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 band released their self-titled debut in 1995. Fast forward to 2003 and the band put out their fifth full length album, WHO WE ARE INSTEAD (Essential). Group members on the album are: Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Mason, and Matthew Odmark. The producers on the album are Jars of Clay, Mitch Dane, and Ron Aniello, while the executive producer is Robert Beeson. Here, I will be reviewing the standard edition of the CD, but there is a special edition with two additional songs, ‘Tonight’ and ‘Shipwrecked’.
On the album opener, ‘Sunny Days’, John Catchings plays cello. This pleasant pop song is the album’s second single and is optimistic: “Sunny days, keepin’ the clouds away/I think we’re coming to a clearing and a brighter day/So far away/Still I think they say/The wait will make the heart grow stronger or fonder/I can’t quite remember anyway/So if you’re waitin’ for love/Well, it’s a promise I’ll keep/If you don’t mind believing that it changes everything/Then time will never matter”. ‘Amazing Grace’ is a rootsy ballad. Ashley Cleveland is a guest vocalist on this testimony song: “I hitched a ride, I was a beggar/I had murder on my hands/I needed water to rinse these stains/But only blood could remove what’s spillin’/And pardon me the blame/Amazing grace/I feel you coming up slowly now/Like the sun is risin’, heat on my face/Oh love that keeps on shinin’/Don’t let the shadow come/Ya know I gotta feel your healin’ rays”. Dan and Cathy Peek wrote ‘Lonely People’. It was the second single from America’s 1974 album HOLIDAY. The song hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Jars of Clay’s cover version here, was used on the TV show ‘Everwood’. The opening lyrics are: “This is for all the lonely people/Thinkin’ that life has passed them by/Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup/Ride that highway in the sky”.
‘Only Alive’ is an easy listening love ballad: “I’m only alive with you/I can’t get by and I won’t get through/So put me in the river and let me say ‘I Do’/I’m only alive with you/Though my heart has been torn by loves I have worn/And I’m tempted by them ever still/I tremble inside when you walk in the room/You hold my affections and will”. Aaron Sands co-wrote ‘Trouble Is’ with the group, and Kenny Meeks adds vocals to it. This gospel influenced number is about a search for peace: “Can’t find no rest for my soul/Can’t find no rest on my own/Jesus told me so/Still I’m not so sure that I know/Man, the trouble is/We don’t know who we are instead/I’ll keep runnin’ the other way/My heart ain’t built to stay (2X)/And the world just ain’t that way”.
‘Faith Enough’ is a soft pop song with poetic lyrics: “The storm is wild enough for sailing/The bridge is weak enough to cross/This body frail enough for fighting/I’m home enough to know I’m lost/Home enough to know I’m lost/It’s just enough to be strong/In the broken places, in the broken places/It’s just enough to be strong/Should the world rely on faith tonight”. Chris McHugh plays drums on the album’s first single, ‘Show You Love’. It’s a pretty pop song: “You’re beautiful and I am weakened by the force of your eyes/So shine bright to separate the truth from the lies/I’m gonna show you love/I’m gonna show you love in every language/I’m gonna speak the words that need no form/I’m gonna give you what you never had before”.
‘Lesser Things’ is contemplative: “If the wind should shake this house apart/The cradle hits the ground with a broken heart/Will we say we never knew a thing?/While we pray to the god of the lesser things/Is there grace for a wayward heart?/Is there grace for a wayward heart?/Grace, grace”. ‘I’m in the Way’ is an upbeat pop song: “If you think that hope was left behind/I picked it up a mile ago/And I am running close behind/So don’t give up and don’t let go/I’m in the way of fallin’ down/I won’t let you go that far now”.
Next up is ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’. In the liner notes the band writes: “We originally heard this song on a Gavin Bryars recording. It was a 72 minute loop of a homeless man singing this simple chorus over and over. The contrast of one so lowly expressing such certain and simple faith was and continues to be nothing short of astounding”. Jars dedicate their version and the proceeds from it to those suffering in Africa. ‘Jealous Kind’ is an adult contemporary ballad about spiritual unfaithfulness: “I built another temple to a stranger/I gave away my heart to the rushing wind/I set my course to run right into danger/Sought the company of fools instead of friends.../Tryin’ to jump away from rock that keeps on spreading/For solace in the shift of the sinking sand/I’d rather feel the pain all too familiar/Than be broken by a lover I don’t understand/’Cause I don’t understand”.
Aaron Sands plays bass on ‘Sing’, a light Christian rock song about love for God: “I walk through flame, I touch the fire/You know that I still burn for You/Flood, water, rain crash down/Soak the ground, still I thirst for You/Still I thirst for You/Sing another love song (2X)/Though it makes no sense to me/You make me wanna sing/Make me wanna sing”. ‘My Heavenly’ looks ahead to the future: “So when I’m lonely or when I’m old/Life is more behind me/All the stories have been told/I can fix my gaze up through the clouds/Where I’m gonna be, where I’m gonna be, my heavenly/My, my heavenly/My heavenly”.
WHO WE ARE INSTEAD is mainly a Christian pop record, with folk and gospel influences. It is not danceable pop though, say in the vein of Newsboys. Instruments used with great artistry here, include: organ, accordion, lap and pedal steel, mandolin, and banjo. The lyrics are well crafted and maybe it will take you two or three listens through the album to fully appreciate the messages being conveyed. Themes include: having faith when times are tough, redemption, loving God and loving and caring for one’s fellow man, and anticipating heaven. Dan Haseltine’s vocals are warm and inviting. I’m rating WHO WE ARE INSTEAD 96%. For more info visit: www.jarsofclay.com and www.bloodwater.org.