In ragged hour or salt worn eye/Be my desire, my well spring lye”.
I would say MUCH AFRAID is more geared towards adults who value art and creativity than youth looking for a good time. There is something to be said for a group including personal lyrics on their CD. The only problem at times on this album is that the lyrics can be so vague they are confusing! I am sure they mean something to the group though. I’m rating this album 86%. For more info visit: www.jarsofclay.com.