Jars of Clay Presents: The Shelter

By Debra Akins
Posted: Sat, 10/09/2010 - 14:01

By Debra Akins, contributing writer, gmclife.com

The title of the latest offering from Jars of Clay, Jars of Clay Presents The Shelter, was inspired by an old Irish Proverb: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Recorded and produced by the band, the album dwells on the idea of community, something they put into action both lyrically and physically as they waded through the creative process – assembling an elite list of songwriting and vocal guests who collaborated with Jars on what is quite possibly the band’s best work to date.

“Jars of Clay, historically, has been this kind of compact creative environment; we’re known for doing everything from the songwriting to the producing to the artwork,” says guitarist Matt Odmark. “This was a push in a totally different direction. ...We wanted to make a record about community, and we wanted the recording process to be community. We wanted it to be an expression of what it was trying to articulate from a concept standpoint.”

And a community effort it is, with an eclectic mix of artists taking part, including Mac Powell, TobyMac, Audrey Assad, Brandon Heath, Gungor, Derek Webb, Mike Donehey (Tenth Avenue North), Leigh Nash, Thad Cockrell, David Crowder, Amy Grant, Matt Maher, Sara Groves, Fireflight’s Dawn Michele and more.  But the great thing about this particular collaborative effort is that the contributors don’t overshadow the project, but complement Dan Haseltine’s lead vocals so subtly that it’s sometimes hard to discern who the added vocal belongs to. And that’s nice. As a result, the listener is much more focused on the songs than the “Who’s Who” aspect of the album – and that’s a nod to the musicianship of this band and the great humility and control it must have taken to step back and let these songs become what they are without the fear of being overshadowed.

I could write a full review just discussing the musical nuances found throughout this album – from the textured vocal pairings and songwriting collaborations, to the instrumental arrangements and melodic structures that offer countless bars of memorable hooks and choruses on track after noteworthy track. Or I could write strictly about the lyrical themes and imagery that run throughout The Shelter. The courage and conviction of finding true community with one another (“Small Rebellions,” “Shelter,” “No Greater Love,” “Lay It Down”). Or the humbling realization that we are loved unconditionally by a generous, redeeming, all-knowing God (“Call My Name,” “Out of My Hands,” “Run In the Light,” “Love Will Find Us”) – and the call to action that accompanies that knowledge (“We Will Follow,” “Benediction”).

It’s even difficult for me to pick favorites because I truthfully don’t think there is a weak song on the entire project. Songs to note might be “Small Rebellions” (with Thad Cockrell and Audrey Assad), “We Will Follow” (with Gungor), “Eyes Wide Open” (featuring Mac Powell, Derek Webb and Burlap to Cashmere), “Shelter” (with TobyMac, Audrey Assad and Brandon Heath), “Out of My Hands” (with Mike Donehey and Leigh Nash), and I could keep going. But it’s probably best to let each listener find his or her own interpretation of these songs. This is one of those albums on which you may discover a shiny, new, hidden gem with each listen, as you unravel the layers and layers of goodness found here. The Shelter is definitely one of the year’s best, by far.

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