These past few years have featured the emergence of the female vocalist in music, with 2013 in particular boasting a plethora of powerhouse ladies singing some of the best tunes. As I consider my year-end best-of list, it came to my attention that more than half of my Top 10 albums are sung by female artists, including my top four albums, featuring Plumb, Christa Wells, JJ Heller and Kerrie Roberts.
There are some new bands that made albums with immediate impact, including Citizen Way and Everfound, who are my early nominees for Best New Artist of 2013. Veteran CCM artists Jars of Clay, Josh Wilson, Amy Grant and Natalie Grant each released stellar albums, and they round out my Top 10 albums of the year. I’ve purposely left off worship releases since I have already posted a separate list of my top albums in that area.
This was yet another great year for Christian music, with several career albums having released. For female artists in particular, this may end up as one of the best years ever in music.
Don’t miss out on any of these great albums, along with the 10 honorable mentions, rounding out my top 20 albums of 2013. I’d love to read any feedback on albums I may have missed and whether there are any surprises.
1. Need You Now by Plumb
Need You Now has been one of my favorite albums to savor in many years, as the combination of Tiffany Arbuckle-Lee's incredible vocal range and her compelling and relevant lyrics have never been more perfectly combined than on this stellar and flawless masterpiece. Plumb's longtime producer Matt Bronleewe perfectly describes her unique sound as "raw, lyrically introspective vocals floating across an epic soundscape." Every Plumb album is an immersion into her life. Each is unique, tied to the emotions and circumstances that inspired it, and yet each is timeless, identifiable as the outpouring of a singular artistic vision. Every song on this album is excellent, and Need You Now is the album of the year.
2. Feed Your Soul by Christa Wells
I have the opportunity to listen to everything released in Christian music, and Feed Your Soul is a profound listening experience. This album dramatically affects me personally and spiritually, and is my top "gourmet" album of the year. Christa Wells is an incredibly anointed singer-songwriter in the style of Brooke Fraser, Audrey Assad and JJ Heller. It is the ultimate privilege for me to experience her gift of music making with all of my senses "in Spirit and in Truth." This album is poignantly named for what it does for anyone who is a follower of Jesus: "Feed Your Soul." All twelve songs are captivating, and if you like Christa's previously released emotional songs, "Need You Now (How Many Times)" co-written with Plumb and "Held" as recorded by Natalie Grant, then you absolutely must have this album. Christa has always had a knack for hitting me where I am spiritually and expressing the prayerful yearnings of my heart. This album is no exception, as I get welled up praying along with several of the songs, especially "Have Your Eyes Open," "This Thing Is Not Going to Break You," "Come Close Now," "You Are My Defense" and "Being Loved."
3. Loved by JJ Heller
Rarely has an album affected me this deeply, as many of the songs cause me to physically feel the depth and sincerity of JJ's goosebump-inducing emotional vocals. This is yet another one of those "gourmet" albums that only comes along when JJ Heller puts out a new album. I have to fight back tears while listening to several of the songs, especially "Redemption," "Loved," "Who You Are" and "I Believe." The new worshipful songs "If You Fall," "For You," "Better Things" and "Come Back To Me" are not to be missed. If you like the singer-songwriters Audrey Assad, Sara Groves and Brooke Fraser, then you must pick up Loved by JJ Heller. This is one of the most emotionally moving and authentic albums I've ever heard. JJ's remarkable singing voice and her interesting music and lyrics are truly captivating. This is a nearly perfect album.
4. Time for the Show by Kerrie Roberts
Kerrie Roberts has the greatest voice wrapped around extremely hooky dubstep electronic dance musical arrangements I've heard this year. Her vocals are so strong and pure. Musically and lyrically, her album Time for the Show is brilliant. I feel like I'm eavesdropping on Kerrie's prayer time during many of these songs, and as I get caught up listening to Kerrie's excellent vocals, I start praying along with her. My favorite albums all have that impact on me. This is one of my favorite albums of the year. Kerrie Roberts is my choice as "the voice" in Christian music. Time for the Show is a five star masterpiece that brings me closer to God
5. Love Is The Evidence by Citizen Way
Love is the Evidence contains catchy and worshipful songs with lyrics that point to the wonders of our God, combined with sweeping melodies and infectious choruses that will be replayed in your mind over and over again. Experience the majestic nature of God in the music of Citizen Way. As the song "Love is a Mess" declares, this album is "the story of the Cross...the beauty of the Cross." What's most impressive is how these catchy songs will have you singing along at the top of your lungs after just a couple of listens. This is the best new band I've heard since Tenth Avenue North. Citizen Way has a great opportunity to reach the lost for the Kingdom of God with their transparent lyrics and incredible musical talent. Love is the Evidence is a great collection of confessional and authentic expressions of faith. All of the songs are catchy, exciting and worshipful.
6. Everfound by Everfound
I am a long-time fan of the alternative rock bands Jimmy Eat World, The Killers and Relient K. If you like that style of music, get this album immediately. Everfound is the top alt-rock album of the year. I can't get enough of this album, which is loaded with catchy and hope-filled emotional rock songs. This album will stay in heavy rotation for me all year. Similar to House of Heroes and for KING & COUNTRY, this album features incredibly tight guitar riffs and amazing harmonies. This album is by far the catchiest, most energetic and emotionally engaging alternative rock album I've heard this year.
7. Inland by Jars of Clay
Jars of Clay has long been my favorite faith based band, and although they haven't been regularly played on practically any radio format in quite some time, their impact on today's best-selling Christian music artists is quite evident. Listen to hit songs by Sidewalk Prophets, Tenth Avenue North and Citizen Way, and you'll hear the alt-rock influence of Jars of Clay.
Ideally the trend of sharing songs about real life issues such as "After the Fight," "Human Race" and "Loneliness and Alcohol" will spill over into mainstream Christian contemporary music as listeners know truth when they hear it and say amen, even if they aren't followers of Jesus. That's the beauty and transparency of Inland. The stand-out songs for me on this brilliant album are "After the Fight," "Age of Immature Mistakes," "Reckless Forgiver," "Human Race," "Love in Hard Times," "Fall Asleep" and "Inland." Once again, Jars of Clay has released their newest "best" album and are at the top of their profession right now in my opinion. Inland is "all it was meant to be."
8. Carry Me by Josh Wilson
I love albums that have a consistent message and theme and that move me emotionally, such as Ocean by Bebo Norman and Leaving Eden by Brandon Heath. In fact, if you like those albums, then you must get Carry Me. This album grabs me with every song, is the best overall album by Josh Wilson and is one of the top albums of the year. There are no filler tracks, and this is truly a five star effort. Having previously enjoyed Josh Wilson's hit songs "Savior, Please," "3 Minute Song," "Before The Morning" and "I Refuse," I have eagerly anticipated Carry Me.
This album firmly establishes Josh as the premier folk style singer-songwriter in Christian music. Josh's poignant songwriting is coupled with musical excellence as each song urges me to better see God. This album is sure to connect with all listeners who like catchy songs filled with truth and yearning for God. Josh invites you into his life in such an authentic and relatable way, you'll feel like you are a lifelong friend after you hear this album.
9. How Mercy Looks From Here by Amy Grant
Amy has dedicated this poignant album to her mother, Gloria Napier Grant, who passed away in April, 2011. Before she passed, she gave Amy the advice "sing something that matters." Mission accomplished. Grant has built a long, successful career with music that matters.
I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2 Friends Tour in May 2011. That night Amy said, "I started writing something for my mother over 20 years ago about aging. Back then, I thought, 'What do I know about aging?' Now when I washed my face this morning, I see the changes in my face. What I know is that things change, but it's good to know the One Who never changes."
Amen. In light of recent tragedies, the somewhat somber tone to this album is quite soothing and many of these songs are lyrically profound. This album soothes, moves and challenges listeners. Those looking for '90s pop music star Amy Grant won't find her here, however. How Mercy Looks From Here is a profound listening experience and a very solid return from one of Christian music's most beloved stars. This is easily one of the best albums of the year. This entire album is loaded with relatable lyrics, incredible singing and prayerful themes about what it means to be a parent, spouse and child of God.
10. Hurricane by Natalie Grant
To me, Hurricane represents the best of Natalie's illustrious career, seamlessly bringing together all of her elements of infectious melodies, stellar vocals, and worshipful lyrics in a flawlessly produced album. Every song is catchy and meaningful. They are all standout tracks.
There are emotional ballads including "Burn Bright," "Born To Be" and "When I Leave the Room," exciting pop songs like "Closer to Your Heart," "Hurricane," "Whisper," "This Is Love" and "Dead Alive," and the worshipful celebrations "For All of Us" and "In The End." The album is all about finding hope in our times of storms. Hope is what keeps the lights on, and our ultimate hope is Jesus. His goodness is proclaimed in every song.
This album is a reminder that even in our "hurricanes," a better day is coming. The clouds are going to part. This album is not full of Christian clichés, but instead is loaded with fresh offerings of praise that every believer can celebrate. The song order is also meant to take listeners on the journey with Natalie from "crying on the floor" to "we win in the end." This album is loaded with radio hits, but more importantly, it takes listeners on a spiritual journey learning truths about Jesus that change and move you. I fully expect this album to win multiple awards. Hurricane is one of my top albums of the year.
11. God of Every Story by Laura Story
12. Release the Panic by RED
13. Rise by Skillet
14. We As Human by We As Human
15. Et Tu, Brute? by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
16. Wanted by Dara Maclean
17. Radiate by Tricia
18. Black and White by Tal & Acacia
19. What I Do by Morgann McClanahan
20. Thief by Susan Ashton
NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.