Jars of Clay’s Redemption Songs is an absolute gem. Though it contains no original lyrics, Jars of Clay brings their distinctive acoustic style to traditional hymns. As they say in the liner notes,
You have in your hands a collection of very old words set to almost completely modern music. The music comes from a place of true reverence and appreciation for the richness of our past and an attempt to leap across years and articulate that past in a language that could be embraced by us as 21st century people of faith. These are songs that carve out whatw we hope is a new tradition of church music.
Their reworkings leave some familiar tunes completely intact–“I’ll Fly Away” differs only because it has Dan Hasseltein’s distinct voice. However, “I Need Thee Every Hour” is adapted into an upbeat version that quickly makes it’s home in the listener’s mind. Most ‘controversial’ is their adaptation of “It is Well with My Soul.” Rather than repeat the usual majesty and pomp of the original tune, Jars of Clay speeds it up and adds a touch of blues, creating an infectious combination of catchiness and depth. “God Will Lift Up Your Head,” a tune I am unfamiliar with, is done with a U2 style driving baseline that makes it one of the most singable, enjoyable songs on the album. Throughout their songs, it becomes clear that they modify only with the greatest reverence for the songs themselves and endeavor to push the musical tradition that gave birth to these hymns to a new level. They certainly succeed.
I have an immense amount of respect for the musicianship of Jars of Clay. They are thoughtful and talented and Redemption Songs is a thoughtful, interesting, and thoroughly edifying album. I bought the album for my wife for Christmas, but have since taken it from her as I can’t stop listening to it. If only all attempts to modernize hymns were as sophisticated and aware of the tradition as Jars of Clay…