Jars of Clay released their self-titled debut album back in 1995. REDEMPTION SONGS (2005, Essential Records) was their sixth full-length studio album. It won ‘Recorded Music Packaging of the Year’ at the 37th GMA Dove Awards and was nominated for ‘Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year’, but lost out to Casting Crowns’ LIFESONG. In the liner notes, Jars write: “You have in your hands a collection of very old words set to almost completely modern music. The music comes from a place of true reverence and appreciation for the richness of our past and an attempt to leap across years and articulate that past in a language that could be embraced by us as 21st century people of faith”.
The opening song ‘God Be Merciful to Me (Psalm 51)’ has an old country twang to it and offers these prayerful words: “Make me pure, Thy grace bestow/Wash me whiter than the snow/Gracious God, my heart renew/Make my spirit right and true/Thy salvation’s joy impart/Steadfast make my willing heart (2X)”. ‘I Need Thee Every Hour’ admits total dependence on God: “I need Thee every hour/Most gracious Lord/No tender voice like Thine can peace afford/I need Thee every hour/Stay Thou nearby/Temptations lose their power/When Thou art night/I need Thee, oh I need Thee/Every hour I need Thee”. Andy Osenga and Laura Taylor sing with the band on ‘God Will Lift up your Head’. It is an upbeat pop/rock number that places total confidence in our Maker: “Through waves and clouds and storms/He gently clears the way/Wait because in His time/So shall this night/Soon end in joy (4X)/God will lift up your head”.
A rootsy rock version of Albert E. Brumley’s ‘I’ll Fly Away’ featuring Sarah Kelly’s vocals, follows. This is a song of great hope: “Oh, how glad and happy when we meet/I’ll fly away/No more cold iron shackles on my feet/I’ll fly away.../Just a few more weary days and then/I’ll fly away/To a land where joy will never end/I’ll fly away”. ‘Nothing But the Blood’ features The Blind Boys of Alabama. This version has a highly celebratory and fun feel to it, albeit with a different melody than most are used to: “Nothing can for sin atone/Not of good that I have done/This is all my hope and peace/This is all my righteousness/Oh, precious is the flow/That makes me white as snow/And no other fount I know/Nothing, nothing, nothing but the blood of Jesus (3X)”.
‘Let us Love and Sing and Wonder’ features Martin Smith of Delirious. This ballad glorifies Jesus Christ: “Let us love and sing and wonder/Let us praise the Savior’s Name/He has hushed the law’s loud thunder/Called us by His grace and taught us/Gave us ears and gave us eyes/He has washed us with His blood (3X)/He presents our souls to God”. ‘O Come and Mourn with me Awhile’ reflects on the crucifixion: “Seven times He spoke/Seven words of love/And all three hours His silence cried/For mercy on the souls of men/Jesus our Lord is crucified/O love of God, O sin of man/In this dread act your strength is tried/And victory remains with love/Jesus our Lord is crucified”.
‘Hiding Place’ contrasts light with darkness: “But when Thy Spirit shines within/Makes me feel the plague of sin/And how I long to see Thy face/Tis then I want a hiding place/Lord Jesus, shine and then I can/Feel sweetness in salvation’s plan/And as a sinner plead for grace/Christ, the sinner’s hiding place (2X)”. John Catchings plays cello on ‘Jesus, I Lift my Eyes’. It is a nice worship song: “Here let my faith unshaken dwell/Immovable the promise stands/Not all the powers of earth or hell/Can e’re dissolve the sacred bands/Jesus to Thee I lift my eyes/Jesus, I lift my eyes/To Thee I breathe my soul’s desires/Jesus, I lift my eyes/To Thee I lift my eyes”.
‘It is well with my Soul’ here sounds like it would have if the Beatles had recorded it. It includes these words of spiritual contentment: “Though the devil will ruin/Though trials may come/Let this blessed assurance control/That Christ has regarded my helpless estate/And He shed His own blood for my soul/It is well with my soul/It is well/It is well with my soul”. ‘On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand’ again features The Blind Boys of Alabama. It is a tender sing-a-long song of happiness that anticipates Heaven: “When shall I see that happy place/And be forever blessed/When shall I see my Father’s face/And in His bosom rest/And I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the promise land/I am bound, I am bound/I am bound for the promise land”.
The writers of ‘Thou Lovely Source of True Delight’ are Anne Steele and Kevin Twit. This song petitions Christ: “Jesus my Lord, my life, my light, oh come with blissful ray/Break radiant through the shades of night and chase my fears away/Won’t You chase my fears away?/Then shall my soul with rapture trace the wonders of Thy love”. Last up is ‘They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love’, a folk song penned by Peter Scholtes and dating back to 1966. It begins with these peaceful words: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord (2X)/And we pray that our unity may one day be restored/And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love/Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love”.
REDEMPTION SONGS combines several classic songs of the Christian faith with some newer ones, actually resulting in an intriguing and cohesive album that is reverent and sacred. These songs affirm that God is an ever present help to us both in the good and the bad times of our lives. He is our loving Father who has a great eternal home prepared for those of us who love Him. Stylistically, this album utilizes elements of gospel, pop/rock, folk, roots, and church music to get its message across. This is truly a splendid album! I’m rating REDEMPTION SONGS 97%. For more info visit: www.jarsofclay.com and www.bloodwatermission.com.