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Chronicles - Click to view! When Jars of Clay released their first greatest hits album, Furthermore, they certainly didn't skimp on the details. Setting a precedent for future "best of" projects, Jars treated us to a two-disc bonanza filled with re-recorded acoustic renditions and live versions of an all-star track line-up. As if that weren't enough to make our eyes bulge, the band also included three original cuts in the package. Taking a cue from that release, labelmate Caedmon's Call is seeking to keep the ball rolling with their own greatest hits record, aptly titled Chronicles. Like Furthermore, the overall package will bowl over the band's hardcore followers, but Caedmon's also makes a glaring mistake or two in trying to emulate Jars's exceptional idea.

The tracklist for Chronicles is nothing short of impressive. It covers everything from Caedmon's best radio singles ("This World," "There You Go") to their more obscure yet excellent cuts ("Table for Two," "Piece of Glass") and includes the extremely rare and beautiful "I Will Sing." What's even better is how the live recordings manage to capture the intimate, cozy feel of attending a Caedmon's show. The live "I Will Sing/Hope to Carry On" medley is one of the most powerful, musically intricate numbers here, but listeners will nevertheless enjoy the laid back, rootsy vibes of "Lead of Love" and the worshipful, reflective "Before There Was Time." The edgier "40 Acres" is a pleasant surprise for a live recording and seems a great deal more articulate than its studio counterpart. Not inclined to disappoint, the band also includes two new songs ("All My Life" and "A New Day") that bring Caedmon's a little more towards their roots instrumentally, but it's a shame that they bellyflop in the shallow lyrics. Still, if this is any indication of things to come, it's a much welcome change from the painful experience that is Back Home.

I mentioned something earlier about mistakes, and now I'd like to highlight several. First, while the tracklisting is impressive, some of Essential Records's choices are questionable. Surely inclusions like "Shifting Sand" and "Only Hope" could have been pushed aside to make room for more memorable offerings ("Somewhere North" or "What You Want" instantly come to mind). Chronicles also goes to show that some songs shouldn't be touched, and the first of these is the "extended" studio version of "Thankful." Unfortunately, "extended" here means one extra chorus and a few additional seconds of strumming, giving the song a mere thirty extra seconds over its previous incarnation. Another mishap is the live version of "Faith My Eyes," which doesn't do the original recording justice. Derek Webb's vocals seem off in various places, and the instrumentation is less rich than in the studio, thus marring a brilliant tune; "Table for Two" might have made a better choice for a live cut. Finally, why in the name of all things holy and good did the powers that be (whether it was Caedmon's themselves or the folks at Essential) ordain "Bus Driver" to be re-recorded? The "new studio version" is a travesty when compared to the original, emanating sounds that have "stereotypical country music" written all over them. Although Derek Webb's cameo on vocals is appreciated, even it isn't enough to make this track worthy of listening to all the way through. Including the original studio recording would have made Chronicles much more palatable.

In spite of a couple of missteps, Chronicles holds its own among other "best of" collections. Weighing in at seventeen tracks, longtime followers of Caedmon's Call and newcomers alike will appreciate the artistry and effort stuffed into this one disc. Ten years is a commendable effort for any band, but the future looks bright in particular for Caedmon's. No doubt Chronicles II will be filled with efforts that are just as memorable.
- Rick Foux
August 2004
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