Christian rock comes in Jars' latest release


By Steve Morley

 Jars of Clay: Good Monsters

A descriptive phrase like “Christian rock” has certain shortcomings that come into sharp focus when the label is applied to the work of a group like Jars of Clay. 

It isn’t a completely incorrect term, but neither is it comprehensive enough to address the contents of the band’s recorded output. The band can legitimately lay claim to both descriptions. The band’s ability to morph is perhaps the centerpiece of their new album, Good Monsters, which contains a diverse blend of musical influences. The downside of their stylistic flexibility is the lack of a distinct and recognizable thumbprint on their work. 

Jars of Clay confounds expectations out of the gate with a trilogy of straightforward rockers. The lead-off single, Dead Man, is a two-pronged sampling of late ‘70s-era. The band’s underrated guitar prowess is especially evident here and on Take Me Higher.

The Jars’ creative adventurism finds payoff in the ambitious musical landscape of Oh My God, a three-part acoustic composition that explores a phrase common to believers and non-believers alike, and one the song implies is misused perhaps equally by both camps.

Samuel David: Dangerous

 A growing number of independent artists are putting out CDs with no support from record labels, and along with them comes the expectation that these upstart singers and musicians are less advanced or experienced than their major (or even minor) label counterparts.  

While this is oftentimes the case, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the debut album by Nashville-based musician Samuel David. His self-produced disc, Dangerous, was a long time coming. He wasn’t exactly biding his time idly in the many years that elapsed between moving to Nashville and putting the finishing touches on his collection of original songs, most of which reveal David’s longstanding relationship with both Jesus Christ and the musical vocabulary of the American south.  

It’s entirely possible, in fact, that others working under the independent banner might, in their more uncharitable moments, think it unfair that they are competing alongside a guitarist and songwriter with a professional resume as lengthy as David’s.

While David ably wears a number of hats on the project, it’s his seasoned guitar work that anchors the disc, which ranges from funky Texas-styled blues-rock (Ain’t No Condemnation) and breezy, harmony-laden country-rock (Catch the Wind) to acoustic fare with an almost Latin flair adorning lighter cuts like Come to Me. 

By alternating easygoing tunes with groove-oriented tracks influenced by regional musical variants including those of New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta, David presents a well-rounded picture of his roots that doesn’t get mired in any one location for long.  

Musically adventurous Christians may want to give out a hallelujah, since David’s fusion of musical grit and sophistication with his untempered expressions of the Gospel is a fairly uncommon occurrence. That fact, coupled with the potential power of these songs to attract and hold ears that are unaccustomed to hearing bold Christian testimony, makes Dangerous an album that — in terms of the Kingdom advancing on Earth — lives up to its name entirely. 

Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.