Where to begin with an album that means so many things to me (and so many others)? An album that is tied to so many great memories?
I would submit to you that this album is the perfect soundtrack for any activity, for any mood. Whether you're chilling, cleaning, studying, driving with the windows down, or worshipping. Now 20 years later, I still revisit this album multiple times a month and it's taken a large role in shaping who I am as a person and my musical tastes.
Jars of Clay met and formed at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois in the early 1990's. Band members Charlie Lowell (keys) and Dan Haseltine (vocals) struck up a friendship over a shared love of the band Toad the Wet Sprocket. Although pursuing a career in music was never the goal, they quickly gained a following from music that they wrote together for a school class project. in 1994, they released a limited pressing of a demo titled "Frail" and decided to leave school to pursue a career in music.
Wikipedia has this to say about the album (and I concur):
"The album has been highly acclaimed, being one of few Christian albums of the mid-nineties to achieve platinum status. As the group's debut album, Jars of Clay introduced many internationally to the group and established the group due to their distinctive style."
This album also had the distinction of being one of very few to have great crossover impact on MTV and mainstream radio.
Personally, I first learned of Jars of Clay as my interest in Christian music began to bloom. I had just graduated middle school and was taking the coolest of all classes at youth group camp in the summer of 1995: watching and discussing christian music videos.
When I first saw and heard the strains of "Flood," I was hooked. I'd never heard anything like the pounding acoustic guitars that were as relentless as the rain they were singing about. The violin breakdown in the bridge? As far as my young ears were concerned, it was perfection in a pop song. I had to find out more about these guys, and soon after camp (not soon enough!), on that fateful day of October 25th, I purchased their cassette tape and proceeded to wear it out.
The best part, as my best friend and I were to discover, is that "Flood"--although a terrific song and most people's introduction to the band--wasn't even the best the album had to offer. In my opinion, that easily goes to "Worlds Apart," but I digress.
As I greedily dug deeper into the track listing (I still remember the smell of the liner notes), I quickly became a fan of the opening song "Liquid." With its beginning combination of harmonious "yeah's" and chanting monks (if you've never heard it, it sounds weird but it works), along with the tight strums of the acoustic guitars and strong drum beat, I'd found my go-to song. It was the following year at another youth camp upon hearing it on a souped-up sound system that it further nailed this down as "my" song.
My next memory of this album is singing along with my best friend in high school as he strummed the familiar notes of "Love Song for a Savior" and "Worlds Apart" as we hung out on weekends. A few years later in college, another friend and roommate frequently played "Worlds Apart," further cementing it as an all-time favorite song. There are many great lyrics, but the following have been the most meaningful to me personally:
"It takes all I am to believe
In the mercy that covers me
Did you really have to die for me?
All I am for all you are
Because what I need and what I want are worlds apart"
I don't know about you, but that cuts to my heart every time!
"Love Song for a Savior," although simple lyrically, may just be better than a majority of today's modern worship songs because of its innocence and purity of delivery.
"It seems too easy to call you 'Savior'
not close enough to call you 'God'
So as I sit and think of words I can mention
To show my devotion.
...I want to fall in love with you"
I typically find the simplest of expressions when straight from the heart to be the ones that draw my hearts affections to my Savior. This one just does that for me.
Two other musical standout tracks and personal favorite musically are the harmonies of "Like a Child" and the swirling strings on "Boy on a String."
Closing track "Blind" seems to be both directed at Pilate and at us.
Pilate, who wanted to rely on logic, had finally washed his hands of responsibility for Christ's blood...
"Crucify, and deny,
pass the blame and burn the mission
Till dust remains
and wash your hands"
You can't find
Any reason to believe in love
You are blind"
And us the often wayward believer...
"So you fight
And talk yourself out of believing
Any peace that you can't see"
"Blind" was a great way to end the album which brings me to my one (albeit small) quibble with the album, and that is the long run time of barely audible band practice and chatter between the end of "Blind" and a hidden gem of a song, "Four Seven." This song is basically a thesis statement for the band's name (which is taken from 2 Corinthians 4:7 and its mission as a band).
Aside from the annoyance of having to fast forward to get to the song, I felt like the song should have been given the full treatment, and placed earlier in the track listing. (A good fit could have been right after "Flood" and before "Worlds Apart.") But as I said, small quibbles. I think they remedied that small annoyance with the platinum re-issue of this album including "four seven" as an eleventh song.
Lastly, this album is one of very few from the 1990's that I believe still holds up lyrically as well as musically to this day. Others might say that the drum loops and acoustic guitar on this album haven't aged well, but I would politely and emphatically disagree. If you missed this one, or weren't yet born, you should definitely give it a spin!
What is Jars of Clay up to now:
Still making music and touring (albeit at a much smaller and more infrequent pace) with their most recent full length original album Inland released in 2013. They continue to pursue a pairing of their deep and poetic lyrics with any and all styles and genres of music, as they've explored americana, bluegrass, 80's, prog rock, acoustic, worship, and indie styled music since their debut. Jars of Clay is also one of the rare bands from the era who now 20 years later has kept the same lineup which I applaud. One hopes that there are many more years of their brand of insightful, smart pop which I believe is under appreciated but sorely needed.
-- Josh Balogh (Guest writer for JFH)
Seth Bolt and I have similar souls - we love the woods and realize that too much work will damage you. We live an hour apart on sizeable tracts of land in the South Carolina forests.
But Seth has created something that woodsmen and citygoers alike will marvel at. A two-story treehouse with beautiful glass windows nestled a few short miles from Clemson's Death Valley sits on the 40 acre farm of the Bolt family. He and his father built it themselves, and Seth built it with the intentionality that he would live there. His soul became alive whenever he was back on his parent's farm, so he decided to share it with others.
Since Seth is a bassist for the popular band Needtobreathe, the tree house is available for rental when Seth is out on tour. It is a popular getaway for couples, friends, and fans traveling to Clemson. (Link to book the house here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8319626?s=8). Construction was finished in September and Bolt is surprised at how fast it has filled up, "We have most of 2015 booked and we even have weekends in 2016 booked. I am surprised at how fast this is growing."
Bolt went to Africa last year and people asked him about America. "I was honest with them. America has big houses and nice things but people here are happier. You spend more time with the ones you care about and you dont work as hard."
This philosophy also extends to Needtobreathe. When making Rivers in the Wasteland, they worked so hard and unfruitfully that they almost split up and it created a three-year gap between the release of The Reckoning and Rivers in the Wasteland. This time, the band has been much more careful with their time as they currently work on their sixth studio album. "We are working hard but we are taking lots of time to rest. For instance, we just worked four full days this week and took three days off. That will help this be our best record yet and as a byproduct of the rest time, the songs are not as dark. I have made music a long time but it was not always joyful."
Seth has also done what millions of Americans long to do, unplug for an entire day. "Just this past week, I took an entire day off and went into the woods. I even cut my cell phone off. I was afraid I was going to miss something at first, but once you are out there, it doesn't matter anymore. Your soul fills up and your cup is overflowing."
If God rested and if God commands us to rest, then why can't we rest?
-- William Corbin
The term “Jesus Freak” was coined around the late sixties and has been used as a derogatory term for Christians ever since. Like the term “Christian” itself, believers began to latch onto it like a badge of honor and proudly proclaim themselves as Jesus Freaks. Perhaps, though, none have ever proclaimed it as loudly as "two honks and a negro" did twenty years ago…
dcTalk had fairly humble beginnings in the late eighties. The name originated as a nickname for group leader Toby McKeehan, but later was identified as “decent Christian” talk. Due to some success from their demo tape, the group got a deal with the CCM giants Forefront Records (which was started by Eddie DeGarmo of DeGarmo & Key). Their self-titled debut is pretty cheesy looking back, but songs like “Heavenbound” still hold a special place in the hearts of most fans. While most of the debut was a rap/rock mix, the group’s second release, Nu Thang focused much more heavily on the hip/hop and rap elements. The trio’s popularity continued to rise with the release of the now classic Free At Last. Their third album continued from where Nu Thang left off, but featured more pop elements and brought back a few more of the rock components as well -- such as displayed in “Luv is a Verb.” The album garnered much success as it went platinum, boasted of several killer singles, landed the boys on Jay Leno's show, and even spawned a movie (that didn't make it to theaters but was released on DVD for the 10-year anniversary of the album). Many thought Free at Last would be their most groundbreaking (in the CCM industry) album ever, but I don’t think anyone had a clue what was coming only three years later. dcTalk decided to reinvent their sound some for their fourth record, and the rest is history.
The lead single, and title track, released on August 1, 1995 and jaws dropped. It was grungy. It was hard rock. Toby’s raps were at their best and the hook would be stuck in your head for days. Where did this song come from? Fan were surprised, but it only built the hype for the rest of the album. Nearly four long months later, on November 21st, 1995, Jesus Freak hit shelves full force and debuted at number 16 on Billboard’s Top 200 -- completely unprecedented for its time. Even more impressive may have been the fact that the album was certified Gold within a month. dcTalk were breaking down barriers between the secular and Christian industries that had only been dreamt of before. “Just Between You and Me” lead the way for the crossover and did extremely well on several Billboard charts. Six of the singles released became number one hits throughout the Christian charts. Jesus Freak (the album) won a Grammy and “Jesus Freak” (the song) was the first non-AC (adult contemporary) song to win the Dove Award for song of the year. This is the point in history, and this is the album, that began opening people’s eyes to the Christian music scene. (Even Virgin Records, who would go on to distribute the album to the mainstream turned to look at the Newsboys next.) Barriers began to be removed and people slowly began seeing Christian music as something artistically relevant, and not just a cheesy knockoff.
Jesus Freak was the first ever CD I bought. Sure, I had cassette tapes of other artists across other genres (I LOVED Ray Stevens), but this was my very first CD. I still own it along with the single and the Ten Year Anniversary Edition -- I’m most looking forward to the 20th Anniversary Vinyl though! 1995 was a big year for music, especially rock music, all across the board. For a twelve year old kid just coming into youth group, this was amazing. I was sponging up everything I could. Many of the albums I discovered in those days have stuck with me, but nothing quite like Jesus Freak did. I don’t think I would call it my favorite album of all time, but it’s certainly high on the list. It’s such a special album for me in a way that’s honestly just difficult to explain. Let’s just say that there is a special place in my heart where this album resides. It’s a truly legit 5-star album -- and not just because our very own website was inspired by its release; it’s amazingly written. Every single song, track after track, is on point. The writing, the music, the message… Sheer brilliance! Even the interludes like “Mrs. Morgan” and “Jesus Freak (Reprise)” are fantastic.
The album is undoubtedly God inspired and tackles all sorts of issues. Each song still contains relevant messages today -- 20 years later! Jesus Freak changed the way I saw music; it changed what I thought music could be. I still listen to it today and it hasn’t worn thin or played out. It’s a classic. I could honestly wax poetic and sing the praises of Toby, Mike, and Kevin all day long, but I think you get the point. Christian music would simply not be where it is today, and accepted the way it is today, without the release of Jesus Freak. The entire landscape of things changed on November 21st, 1995. It’s a once in a lifetime album that had a once in a lifetime effect. I can’t imagine that anyone in their right mind thought that the guys who did Nu Thang and Free at Last would release possibly the most game changing album in this generation. Those seem like big words, but I honestly believe this album is fitting of such accolades.
dcTalk released one more studio album after Jesus Freak. Supernatural was another rock experiment and leaned a little more on the alternative side overall. We all know about the hiatus that occurred afterwards, and the false promise of a dcTalk reunion that was said to occur after each member released their second solo albums (this happened in 2005). People have always dreamed of a reunion, but it’s doubtful that day will ever come. Perhaps 20 years of looking back will inspire the guys to reunite though. (I suppose the recent guest spot on TobyMac's latest album, This Is Not A Test, will have to hold us over for now.) Only the future will tell if and when that happens. Until that day I’ll just keep singing, “What will people think when they hear that I’m a Jesus Freak? What will people do when they find out it’s true? I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak. There ain’t no disguising the truth…”
Top 5 favorite tracks: “What If I Stumble,” “Jesus Freak,” Day By Day,” “In the Light,” “So Help Me God”
-- Michael Weaver
Remembering "Jesus Freak"...
I've had a similar experience to Michael here. I remember getting the cassette tape for "Jesus Freak" on August 1st -- AND the CD release at some point -- and just being floored by it. That summer I went to a friend's birthday party at a park that had its own DJ. I brought the tape with me and asked the DJ to play it... but he wouldn't. I kept asking and got nothing. Finally, near the end of the party with only a core group of friends remaining there, he finally obliged. As the guitars kicked in and the song blasted through the speakers, I heard the DJ exclaim with shock and awe on his face, "This ain't church music!!" And that about sums up the impression this song and album seemed to give at the time.
I also remember going to a very small Christian bookstore near my house and buying the full album CD for the first time (and, small bit of trivia -- CD prices were on the rise at the time because of their popularity. I'm pretty sure I paid over $18 for the CD! Who knew they would start going down once Napster came into the picture. One has to wonder if the rise in music prices helped cause the rise in piracy... and thus the decline of the industry as a whole ;) ). But this CD changed things for me, too. I'm an introvert (duh, right? What extroverted 16 year old starts a data-intensive website??), so although I was excited about Jesus, it was hard to put myself in a position to be ridiculed or shunned. But here you had a band who sounded awesome and were proclaiming their faith boldly!
After the album's release, I would use the nickname/handle "Jesus Freak" in online chat rooms and later created a private chat room on NetCentral called "The Jesus FREAK Hideout." I never used it, but on August 13, 1996, after I read a short tutorial on very basic HTML, I started "The Jesus FREAK Hideout" on a free Angelfire.com webpage (It was 1996's equivalent of WordPress, kids). The rest -- all the mishaps and struggles, triumphs and failures -- is history.
I honestly can't believe it's been two decades since this landmark release. Toby "TobyMac" McKeehan is still going strong solo, Michael Tait took over as lead vocalist for the Newsboys (who could have predicted that??) and after a brief stint as the replacement singer for Audio Adrenaline, Kevin "Max" Smith is still going strong with his own solo career. They may not be together anymore, but each one is still making their mark in music. And the legacy of "Jesus Freak" lives on!
-- John DiBiase (founder of JesusFreakHideout.com)
With the staff's recent picks of their Top 15 favorite albums of all time, I decided to pitch in... but only came up with 5. See, I am only 18 and I have only followed music avidly for a couple of years. That is why there is a lack of 1990s bands and why there are only five bands on the list.
I hail from the same South Carolina woods as Needtobreathe and I have aged along with them. With a killer live show featuring varied versions of Needtobreathe classics, it is hard to not be a fan of Needtobreathe. They are catchy and real to who they are. They are the oddball on this list because they do not have a heavy side, but they appeal to my deep southern streak.
Albums: The Reckoning, Rivers in the Wasteland, The Heat
Songs: We Could Run Away, State I'm In, Keep Your Eyes Open, Cops, Angel at my Door
2. Underoath (2004-present)
Spencer Chamberlain and company are incredible songwriters and talented musicians. Chamberlain and Gillespie create a vocal combination unlike any other band. All of their albums have distinct qualities that make them refreshing, yet they all have the signature sound of Underoath greatness. The talent is evident in the music and the songs fit in arenas and will blow out your speakers. "Epic" is a overused cliche but it is the only word to describe this larger than life style of music. I will see them live on the Rebirth Tour for the first time so get your tickets because they are almost all gone.
Albums: Define the Great Line, Lost in the Sound of Separation Disambiguation
Songs: Writing on the Walls, Catch Myself Catching Myself, Desperate Times Desperate Measures, In Regards to Myself, Young and Aspiring
Stephen Christian's vocals were so pure and talented but the rest of the band had talent also. Drumming prodigy Nathan Young was instrumental in memorable Anberlin moments such as the intro to Self Starter. They had a varied discography and a storied career but luckily for our hearts, they are always there for us on replay.
Albums: Cities, Vital, Lowborn
Songs: Fin, Self Starter, Dismantle Repair, ISJW, Losing it All, Stranger Ways
Emery poses many Questions and breaks down many Walls through their music. While I dont agree with *everything* the Bad Christian movement is about, I feel that it poses important questions and is authentic. Owning their own record label means that they can do unique things and change the way music works. Emery is not as heavy as Underoath, but they are more diverse and fit a similar niche.
Albums: You Were Never Alone, The Question
Songs: Thrash, Walls, In a Win Win Situation, Cutthroat Collapse, Rock Pebble Stone, So Cold I Could See My Breath
5. Wolves At The Gate
It takes a phenomenal two albums in order to make a list with the artists above, but Wolves has talent and heart. They are theologically sound, Christ centered (for real), and great musicians. They implement spoken word, screaming, and singing into their thundering drums and guitar riffs to create excellent songs. The sky is the limit for their talent, but what stands out is their heart. When I was honored to talk with Stephen Cobucci, I realized that he is 'on fire' for God and that he uses this music to preach the gospel.
Albums: VxV, Captors, Reprise EP, Heralds EP
Songs: Relief, Dead Man, Man of Sorrows, Majesty In Misery, Safeguards
Honorable Mention: Sent by Ravens was a personal favorite of mine. They didn't create their own genre or sell out arenas, but they created enjoyable hard rock that is missed in the scene today.
-- William Corbin