October 16, 2010 / 9:40 PM / 10 years ago

Christian band takes "Shelter" in community

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - When Jars of Clay first thought about recording an album inspired by the concept of community, its members had no idea the theme would take on a deeper, more personal meaning.

“We had three-fourths of the record finished when the floods hit,” lead vocalist Dan Haseltine says, referring to the floods that ravaged Nashville in May. “Beyond inspiring specific songs, it galvanized the idea that we were on the right track. It’s important to celebrate community, and we’ve seen it in action. It’s amazing when people actually step outside of themselves and do a good work.”

Released October 5, “Jars of Clay Presents the Shelter” entered Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart at No. 5 this past week. Spearheaded by Jars members Haseltine, Matt Odmark, Charlie Lowell and Stephen Mason, the Gray Matters/Essential/Provident album is a collaborative effort including guest vocalists Brandon Heath, Audrey Assad, Mac Powell, Derek Webb, tobyMac, Matt Maher and Amy Grant. Lead single “Out of My Hands” features Mike Donehey and Leigh Nash.

The original idea was sparked by an e-mail that Mason received from a friend in Ireland. The band was intrigued by the phrase “Ar scath a cheile a mhaireas na daoine,” an old Irish proverb that translates to “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”

“We wanted to bring other people into the conversation,” Haseltine says. “We were approaching the concept of community and shelter from our angle. But for this to be a well-rounded record, other people had to speak.”

The whole concept truly hit home when Haseltine’s and Odmark’s homes became flooded. “Matt and I both had some pretty good water damage,” Haseltine says. “There are a range of emotions when you are watching water pour into your house, and you don’t know how deep it’s going to get or how much damage it’s going to cause. ‘How safe are we? Is my family OK?’ All these things run through your mind. In the end, people came and took care of us. Churches brought care packages, boxes of food and other things.”

An engineer waded into a flooded studio to save the album, retrieving all the hard drives and other related items. “Or else we would have lost the record entirely,” Haseltine says. “So it was an act of courage and an act of community that even allowed the record to exist.”

“Shelter” is Jars of Clay’s 11th studio album. It’s the follow-up to 2009’s “The Long Fall Back to Earth,” which debuted at No. 1 on Top Christian Albums. In addition to winning three Grammy Awards and scoring 17 No. 1 singles, the group is known for launching Blood:Water Mission, an organization dedicated to providing clean water in Africa. Thus far it has funded 1,000 wells.

Jars of Clay is touring with Brandon Heath. The acts have partnered with Food for the Hungry and Blood:Water Mission to raise additional money and awareness.

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