Jars Of Clay has been reinventing their sound ever since their amazing 1995 self-titled debut. The closest they've come to the gold struck back in the mid-nineties was last year's The Eleventh Hour. This time around on Who We Are Instead, the guys choose a more mellow and tamer route that blends the folk vibes from their first album with the stripped-down artistic approach from Furthermore, a project released earlier this year.
A quirky guitar opens the record as part of the delightfully upbeat "Sunny Days." The song shamelessly proves the acoustic pop music that fans have been accustomed to hearing from Jars of Clay has returned. "Amazing Grace" quickly changes gears heading the band in yet another new direction. The band penned the song after being heavily inspired by Johnny Cash's ability to write simple yet effective and powerful gospel songs. Through their own take on the traditional story-telling gospel song, Jars pieces together an anthem of sorts as the chorus aims high, "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." Jars offers a surprise cover of the 1974 classic hit "Lonely People," originally performed by the band America. The song fits very well among the others on Who We Are Instead, and pays a fine homage to the original. "Trouble Is" is the most unique cut on the album, possibly taking one of the more risky directions their sound has gone in recent years. The song begins with a southern gospel flavor that is surprisingly reminiscent of something you might have heard the Soggy Bottom Boys do on the O Brother, Where Art Thou film soundtrack. But before some of you classic Jars fans get scared, the guys put a spin on this sound giving it a contemporary feel that comes complete with a thumping electronic drum track. After a few listens, it was clear to me this was one of the highlights on Who We Are Instead.
However, the standout track on Who We Are Instead comes in the form of the solid and infectious "Show You Love," a pop anthem that might possibly one of Jars' best pop singles to date. Featuring a sound similar to that heard on The Eleventh Hour but with a little more simplistic beauty, "Show You Love" displays the kind of songwriting that made Jars of Clay the household name it has become. Much of the remaining tracks pale in comparison yet excel at creating an atmosphere of praise without ever sounding forced or deliberate. Who We Are Instead is a pouring out of the band members' hearts and souls. It's something that rings true with the meditative "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" or the closing tracks "Sing" and "My Heavenly."
While The Eleventh Hour set a darker tone and was clothed in a more elaborate musical garment, Who We Are Instead creates a peaceful and relaxing setting for the listener. With upbeat moments here and there, it never disrupts and only enhances this more melodic and tranquil acoustic pop offering. Yet another different approach musically (and lyrically) for the band, it's an artistic venture that reveals itself as brilliance with each consecutive listen.- Review date: 11/3/03, written by John DiBiase
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