Jars of Clay

If I Left the Zoo

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If the stripped-down, neo-vaudevillian sound of If I Left the Zoo's opener suggests that Jars of Clay is following a different path with their fifth album, that's because it's a little misleading. There are a few new quirks in the group's mature jangle pop, but overall, If I Left the Zoo is very much in the same vein as the group's other releases. That's not necessarily a bad thing, however, since Jars of Clay does this kind of thing really well, and with producer Dennis Herring, they have figured out how to add little sonic flourishes that distinguish the album, even if it's stylistically similar to their other efforts. The reason the record works is that the band's songwriting is getting stronger, and Herring has decided to let the music be direct and even a little ragged. The result is a bit like Herring's work with Counting Crows -- at its core, it's simple, immediate melodic folk-pop, but there are enough little quirks in the arrangements, from accordions to a toy piano on "Sad Clown," to keep things interesting and flowing smoothly. Consequently, If I Left the Zoo is Jars of Clay's strongest since their mainstream, self-titled breakthrough.

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