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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jars of Clay: Much Afraid

So the year was 1999 and the place... somewhere on a highway in Texas. During my stay at a choir camp for a week (true, very dorky), we traveled to Austin, Texas from Brownwood, TX. While on the charter bus trip, it began to storm outside, though due to the loud mechanical sounds of the bus, you could hear no storm noise. Instead, the bus' sound system played a tremendously mellow, sleepy album. Not boring, just extremely relaxing. It was musically beautiful, yet thoughtful at the same. Much Afraid by Jars of Clay is not a fan favorite, but I find myself liking it the most out of their other albums. Though it is a Christian album, it is not overly obnoxious about being such and in fact, trumps many Christian albums by several standards including musicality. While the genre can sometimes be flat out torture, I believe listeners will find Much Afraid to be out of the ordinary.

We begin... 90% of Much Afraid is slow music. It's one of the more distinctive features. The first song, "Overjoyed" brings the listener right in with it's mellow, yet impacting story of pure love; the kind that is untarnished despite ones faults. The guitars drive this song with its unique chord structure. "Overjoyed" is a great way to begin this album as the tempo is slow, but not dragging, and its powerful lyrics are enchanting enough to keep you interested. "Fade to Grey" is completely opposite. While still a fantastic track, it's entirely more fast paced and probably their liveliest song on the album. It's got some great harmonies and some changes throughout the song that keep you on your toes wondering where it's going. "Fade to Grey" is sprightly and hopeful at the same time with its lyrics, when during the chorus, make you literally not want to miss a word while singing along. This song is addictive. "Tea and Sympathy" is one of their prettiest songs on the album and definitely takes me back to that rainy day on the bus. It's completely relaxing and slightly pensive in nature. It's a great song to just sit, listen to, and ponder over. Appropriately, there are strings on this track, and with its title, anything less would just be a disappointment... something that this song isn't.

"Crazy Times" and "Frail" are both very good, but very different. Neither are favorites of mine, but neither are bad. The listener will likely listen to and sing to these songs repeatedly, but in my opinion, there is nothing that draws me to these as there is with the others. Besides the above, the two have nothing in common. "Crazy Times" is much faster and heavier on guitars where "Frail" feels like it drags at times. I don't think you'll be disappointed at all in these two tracks though I don't know if they'll be quick favorites. "Five Candles (You Were There)" is a blast to listen to. It's lighthearted, airiness makes me want to have a picnic with my closest family and friends and enjoy a beautiful day. The song is a positive track about faith and trust. Again, Jars of Clay's music can be interpreted in the Christian viewpoint that's intended, or just unreligiously viewed altogether. Either way, you can't deny this song's positively pleasant sound and message.

"Weighed Down" is a nice track that upon first hearing it, appears to resemble their first hit in the early 90's, "Flood". It has the same same sound to the guitar strums and his voice takes the same tone. However, in a matter of a few seconds, you'll realize that's about the only similarity. They're completely different tracks. "Weighed Down" is nowhere near as much of a rock song as "Flood" (a song that I'd highly recommend). While I like this track, it has never made much of an impression on me as a contender for a favorite. On that same token, "Portrait of an Apology", "Truce", and "Much Afraid" take similar places in my book. They all have some good musical elements including their instrumentation and lyrics, but overall, nothing too memorable or special in my mind. "Much Afraid" is probably the most interesting of the three because it has some very unexpected chord structures, but despite the chords in this song, nothing else makes me really want to listen to this song repeatedly.

However, the last track, "Hymn" is not only a beautiful song musically, but lyrically. It's a song about worship. Yep, there's no mistaking that this song is very much a Christian song. Though the lyrics mention pure worship, it's not obnoxious. It's quite beautiful, as worship is depicted in an extremely detailed manner. While I think this song is pretty, it doesn't change the fact that the lead singer's naturally shaky voice is highly exposed in this song. It sounds a little more uneven than usual, a factor that is probably more evident in "Hymn" because of the song's softness and timidness. Vocal quirks aside though, it's a wonderful song.

So while Jars of Clay may not be your cup of tea, and while some of you may turn and fun fast in the opposite direction of any music which is Christian in nature, I would encourage you to listen to Much Afraid, for I feel that you will be pleasantly surprised by how enchanting and relaxing of an album it is. 85-90% of the music is great and the other 10-15% is good. I can't call anything on this album bad... it would just be complete nonsense. Having said that, you'd be doing yourself a favor to listen to this one. I think it will surprise many people.

Key Tracks:

1.) Overjoyed
2.) Fade to Grey
3.) Tea and Sympathy
4.) Five Candles (You Were There)
5.) Hymn

7 out of 10 stars

1 comment:

Cale said...

"Frail" is literally one of the best songs ever...