Christmas Songs

Jars Of Clay

Grey Matters/Nettwerk, 2007

REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret


Generally speaking, Christmas discs fall into two broad categories. Yet another re-recording of the same old songs everyone always sings in the same expected style, or an eschewing of the perceived “obligation” to sing the same old songs everyone always sings that generally ends up with a stocking full of unrecognizable songs with the token standard done in a non-standard way.

Neither of which is particularly satisfying.

Leave it to Jars of Clay to strike the balance perfectly with their Christmas Songs. This disc is the band’s first for their new imprint, Gray Matters, and is as inventive as anything this growing, evolving band has ever recorded. This is their second Christmas project, following the Drummer Boy EP from 1995, and it follows their masterpiece recording Good Monsters from 2006. Like that disc, it was created in the studio in one-take recording sessions.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What makes Christmas Songs an essential holiday record is the band’s strong original tunes as well as their imaginative takes on selected Christmas standards. Though they have been releasing albums since 1995, Jars is still interested in trailblazing -- in not only delivering high quality music, but doing so in a way that’s exciting, invigorating and engaging.

On Christmas Songs, Jars of Clay has achieved the seemingly impossible: Made a nice stocking stuffer out of Paul McCartney’s anemic “Wonderful Christmastime.” By slowing it down just a bit and filling in the sonic spaces left empty in McCartney’s heavily synthed version, the guys in Jars have made the song a warm welcome on their disc: “The moon is right / The spirit’s up / We’re here tonight and that’s enough / Simply having a wonderful Christmastime.” It very much feels like a “Hey! C’mon in. Have a cup of cider!” moment.

In Jars’ version of “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” be prepared for a totally new melody and an edgy feel that subtly reminds listeners that Jesus Christ’s birth that night was about as subversive as one can imagine. The song, through the driving bass line, insinuates itself into your brain, nearly supplanting the more familiar version.

Among the strong originals is “Hibernation Day,” a lazy, almost Harry Connick-y song about choosing to stay inside and snuggle instead of braving the cold and snow. Out of the Grey’s Christine Dente offers nice, sweet vocal counterpoints. Following right after that is the song “Winter Skin,” about putting on your “winter skin and watching the snow fall.” Dan Haseltine’s slightly tightened vocals, along with the sparse orchestration, sonically capture the feeling of walking into a cold winter wind.

The band also perform a strong version of the old Peanuts Christmas special “Christmas Time is Here,” a new version of “Drummer Boy” and an almost exact copy of Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message” – as well as other new and old treasures.

Jars of Clay has created a classic Christmas disc, as well as a classic music release for any season. This one will be spinning for me throughout December -- and even beyond.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2007 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Grey Matters/Nettwerk, and is used for informational purposes only.