2009 was quite kind to Jars Of Clay. With the release of The Long Fall Back To Earth last April, it opened to much critical acclaim (including garnering the #1 spot on our year-end staff picks list here at JFH, as well as my personal top choice), and also supporting the album effectively through constant touring. This seventh studio album from the band most recently was nominated for six Dove Awards, including Song of the Year ("Two Hands") and Artist of the Year. To top off this newfound success found with the album, Jars has launched a four-part EP series of live renditions of their work, entitled Live At Gray Matters. Included in this first edition of the series are five tracks from The Long Fall Back To Earth, as well as 25 minutes of footage of the band members performing these live versions.
As far as the live audio is concerned, it doesn't make too much of a change to the originals, but it has just the right live sound to make it worthwhile. While some tracks don't feel changed much at all ("Heart," "Safe To Land"), there is a definite "live feel" that makes these tracks shine. Just like a live rendition of a sound should, these versions give it a more organic and less-produced approach, giving the atmospheric qualities of the original album an interesting spin. The tracks the band chose to cover were fine choices as well, giving the EP a good mix of the album's various styles, from the energetic and edgy ("Don't Stop," "Weapons") to the mellow and thoughtful ("Safe to Land," "Heart"). Interestingly enough, they are presented in a different order in the audio tracklisting than in the video, but it dodges being a detriment to the resulting product. If anything is to be criticized, "Two Hands" may not be quite up to par with the other four songs; it feels a tad rushed and it didn't benefit nearly as much from the live treatment as the others.
For the video, the setting is appropriate and interesting; as the title implies of the series, the footage is filmed from Jars Of Clay's personal studio in Nashville, Tennessee called Gray Matters. While this does end up filming the video in a cluttered, undecorative room (save for some out-of-place Christmas lights), the obvious messiness of the studio admittedly adds a charm to the video and adds to its unproduced approach. The band members (plus the band's touring drummer and bassist) arranged themselves in a horseshoe-like shape, allowing for occasional camera shots of all of the performers in the same frame, which was a wise choice. The video becomes the most interesting, however, when the camera is on keyboardist Charlie Lowell and lead singer Dan Haseltine, as they have to alter their positions and instruments often and in unusual ways. The best song captured on both the audio and video segments is "Safe to Land"; both guitarists Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark and drummer Jake Goss are rather subtle in their participation (but nonetheless essential to the song), but the shot of both Haseltine and Lowell on their respective keyboards is a great one that would efficiently sum up the whole video.
So far, Live At Gray Matters as a series seems to be taking on a great shape. While the other installments will be featuring other songs from Jars Of Clay's vast and plentiful catalog, this EP did a masterful job of picking the right songs to capture from The Long Fall..., and it excites me further to see where Jars takes this series in the future. This is a great start for the series, and it's definitely one to be watching out for over the course of this year.- Review date: 2/26/10, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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