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Today's Praise: Jars of Clay shaped by Gospel's past; Sonicflood scores a hit

By BRIAN BOWERS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 20, 2005

Jars of Clay dug into the roots of Gospel music and found treasure.

The band that helped define Christian rock started by pouring through old hymnals, looking for lyrics with rich spiritual insight. They then wrote new melodies for obscure hymns and updated familiar standards. The result, “Redemption Songs,” which hits stores this week, proves that 2-century-old hymns and spirituals have plenty to say to 21st-century listeners.

One of the best of the recast songs is “God Will Lift Up Your Head,” about the joy awaiting believers. It’s a catchy track that relies on a simple beat and frontman Dan Haseltine’s soaring vocals to propel its encouraging message. Another standout in this category is the more-mellow “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” which includes vocals by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Undoubtedly, the more familiar tunes will resonate with many listeners. They include excellent renditions “Nothing But the Blood,” another collaboration with the Blind Boys, and “I’ll Fly Away,” which is accented by the voice of newcomer Sarah Kelly. While many of the disc’s songs have a Southern or folk feel, “It Is Well,” comes through with a mid-’60s flavor. It’s an interesting switch. The disc wraps up with a haunting version of “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.”

“Redemption Songs” succeeds on many levels but its most important achievement is making the richness and depth of traditional hymns accessible to a new audience by retuning them for the modern ear.

The band can be found on the Web: www.jarsofclay.com

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While Jars of Clay is drawing inspiration from past generations, the new disc by Sonicflood is firmly focused on this generation.

The band’s “This Generation” — released March 8 — offers several high-energy songs that are certain to be popular at modern worship services. The disc’s first single, “Your Love Goes On Forever,” popped up to 20 on Billboard’s Christian adult contemporary chart last week and has been climbing the R&R radio chart.

Though some of the lyrics aren’t particularly deep, especially when compared with the spiritual insights contained in “Redemption Songs,” they are quite singable. At a Virginia concert just before the CD’s release, the new songs captured the crowd despite their unfamiliarity.

The title track offers hard-edged rock as it calls worshippers to praise. Frontman Rick Heil’s voice is plaintive in “All I’ve Failed to Be,” which asks “take me Lord. Make me whole.” “Prodigal” offers a similar theme, stating “mold me and make me. Let me fall into your arms of love again.” “You Are” is an exuberant praise of Jesus. “Never Forget You” is an assertive take on Psalm 103.

It’s little wonder that Heil seems to focus on being remade. He recently revealed that doctors had discovered that he had been healed of Crohn’s disease, a debilitating intestinal condition that is normally permanent.

The disc also represents a new incarnation of Sonicflood, with only Heil returning from previous efforts. However, the new crew seems to be a good fit.

The band can be found on the Web: www.sonicflood.com

Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry. It appears on the Religion page.


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