So… because the last of these posts caused some confusion, I want to be very clear as to the point of this whole thing with the addition of a disclaimer.
My Disclaimer: What appears in this series of posts reflects my personal favorites regarding certain categories of music, books, etc. Choices may not necessarily reflect popularity of an artist/author/whatever within whatever category they fit and may not reflect your own personal views. They are my favorites, which means they can be whatever I choose them to be. With music, I choose favorites based on a combination of actual talent, lyricism, and my own personal liking of the music. Books are often based on writing, plot, and my own ability to become wrapped up in the story. Should you disagree, that’s fine. You are allowed to have your own favorites. Just don’t tell me what mine ought to be. The only one who can determine that is me. That is all. Semi-rant done.
There is something completely weird about music (especially Christian “rock”) from about 1997 through 2004 or so. It was a very unique time that sounds like very little else that has been produced since – quintessential 90s music… just a little later, because that’s how the Christian industry did things back then (maybe they still do – I stopped listening to the radio several years ago).
Regardless, being a musical product of the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was finally old enough to start buying my own music and also started buying music that actually mattered, there are a few albums that have followed me around for years by bands that put out quite a few albums in that era (and some still today).
Smalltown Poets – It’s Later than It’s Ever Been (2004)
Smalltown Poets didn’t make a terribly huge mark with their four albums (this was the last main studio release), but they made a huge mark on my own life, starting with their debut self-titled album in 1997. While some herald Third Verse as the best of their albums (don’t get me wrong, it’s a great album), I am personally partial to this one. In my opinion, it is a more consistent album sonically and thematically than the band’s other three albums. I need reminders of heaven – that it is something to look forward to, something to desire – and tracks like “There on the Sun” and “We Will Continue” (which is one of my favorite songs of all time) get my heart there. “Love So Divine” is hymn-like in its construction and so incredibly beautiful – “My every hope and fear / is resting here with Thee //” I need that every day. And “Lay it Down” is a sweet beckoning for all to come and rest their burdens at the Savior’s feet, regardless of what is being dragged along. In all, a wonderful collection of songs.
The Waiting – The Waiting (1997)
There are two types of people: Those who like the Waiting and those who don’t. Most of the dislike, unfortunately, comes from the unique nature of the lead singer’s voice. Personally, I love it for its lack of pretension – it’s just a man who loves to worship. I heard the Waiting’s “Number 9” and “Hands in the Air” for the first time on a sampler that I got in 1997 that also had a track or two from Switchfoot’s debut, “The Legend of Chin.” I still find myself singing “How Do You Do That?” at random moments in the car, though it will be months (years even) between listenings. I got this album at a point when most people still listened to albums over and over until they knew them backward and forward (or maybe it was just me – all I know is that most people don’t do this anymore). One of my favorites from the era, “Number 9” is full of sassy irony. While certainly a bit dated stylistically, the eternal themes found in the album are timeless, particularly in the sufficiency of Christ’s blood in “It is Enough” and “Beautiful Blood,” the surrender of “Hands in the Air,” and the longing for heaven in “Heaven is Home.”
Jars of Clay – The Eleventh Hour (2002)
Jars of Clay’s first album was one of my first two CDs (that and dcTalk’s live CD from their Jesus Freak tour), and it still remains a classic in many ways, but The Eleventh Hour is my favorite from their 90s-sound era (before they mixed things up with Who We Are Instead, which is in a different category altogether). This album is where Jars found a great balance between its early groove and its later creativity after the more formulaic sophomore album and more experimental third (I have nothing against Crazy Times or If I Left the Zoo… pretty much all of early Jars can be considered “favorite”). I love “Revolution” – it might be one of those timeless tracks for me. I remember hearing it for the first time and being completely blown away by its rhythm. The title track is a great reminder that we all need to be sanctified, and sounds a lot like Jason Wade of Lifehouse (whose debut album released in 2000). “The Edge of Water” is a little more personal, a little more emotional, waiting for the coming return of Christ – with a little banjo thrown in there for good measure. Definitely early Jars, but definitely also a great album in its own right.