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jarsofclay_idol.jpgJars of Clay recently released a retrospective called “The Essential Jars of Clay,” and unlike some retrospectives, this one is, well, essential. If you’re not a Jars of Clay fan, this is a great opportunity to get in on a dozen years of this band’s groundbreaking work. If you’re already a Jars of Clay fan, you’ll love the collection of songs you know, as well as some studio surprises and unreleased tracks that are woven into the playlist.
It was back in 1995 that Jars of Clay made a quiet but unmistakable entrance onto the pop music scene with their unique sound that includes mandolin, violin, cello, and assorted other instruments. Their music ranges from a grinding alternative sound, to a driving top-40 vibe, to the gentle melody of soft ballads. The thing that sets Jars of Clay apart–even more than its unique sound–is the brave authenticity and courageous spirituality that makes their songs as smart lyrically as they are touching emotionally.


These 34 songs on 2 discs nicely capture the best of a band that has mastered the crossover between pop culture and Christian music. They’ve won 13 Dove awards and have had eight consecutive titles on Billboard’s “Top 5 Christian Albums Chart,” three of which were number one.
“Flood” was their first song to establish the band, and it starts off this CD set. When it debuted, it was simultaneously listed on Billboard’s Rock, Modern Rock, Top 40 Mainstream and Adult Top 40 charts. They’ve been making a mix of chart-toppers and hidden wonders every since then, and you can find the best of them in “Essential.”
If you haven’t followed them closely, you’ll be wowed by early hits “Liquid” and “Worlds Apart,” as well more recent songs “Work” and “Mirrors and Smoke.” People of faith will resonate with “Love Song for a Savior,” “Unforgetful You,” “Dig” and “Needful Hands.” “Fade to Grey” musically and lyrically grows on even the most discriminating thinker who’s trying to discern the role of faith in real life. “This Road” is a contemporary hymn, the kind we should have more of. And the band’s reimagined “The Little Drummer Boy” is among the best arrangements ever of that traditional song.
One caution, though: Jars Of Clay’s songs are sophisticated and intricate enough that you need to be able to decently hear them to appreciate them. If you’re in a car with the windows down, you might as well play something else. But if you’ve got your iPod or are in a quiet environment where you can soak it in, “The Essential Jars of Clay” serves up a feast of musical variety with reflective words that inspire the intelligent soul.

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