2008 has been an incredible year for new music. I eagerly anticipate reading the new release schedule every year to plan out which albums are "must-buys" for me and try to predict which albums will ultimately be in my top 10 list at the end of the year. I've been an avid music collector for almost 30 years and I have a collection of over 3,500 albums. This year was the hardest year I've ever had in picking my final top 10 list of 2008. In March, I expected great albums by The Afters, Natalie Grant and Matthew West to be impossible to beat, but then came the summer which featured excellent albums by Tenth Avenue North, Third Day and Brandon Heath.
As if by August there weren't enough great albums, then came incredible albums by DecembeRadio, Remedy Drive, downhere and Building 429.
So, in doing my best to be as consistent and fair as possible, I've created my final top 10 list. It was very difficult because there are easily 30 albums worthy of consideration including amazing debut albums by Francesca Battistelli, Meredith Andrews, Joy Whitlock and Brooke Fraser. Also, Christian rock has never been better with extremely good albums by Pillar, The Myriad, Anberlin, Run Kid Run and Fireflight. Worship albums were in full force with great releases by Delirious, Telecast, Phil Wickham and Chris Tomlin.
So, my final list is a comprised of contemporary Christian music, also known as CCM. I've used a rating system against which I rate all albums which includes originality, arrangement, lyrics, and ultimately how the album affects me as a whole spiritually. The best way to describe my final top 10 list is that all 10 of these releases spoke to me biblically, so I guess you could say these are all albums that include songs that challenge me, uplift me, and certainly elicit emotion. Not surprisingly, since this year I started writing the Behind The Song" devotionals, all 10 of these albums include songs that have moved me enough to write about them such as "Opposite Way" by Leeland and "Britney" by Bebo Norman. As I wrap up 2008 and look ahead to 2009, I am so grateful for the gift and blessing of music in my life and truly thank my God and Savior that He created this passion in me. Ultimately I have gotten to know the Truth and accepted Jesus as my Savior because of Christian music intriguing me to seek salvation. Jars of Clay created that spark with "Liquid" and "Love Song for A Savior," for which I'm eternally grateful. God Bless!
01. DOWNHERE - ENDING IS BEGINNING - SEPTEMBER 23, 2008
My most anticipated album all-year has been this gem by my favorite band downhere. Sometimes an album doesn't live up to the hype after an excellent album like Wide-Eyed And Mystified, but this album is amazing, every song. As a major fan of the Canadian band downhere since their Dove Award winning debut in 2001 and Best New Artist 2001, this band has only managed to get better this decade putting them in the ranks of my other favorite bands Jars of Clay, MercyMe and Sanctus Real, with their Brit-Rock sound being a blend of all of those great CCM artists and also the driving alternative rock that has made Coldplay an international sensation.
Ending Is Beginning immediately grabs you with the opening track "Bleed For This Love," written in the person of Jesus and is a moving portrayal of His sacrifice and love. Next, the first single "Here I Am," based on my favorite passage of the Bible, Isaiah 6:8 stirs me to answer my calling as a Christian to do God's will. The next 4 tracks "Cathedral Made Of People," "My Last Amen," "Hope Is Rising," and "Something Heavenly" are among the best songs ever by this great band, both musically and lyrically and the harmonizing of Marc Martel and Jason Germain has never been better. The album doesn't have any filler songs and actually closes as strong as it starts with "Live For You," "The Beggar Who Gives Alms" and the anthemic and moving "How Many Kings" as a bonus track, originally on last year's Christmas album Bethlehem Skyline.
For me, this album is truly 5 stars (98% perfect) and is my top album of 2008!
02. SANCTUS REAL - WE NEED EACH OTHER - FEBRUARY 12, 2008
I have really enjoyed this band since Fight The Tide and Everything About You hooked me. I read somewhere that Sanctus Real is filling the void left by Audio Adrenaline retiring and that is a great description of a great Christian band. I find their sound to be in line with my favorite Christian alternative rock bands, Jars of Clay and Downhere. This is a key album in their career, following up the great Face of Love, which was among the best of 2006. We Need Each Other grabs you right away with the stand-out songs "Turn On The Lights", the title track, "Black Coal", "Sing" and "Legacy", which rank among the best ever by Sanctus Real. There are no filler songs and my favorite song is "Whatever You're Doing (Something Heavenly)."
03. BEBO NORMAN - BEBO NORMAN - SEPTEMBER 16, 2008
I've been a huge fan of Bebo Norman for the past decade as he has consistently released songs that have touched me such as "The Hammer Holds," "Tip Of My Heart," "Nothing Without You" and "I Will Lift My Eyes." He is a truth telling folk music style singer-songwriter like Rich Mullins, Derek Webb and Todd Agnew, all favorites of mine. Having recently changed labels to BEC Records, Bebo Norman is his first recording as a new father of his 1-year-old son Smith and it has quickly become my favorite album by Bebo Norman and one of my top albums of 2008!
Bebo Norman is richly loaded with personal themes of coming out of depression, prayerful reflection and hope-filled expressions of joy in Christ. This album stands out like Deep Enough To Dream by Chris Rice in that you can't help but root for this album and artist because you can immediately identify with the personal nature of the songs. The first track is a great example. "Pull Me Out" is a song about Bebo's battle with depression and calling out for God's grace. "Hear It From Me" is another standout song in that we can all relate to Bebo's prayer. Every song is truly brilliant and personal and the song I can't stop listening to is the first single "Britney," written as an apology to Britney Spears for how our culture tells lies about what's beautiful and what will give life. Bebo says "it is also an invitation to the truth about a God who is bigger than the pain this world leaves us in." It is one of the most amazing songs I've ever heard and as a father of 3 daughters, it wrecks me everytime.
04. THIRD DAY - REVELATION - JULY 29, 2008
Third Day had me at "Love Song," the standout song from their debut album in 1996. I was seeking Christianity at the time and had just discovered my favorite band Jars Of Clay and couldn't get enough of Christian music, also including Audio Adrenaline and Newsboys. The 1990's were key in the development and influence on the Christian music scene and Third Day pioneered Christian Southern Rock, in the same musical style as great bands Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special and fellow Atlanta band Collective Soul. I grew up on those bands and had no trouble enjoying the rock songs from Third Day, Conspiracy No. 5 and the all-time great Time which were all a great mix of rock and worship songs. The 2000's brought Offerings, Come Together and Offerings II and I've enjoyed every album, but I missed that late 1990's original rock sound, in particular Time as the songs were so personal and catchy with no filler songs and little repetition.
Revelation is that Third Day album I've been waiting for since Time. Even though Wire and Wherever You Are have had hit songs like "I Believe" and "Cry Out To Jesus," I've missed that complete album experience. "This Is Who I Am" and "Slow It Down," with guest vocalist Chris Daughtry, start it off with great personal songs and Mac Powell's vocals have never been better. Hit song "Call My Name" is a highlight and probable Dove Award nominee. For me, the standout songs which make this a complete album are the next group of songs "Run To You", one of 2 songs featuring Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Mosley along with one of my personal favorites "Born Again." Those 2 songs are great examples of how this album is more diverse and original sounding than I've heard in a long time from this legendary band. The middle section of the album between those 2 songs including title song "Revelation" and "Otherside" are also incredible, worshipful and personal and are among the best songs on the album.
05. JEREMY CAMP - SPEAKING LOUDER THAN BEFORE - NOVEMBER 25, 2008
Jeremy Camp has experienced the depth of God's mercy after losing his first wife Melissa to cancer. His debut album Stay featured songs expressing Jeremy's reliance on God including "I Still Believe" and "Walk By Faith" which hooked me immediately because they are so personal and biblical. Jeremy has gone on to become a best-selling artist with hit songs "Take You Back," "Let It Fade" and "Give You Glory" and for me each album has improved on telling that personal faith journey that Jeremy is walking, particularly since he married his wife Adrienne, also an accomplished artist formerly in the band The Benjamin Gate and now solo with a great album of her own, Don't Wait by Adie.
Speaking Louder Than Before, Jeremy's newest album has a cohesiveness and maturity that I can hear in every song. The opener "Slow Down Time" has a Brit-Rock feel with a piano-driven intro and the theme is great in our fast-paced society. "There Will Be A Day" is one of the best songs Jeremy has ever recorded with these amazing lyrics: There will be a day with no more tears no more pain and no more fears, There will be a day when the burdens of this place will be no more, We’ll see Jesus face to face, But until that day we’ll hold on to you always. There's a great mix of uptempo songs such as "Capture Me" and the great title track and some reflective ballads including "You Will Be There" and the closing song "Surrender."
06. LEELAND - OPPOSITE WAY - FEBRUARY 26, 2008
I waited to review this album until I savored it awhile because at first it didn't measure up to Sound of Melodies, but not much does in my opinion. So, I spent more time getting into the music and lyrics of Opposite Way and I am now convinced it is a top 10 album of 2008. "Count Me In" gives a great way of thinking about our calling as Christians: I didn't choose You, You chose me first and is classic Leeland emotional alternative rock, and the other highlights are "Let It Out Now," "Enter This Temple," "Brighter Days" and my favorite song is "Opposite Way" which is an amazing worship anthem encouraging believers to follow Christ's example of being in the world, but not of the world.
07. AFTER EDMUND - HELLO - FEBRUARY 26, 2008
After Edmund is a great example of the new wave of Christian rock bands that have come out in the last few years. Similar sound to MuteMath, The Fray and Snow Patrol on the mainstream side (all favorites of mine) and Leeland, Deas Vail and Ruth (my favorite new Christian bands). "Thank God" kicks it off Hello, and I find "Fighting For Your Heart" "Come and Rain Down" and "Like A Dream" to be the other highlights. Excellent debut album!
08. BUILDING 429 - BUILDING 429 - OCTOBER 21, 2008
Building 429 hit the scene big with their debut single "Glory Defined" and their solid debut album The Space In Between Us. Their style had a bit of grunge mixed with solid worship lyrics, fitting since the band name is based on Ephesians 4:29, which is a great life verse. After much acclaim and a Dove Award for Best New Artist 2005, Building 429 came back with a somewhat more rocking Rise, with the hit song "Fearless." Iris To Iris was the third and final Building 429 album on Word Records and up until this album, was my favorite overall with the stand-out song "Singing Over Me," based on Zephaniah 3:17.
Building 429, the self-titled debut album on INO Records, is now my favorite overall album by this great band, who has really found their niche in my opinion. This is truly an album and band worthy of being named after Ephesians 4:29 as this excellent album is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Sometimes a band has an uncanny ability to connect with a listener and I truly had that experience listening to this album. The opening track "Not Gonna Let You Down" brings back the rocking sound missing from Iris To Iris and then the hit lead single "End Of Me" just grabs you as a listener and for me is somewhat biographical as though this could be my life story as a Christian. I truly enjoy every song and have listened to this album non-stop for the last couple of weeks. The other highlights of the album for me come next with "Overcome," based on John 4:4, which brings tremendous encouragement that Our Savior has overcome the world, and then my favorite overall song is the ballad story-song "Always," a song based on a true story of tragedy similar to "Praise You In This Storm" by Casting Crowns. The orchestral arrangement and Jason Roy's sincere vocals cause me to break down and this song sweeps me up in worship and hope in God's promise that He will be with us always!
09. BIG DADDY WEAVE - WHAT LIFE WOULD BE LIKE - JULY 22, 2008
Big Daddy Weave has impressed me since their debut album One & Only, which included the hit song "Audience Of One." The next 3 albums included the hits "Fields of Grace," "Without You" and "Everytime I Breathe." If you like southern rock like Dave Matthews Band and Third Day, then you'll enjoy this band, who mingles excellent musicianship and vocals with incredible lyrics which are biblical and challenging.
What Life Would Be Like is definitely the best overall album by this great band and is one of my top 10 albums of 2008. "You Found Me" kicks off the album with a great introspective calling out to God in prayer. The hit title track "What Life Would Be Like" is truly an anthem of faith and a real challenge to all believers to wonder what life would be like if we let Jesus live through you and me. There are truly no filler songs on this album and once again there are a couple of cover songs and they are better than ever. "Revive Us Again" is a hymn re-write and extremely worshipful and then I was amazed by the excellent version of "Another Day In Paradise," which actually is better than the original version by Phil Collins. The next songs "Right With You" and "Falling Into You" are also personal songs of worship and the closer "Just Like Somebody Else" is a great rocker and great way to close out this amazing album.
10. STARFIELD - I WILL GO - MARCH 25, 2008
I have LOVED this group since the first time I heard "Filled With Your Glory" which we still sing at my church. Their 2004 debut album also included the biblical and catchy "Tumbling After" and "Alive In This Moment" which all hooked me. Then, in 2006 they took it up a notch with "Beauty And The Broken" with the hit song "Everything Is Beautiful" and one of my favorite Starfield songs, "Obsession".
Now in 2008, along comes I Will Go. Like the first two albums, this is alternative rock praise and worship and arguably their strongest album to date. "From The Corners of the Earth" kicks it off in classic Starfield style and then they totally rock "Hosanna", an amazing cover of the Hillsong United song. "Reign In Us," the rocking "I Will Go" and "Hiding Place" are my other favorites. Fans of Delirious?, Leeland and Sanctus Real will want to "Go" with Starfield.
Kevin Davis is one of NRT's most active contributors and featured reviewers, adding over 110 reviews (40+ from 2008 releases) and authoring 25 "Behind The Song" devotionals this year alone. He is a long time fan of Christian music as well as, movies, TV shows and multiple PodCasts. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.