Jars of Clay has been one of those bands who don't like to forget their fans. When they released Much Afraid in 1997, some copies at certain stores included a bonus Seatbelt Tuba CD with 4 live-in-the-studio recordings (including the fan favorite- "Coffee Song"). For their fan club, they have the exclusive live double CD, Stringtown. And this year, they've released a 13-song rarities project appropriately titled The White Elephant Sessions, available free when you purchase If I Left the Zoo. Before reviewing its features, it's puzzling to figure why now and why the exception? Why, almost a year after If I Left the Zoo, release a project for the fans that they have to buy the CD, which they most likely already have, to get a new "special" one? A marketing ploy? Possibly? Is it worth buying ...Zoo again? You bet. Why? Let's take a look...
The CD opens with an electronic remix of "Unforgetful You" from Zoo, a decent mix, unfortunately the only one on this project. A demo of "Crazy Times," recorded in France, follows, incidentally the first song written for Much Afraid. Although not much different than its original, the demo is a unique addition. A demo of "Goodbye, Goodnight" is included, recorded in Decorah, IA, apparently done with only a trash can, guitar, accordian... and Captain Crunch cereal. Again, not much different from its final version, the sheer rawness is also unique. "River Constantine" appears as a partial demo from the same location as "Goodbye." It begins with what the band calls "a snoring appearance by a pastor friend," but the slow pace and melodies make it even more of a worshipful song.
"Grace" is highlight on the collection. Known as the "Hudson & Wells demo," this version features a different chorus than what's on the album. However, I feel this one is stronger and much more appealing. Apparently, the band didn't feel the same. "Headstrong" makes its appearance in "IA demo" form as well. The final version can be found on this year's Roaring Lambs compilation project, but the demo is once again much better than the final product. More raw and more acoustic, it doesn't feature the annoying whine of the final version and thus is much more appealing. The band explains that it was meant for Zoo but didn't fit. The Seatbelt Tuba version of "Coffee Song" is included on this project as well. Still without general public release, "Coffee Song" has only been released on fan projects and is usually performed live. An original demo version of "Can't Erase It" from Zoo, recorded in the so-called "Tweed Horse Sessions" marks the beginning of what was what Jars calls "major surgery" for the song. "Kaylos" is a radio jingle the band recorded for a restaurant of the same name they frequented while recording Zoo. Its funky beat and record-scratching as they yell "Kaylos!" makes this a fun and bizarre addition to the project.
"New Math" is another "Tweed Horse Session." The band explains, "This was written in Oxford, MS for If I Left the Zoo. It was part of an exercise to write songs as if we were not Jars of Clay and was inspired by an old record used for teaching math to students. To us it is about relationships... equally as perplexing a subject. This track features Stephen [Mason] on drums." "Fly Farther," although just sounding like a normal ballad, is what the band labels as "our sappy country song." Intended for Much Afraid, the band left "Fly Farther" off due to its abundance of slow songs already. "Collide" is yet another "Tweed Horse Session" which includes a guitar idea of Stephen's and a rawer sound with what they call "a bridge from outer space." The album closes with an instrumental version of "Frail" that "Stephen Mason had written in 1994 to acquire a music scholarship for college." In 1995, the band recorded their version at the college for the Frail album.
So what if you already bought If I Left the Zoo? Get it with White Elephant Sessions and give it to a friend. The only thing that would make it better would be a few more b-sides a few less demos. Despite that, this is a collector's disc no Jars fan should miss!- Review date: 10/3/00, written by John DiBiase
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