Ten years ago this Summer, a little four-piece band called Jars Of Clay began making waves with a self-titled debut that boasted a sound like few had heard before. Following the album's release, a whirlwind career unfolded quickly. Now five studio releases, numerous accolades, and a handful of rare EPs and bonus projects later, Jars turns in their newest project, a collection of hymns and spirituals entitled Redemption Songs.
Jars Of Clay made a more southern gospel, bluegrass stylistic shift with their 2003 masterpiece Who We Are Instead. Blending the southern flavor with more modern elements like electronically fabricated backdrops, Who We Are... had a fresh and unique sound that nearly rivaled what was accomplished by their debut. Redemption Songs takes the southern influence further, but almost entirely forsakes the innovation of their previous effort. Regardless, what's presented on Redemption Songs is a rebirth of music that helped shape the way we worship God today. These songs have been sung in churches across the earth for decades and Jars Of Clay's goal with this project is to renew them for a new generation and bridge the gaps between the past and the future.
The honesty, passion, and sheer brokenness that shines through the pennings of classic hymns is unsurmountable today. Redemption Songs isn't just a collection of random songs written decades ago, but an exploration of God's mercy, forgiveness, and atonement. Acoustics and soulful keys open the album in "God Be Merciful To Me (Psalm 51)" and set the tone for the rest of the album. Jars of Clay's production on the record is clean but raw, giving the project a real layered yet stripped-down feel. It works well with the scheme of the project, cresting for the radio friendly and anthemic approach to "God Will Life Up Your Head," "I'll Fly Away" featuring Sarah Kelly, "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand" with The Blind Boys Of Alabama, and the familiar "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love." Not every rendition works as well as most, however, specifically the band's atypical take on "It Is Well With My Soul."
To be honest, Redemption Songs isn't what I'd expect from the band that released
such a milestone as their debut, and has since continued to artistically bend the rules over the
past ten years. But after many listens and a firmer grasp on the ambitions of this project, the album carries a much
greater weight. Redemption Songs is a bold release and a wonderful tool for worship
that seeks to bring the lessons of the past forward. I can only hope these guys continue to push
the boundaries of music and how spirituality comes to play in it with more valiant ventures like
- Review date: 3/19/05, written by John DiBiase
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