Jars of Clay originally formed at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois in the early 1990’s. They took 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 band put out their self-titled debut in 1995 which included the popular songs ‘Flood’ and ‘Love Song for a Savior’. IF I LEFT THE ZOO (1999, Essential Records/Silvertone Records) is their third album. It won a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. It was produced and mixed by Dennis Herring who has produced for the likes of Counting Crows and Elvis Costello. On this album Jars of Clay is: Dan Haseltine (vocals/percussion), Matt Odmark (acoustic guitars), Stephen Mason (electric guitars), and Charlie Lowell (piano/keyboards).
‘Goodbye, Goodnight’ is a folk song that uses accordion, violin, cello, and the Oxford Coffee Choir. It begins with these depressing words: “A flower for your vanity, a penny for your thoughts/About the world’s insanity and how we’ve gotten lost/Strike up the band to play a song as we go waltzing by/And fake a smile as we all say goodbye/Goodbye, oh goodbye”. The lead radio single and great pop song ‘Unforgetful You’ is up next. It uses hand claps and was on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Drive Me Crazy’. It is a song of praise: “You never minded calling me a child/Well, I guess that’s how I acted all the while/But You live through every tantrum/You see through every lie/Though they seem to be more common/I just wanted to know why, oh why/Unforgetful You, unforgetful/Unforgetful You, so unforgetful”.
‘Collide’ is a rock song that contains these emotional words: “Open up your box of sunshine/And smile as confetti comes raining down on you/You feel a lot like the good guy, but do you know why/Everything’s so blue/Well, love is fire and the coals are barely burning/Cold fills the emptiness that fills this empty place/I taught you the walk, but then you ran away from me/And that’s not how it’s supposed to be”. ‘No One Loves Me Like You’ uses pump organ and mandolin. It is the song of one captured by love: “No one loves me like you/No one loves me the way you do/No one loves me like you/No one loves me the way, the way that you do/To touch the rose unfearful/Is to meet the thorn/And pierce the heart’s emotion/And feel the emptiness no more/Emptiness no more.../Took some time to realize I’ve fallen”.
‘Famous Last Words’ has a commercial adult pop sound. It is thought provoking: “Narrow is the road and too high a price to pay/When loneliness is such a sanctuary/Empty are the musings and wasted are the days/When you say you were only waiting/And famous last words/’I’m not ready yet’/’I won’t be gone a minute’/And I won’t forget/Famous last words/If tomorrow never comes, will I ever know that I was in love?” ‘Sad Clown’ is a tranquil song with Ben Egan playing lap steel. Toy piano and Moog are also used. This song is about becoming vulnerable: “Say how’s the weather, so I look out the window/To brighten my soul, but I can’t control the rain/That keeps falling/Smile on the outside that never comes in/A comedy, mystery, irony, tragedy/So I scream/’Let the show begin’/You break me open, turn on the light/Stumble inside with me, with me”.
Jonathan Noel is a co-writer on ‘Hand’. He also contributes backing vocals. It is about learning to trust in God: “Fear is keeping time with the beating of my heart/I’m doin’ way too much thinkin’/And it’s tearing me apart/And I, I feel You reach for me/From lost and not found, to run and not hide/My hand inside...(Your hand)/Losing my grip, falling so far/My hand inside Your hand/I hear Your voice and follow/So hard to believe, and still I go”. ‘I’m Alright’ will take you to church. It makes good use of a Gospel choir that includes Sherrie Kibble and Darwin Hobbs. It includes these honest lyrics: “It was the fear of God that led me to you/And it’s the fear of you that takes getting used to/I’ve never been one to hang my heart on a thread/But you spun me around and you loved me instead/I know I could turn to something other than you/’Cause I don’t understand you and why you’re after me/I’ve never been the saint you wanted me to turn to/And I can’t see the view from the eyes you look at me through, oh no”.
‘Grace’ is a conversation with God: “God, I admit I’ve loved these chains/And crawling around this cage sometimes has its advantages/I know someday this could get old/And I’ll need Your healing water to find my home/I feel Your grace come running over every road/I love the way You’re calling overflow/I feel Your grace come running over every road/You break the floodgates down and carry all”. ‘Can’t Erase It’ is a light rock song that speaks of life’s consequences: “Follow the crowd and love everybody now/’Cause love is the best thing for you now/But you changed your mind, you let everybody down/But down is the best place for you/It’s easier that way, you know it’s/So wrong, can’t embrace it/Wish sometimes for any other you/But you can’t erase it, and you won’t escape it”. The last song is ‘River Constantine’ which is a ballad that uses piano and warblestrings. It is a cry for spiritual renewal: “Carry me, Your love is wider than my need could ever be/Come to me, and I will walk along Your shoreline/Feel Your crashing waves sing in time with the pounding of my heart/Come down, pour out on me (2X)/River deep, could I know You as well as You know me?/Constantine, will we travel faster, farther than these/Legs could ever trustworthy be?”
IF I LEFT THE ZOO is an album abounding in artistic depth and creativity. The lyrics are deep in meaning and cannot be fully grasped with just one listen. These are songs that will make you both think and feel. The music is mature and pleasant to listen to. Dan Haseltine’s lead vocals are spot on. There is nothing fluffy about this project. I’m rating it 96%. For more info visit: www.jarsofclay.com.