rctalk: Third Day and Jars of Clay have grown into their latest albums

Third Day's Mac Powell performs at Winter Jam in Rupp Arena March 13, 2010. Photo by Rich Copley | LexGo

Third Day's Mac Powell performing at Winter Jam in Rupp Arena on March 13, 2010. Photo by Rich Copley | LexGo

Little more than a decade ago, Third Day and Jars of Clay were the young guns of Christian rock, acts working around the edges of a burgeoning genre.

It was a little hard to figure out what to make of Third Day, a Georgia band whose lead singer ran through a curious lineup of hairstyles and whose sound variously echoed gospel, Southern rock and grunge. Like many a young band, they were looking for a voice.

Jars came through loud and clear out of the gate, curiously landing its debut single, Flood, on mainstream alt-rock charts. To this day, that is the group’s most famous song, and the Indiana-born act still commands healthy mainstream respect.

And in Christian rock, both bands, which shared the stage at the 2009 Questapalooza concert, are now the establishment.

They also have new albums this fall that help define their places in the genre.

For Third Day, Move is a far cry from those hard-to-define years. Building on 2008’s Revelation, it solidifies the quartet as Christian music’s Southern rock act — and maybe coincidentally, frontman Mac Powell has sported the long-haired country-boy look for several years.

By the mid-aughts, it was clear that this was where the band was going; its best songs mined Southernisms, and Powell’s voice found an increasingly comfortable space somewhere between Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Staples Singers. There are a few deviations from that plan: Children of God reflects the band’s extensive work with Michael W. Smith.

But this is a band that knows what it is, and although Third Day’s unambiguously evangelical music has kept the group focused on the Christian market, this album has earned it some mainstream cred. Make Your Move is being used as bumper music in NFL broadcasts this season.

In 2006, Jars of Clay released its masterpiece, Good Monsters, then followed up the organic-rock effort with a curious electronic offering, last year’s Long Fall Back to Earth.

Like Move, Jars of Clay presents The Shelter is something of a journey home, although for Jars, their home was already built.

The Shelter presents a distinguished group of guest artists, including Powell (Eyes Wide Open) and Amy Grant (Benediction), to advance a theme of community.

But this album, like many of Jars’ best efforts, relies for the most part on frontman Dan Haseltine’s sweet tenor and the inventive guitar work of Stephen Mason and Matt Odmark, which sounds much simpler than it is. One of Monsters’ strong points was a rootsy grit, but Jars’ sound has always been sleek, as it is here.

Lyrically, The Shelter extends Jars’ reputation as one of the most thoughtful bands in Christian music. With a focus on community, the songs here are a bit more about unity and a focus on God, but as always with fresh words and perspectives.

Each album shows Christian rock as a genre in which artists have been able to build careers and find their voices while sharing their faith.

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