traditional styles & hip-hop beats

Jars of Clay (Essential)
Jars of Clay

By Robert Gruber

ixty-four seconds into "Liquid," the first track from Jars Of Clay, was all it took to convince me I was in the midst of something remarkable. Melancholy mandolin strums caressed by a mournful violin, broken by a chorus of sweet harmonies unwinding over a pulsing, programmed drumbeat. Then Enigma-like Gregorian chants kick in, just a moment before the first compelling couplet: "Arms nailed down/Are you telling me something?/ Eyes turned out/Are you looking for someone?" And it only gets better from there.

When I heard that Adrian Belew was producing Jars of Clay, I thought for sure they'd turn out one of those digitally-precise Crimson-esque guitar freakouts he's known for. Not so. Painted from a rich palette of bass, strings, recorders and acoustic guitars, Jars of Clay could almost be straight folk (similar to Eden Buming), except for the hip-hop beats driving many of the songs. Traditional styles — bluegrass and classical among them — are skewed, scissored and twisted with post-modern technique, but the emphasis is always on the organic.

Lead singer Dan Haseltine has an irony-bending introspection that recalls Workbook era Bob Mould. Lyrically, the band eschews quick-fix Christian pop–tarts in favor of honesty: "You see through my forever lies/And you are not believing/And I see in your forever eyes/And you're forever healing" (from "Sinking"). Another song, "Faith Like a Child" is a jubilant interpretation of Mark 10:15.

Like those fragrant, foreboding moments after a rainstorm —such is the overarching feel of songs like "Flood" and "Art in Me." New music should all be this fine. One caveat — if you buy this disc (and you should), be prepared to listen to it a lot. One spin is all it'll take to have you super-gluing Jars of Clay to your CD shuffler for the entire summer.