Reviewed by Mike Rimmer
Probably the most awaited album of the year comes from JOC who in the two years since their debut have grown, of course, into one of the biggest acts in North America. Straddling mainstream and Christian markets, they have received both praise and criticism from the Church community who have sometimes misjudged their crossover activities. Their single "Flood" gained MTV play and opened up opportunities in mainstream venues and even a spot supporting Sting. A remarkable journey for a Christian band and now it's time to see whether their first album was simply a fluke! It wasn't! Taking its title from the main character in the allegorical story Hinds Feet In High Places, Jars have taken the strongest elements of their debut - great harmonies, distinctive acoustic guitar sound and strong rhythms but this time the bigger budget has given them a lusher, fuller sound. The choice of London-based Stephen Lipson (Sting, Whitney Houston, Annie Lennox, Simple Minds) to produce the album has only helped the band stretch and innovate. The best way to measure this is to compare the instrumental original demo version of "Frail" on the new CD single and see how on the album Lipson has transformed something great into a truly evocative masterpiece. The band's first single, the catchy "Crazy Times", is probably the closest sounding to their debut album and it theme of struggle is offset against the up feel of the song. Themes of struggle and doubt are continued on "Fade To Gray" which marries an urban groove with some great Hammond organ textures and just seems to explode halfway through! Kickin'! "Tea And Sympathy" is a stunning exploration of how love can so easily be wrecked on the rocks of communication breakdown. "Truce" is another example of the band innovating from a sparse opening giving way to a full on electric piano-driven pop sound. The title tune has a delicate, rootsy flavour and a vulnerable prayer, "Sweet Jesus never ever let me go." Simply beautiful. "Weighed Down" looks at the traditions and rules that so often seem to bog down the Church, whether it was written in response to the religious judgments that have come the band's way this past couple of years, we can't yet know, but it's a great tune. Destined to be a classic, I wasn't sure about it on the first play but each time I listen, it gets better.
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