For me it all started with “Work” from their Good Monsters release a few years back. I have never been a big fan of Jars of Clay – nothing bad to say about them, but they never really grabbed my attention either. Then I heard “Work” performed acoustically on a Relevant Magazine podcast and sang it incessantly for about a month.
After that, their Long Fall Back to Earth release was on my radar, and with songs like “Weapons” and “Two Hands” the band had me hooked. It seems as though they’ve been changing a little musically, incorporating more sonic textures and a little 80s arena bombast too. With their newest release, they’ve gone from “Two Hands” to a whole army of hands.
Jars of Clay presents The Shelter is about community, done by a community, for communities of faith. The album carries the theme throughout of the shelter we find in the community of the church. The project represents a major change in writing as they collaborated heavily with both other artists musically (Brandon Heath, David Crowder, Gungor, Derek Webb, Sara Groves, Matt Maher to name a few), and writers who provided essays available at the band’s website.
The album seems to get more courageous as it advances. Though opener “Small Rebellions” rocks along, and is a natural follow on from the last album, the first half of the album feels musically like a preparation. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are fantastic with strong lyrics and great performances, but once you cross the midway mark of the album with track 6 (“Out of My Hands”), the band gets more adventurous and I have to say it suits them well. Nothing on this album feels contrived or uncomfortable, like they were trying to be different for the sake of difference. The sound seems entirely natural for them and in the context of making an album in community it makes absolute sense that there palette of sound would be broader.
In terms of function within the church body, these are songs to be sung. Some of them might work better in informal settings, such as around camp fires. Specifically I’m thinking of “Eyes Wide Open” with its refrain of “Keep our eyes wide open/ Love is kind and love is daring/ Everything we need to/ Keep our eyes wide open” and also in the gorgeous title track “Shelter”:
“In the shelter of each other
We will live, we will live
Never walk alone
In the shelter of each other
We will live, we will live
Your arms are all around us”
This album is the most comprehensive call to the fellowship of the saints, the life of the church together, that I’ve yet heard and I can see it being both a strengthening to those in fellowship and a call to return for those who have become disheartened, wounded or otherwise wandered away from the life together of Jesus’ body.
Of the songs well suited to a full band, larger corporate worship setting, “We Will Follow” and “Out of My Hands” are standouts for me but I think it is going to vary by congregation as to which songs they adopt. Brave, passionate, honest and emboldening – this is a an album you just have to listen to, soak in and reflect upon.
Come join in the shelter and gather others with you to celebrate the Head of the body that incarnates Christ’s love to a watching world.
For resources to start incorporating songs from The Shelter into your local community, visit the band’s worship-leader section on the website.
A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own. Review originally submitted for www.Foursquare.org