It's hard to believe that 2002 has come and gone already. When I sat down to compile a year-end list of my favorite albums, I was shocked by how much music barely stayed in my CD player. There were a number of albums that released in the past 12 months, but few captivated and challenged me. There was so much stuff released, that in my opinion, some of the best got literally buried by the litter. 2003 is already shaping up to be a huge year for Christian music as we eagerly anticipate new albums from Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay, Caedmon's Call, Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Switchfoot, Third Day, Chris Rice, Sonicflood, Jaci Velasquez, Point of Grace, Stacie Orrico, FFH and more. Yeah...it's going to be a great year.
But this is a time for reflection, so I humbly present 10 albums, in no particular order, that touched me in one way or another in 2002 and why they made the list. With everything else going on, I hope you find the time to check out these suggestions. More than likely, everyone will connect with at least one of these records. Take care!
"Myself When I Am Real" by Bebo Norman - Released September 2002
Bebo Norman pretty much has the formula down pat. To say that he's reached perfection might be too bold, but nothing seems to be going wrong on his third album, Myself When I Am Real. The worse thing that might ever happen to Bebo is for him to find the love he's been writing about for three years now. The absent relationships have been inspiration for the majority of his songwriting and this time out is no exception. Songs like "Beautiful You" and "Falling Down" are built around this theme, but Bebo says it best in "So Afraid." "I am so afraid that I'll find myself alone / Looking for a savior, looking for a home." But what Bebo does so beautifully is fill the empty void of love with the promises of God. Bebo also presents his career song with "Great Light of the World," a song that dynamically builds into a beautiful ballad that inspires chills on the spine. "I'm half a man here / So come make me whole / Oh great light of the world / Come to impart / The light of your grace to fill up my heart." Bebo Norman is wonderful at taking angst and directing it towards the heavens, where we are supposed to be bringing our burdens. He presents honesty and an openness with both his faith and his world around him that is simply unmatched in today's music. It's easy to pass on Bebo's music as boring and uninspired, but there are so many layers to both his music and his storytelling that to say that would simply be acknowledging that no time has been spent with the record.
"The Fault Is History" by Souljahz - Released August 2002
Probably one of the most underrated albums of 2002, The Fault Is History is an amazing step in the right direction for Urban/R&B Christian music. SoulJahz is comprised of siblings Joshua (22), Je'kob (20) and Rachael (17) Washington. Determined to overcome and overturn the messages that society presents to their generation, the group combines a barrage of music and styles that is both eclectic and relevant to where music is going today. SoulJahz' debut album is layered with Rachael's beautiful "Lauren Hill-like" harmonies along side her brother's tag team rapping that can easily give mainstream trash-talker Ja-Rule a run for his money. Combined, they sound very much like an energetic City High. The creativity present on cut after cut is what makes this album so special. From amazing interludes that contain poetic cultural ravings reminiscent of the poetry found on Kevin Max's Stereotype Be, to the beautiful ballads to the high energy groves, SoulJahz deliverers what sounds more like a group who has been around for awhile versus a debut national release. Produced by Tonex and Chris Rodriguiz, highlights on the album include "The Color Of Hate," "Poor Man" and the energy driven song "Jubilee."
"Obvious" by Plus One - Released February 2002
With 2003 approaching, we are definitely seeing the end of what looked to be a nonstop pop revolution. But, being the ever-fickle public we are, it seems like the boy-bands are leaving just as fast as they shimmed onto the stage just a few years ago. Gone are the cravings for made-for-radio, prepackaged music. The tastes have turned to more raw, guitar-driven talent. But that didn't stop Plus One from releasing an album showcasing their vocal and musical growth, and it didn't stop me from enjoying this album, even in this post-pop world we now live in. Songs like "Use Me," "I Don't Care" and "Under The Influence" showcased a huge transformation from their first album both in production and in vocal harmony and continued to keep the focus on a vertical relationship with God. Ballads like "Let Me Be The One" and "Start To Fly" were perfect for the general market and helped them get opportunities for mainstream exposure like nationwide promotions with McDonalds and Oscer Meyer. Overall, this album follows the same pop formula made popular by N*Sync and Backstreet Boys, but the solid harmonies and the catchy tunes make Obvious one of the most enjoyable pop albums to come out in recent years.
"Stay" by Jeremy Camp - Release September 2002
Twenty-four year old Jeremy Camp's national debut release is filled with the kind of passion and maturity rarely found in today's music, and it's with good reason. To sum up Jeremy's story in one paragraph is unfair, but in February 2001, Jeremy found himself having to deal with the reality of losing his wife of six months to cancer. Out of that experience comes Stay, a collection of twelve songs that goes against everything that one would expect from someone who went through such a personal loss just over a year ago. Hope. Acceptance. Peace. Faith. Thankfulness. All of these themes are omnipresent in each and every song. Jeremy talks candidly about his struggle on "Breaking My Fall," "Nothing" and "One Day At A Time" where he says "In all these things I will press on / I'll be with you I know it won't be long." But then he brings in peace that he's found through God by saying in "I Still Believe," "I feel your grace fall like rain / From every fingertip / Washing away my pain." I'm sure there were times of anger with God but he certainly does not show that frustration here. This album is seeping with testimony that will knock you to your knees with conviction. For Jeremy to take such a personal loss public, and then release an album that so openly shows the healing power and the tremendous peace that God brings and is able to provide is simply amazing. With so much pain in life, it's a mystery to me how people make it without the constant and never ending support and presence of our Lord and Savior. Musically, Stay could stand up against groups like 3 Doors Down, Nickleback and Lifehouse, but honestly, the lyrics are so powerful, it's simply a bonus that the music is top notch as well.
"Spoken For" by MercyMe - Released October 2002
For the men of MercyMe, worshipping the Lord and leading others in praise is very much a lifelong calling. That commitment has guided the band through the creation of six independent projects, their major gold-selling label debut Almost There and now their sophomore release, Spoken For. It's always tough to follow-up a smash hit, but after "I Could Only Imagine" won a Dove Award for "Song of the Year" and dominated radio for over a year, MercyMe responded with a new collection of 11 worship songs that were just as inspiring as anything they have penned in the past. The title track and songs like "Crazy" and "The Love Of God" reminds us of the importance and adoration that God places on us, while songs like "The Change Inside Of Me" speaks about the call on our lives to continue to seek him through all the days in our lives. The music is encouraging and inspirational and creates some of the finest moments in praise and worship this year.
"Hero" by Daily Planet - Released August 2002
Daily Planet is definitely one of the breakout bands in 2002. Their debut album on Reunion Records, Hero, is a captivating collection of songs packed with hard truths about life, the struggles of faith in people around us and in the constant reality of the unconditional love poured over us from God. Jesse Butterworth, both the lead singer and principle songwriter, lends his unique vocals, rough at times but original enough to stand out above other groups, to lyrics that convict, challenge and encourage. Highlights on the album include their first #1 single "Flying Blind" which speaks about letting go and allowing God to lead the way. "Questioning The Notion" is definitely the most beautifully written songs on the album. Jesse sings about doubting God, a subject rarely talked about in Christian music but something that almost everyone can identify with. There are always times in our lives when tragedy & confusion hits and we begin to wonder if He is really there. Jesse sings "Questioning the notion, that God is full of love / Is a tempting road to take when you forget about his blood / But I'll choose to still believe Him, His heart is kind and just / I'm only seeing half the picture, for the other half I'll trust." It's just one of many times that the lyrics of Daily Planet reach out and truly connect with you. You feel like they understand the issues in life. "Six String Rocketeer" is yet another example of the intricate story telling that they have already perfected as Jesse discusses his journey of escape as a teenager dealing with his parents' divorce. This is an album that will simply capture you. You'll enjoy it because of the music, you'll love it because of the edgy vocals but most of all your respect it because of the truth in the lyrics.
"Fireproof" by Pillar - Released May 2002
Pillar's 2001 debut, Above, garnered much media attention and placed the band in the middle of a media storm after it won "Hard Rock Album of the Year" at the 2001 Dove Awards. Fireproof, the band's second release, proves that the group deserves all the attention and then some. With a sound that has been compared to mainstream counterparts P.O.D., Linkin Park and Incubus, Fireproof's collection of 11 songs is impressive and demonstrates that the band is serious about their calling to present youth with a positive message combined with quality, relevant music. Without being preachy, Pillar's lyrics speak truth and boldness about their faith delivering clear-cut, meaningful, straightforward Christian themes. Sonically, Fireproof is characterized by aggressive rock with melodic hooks, combined with strong drumming and guitar work that enhances the overall sound. At the same time, the vocals are amazingly clear, understandable and convincing. Fans of P.O.D. will notice some similarities with the vocals at certain times, but the music is different enough that they avoid being labeled as a "copycat." Along with the #1 title track, other standouts include "Stay Up," "Echelon," "Just To Get By" and "Light At My Feet."
"Saturate" by Jeff Deyo - Released in March 2002
Jeff Deyo is the heart and soul behind the original Sonicflood, and Saturate continues where Sonicflood left off, providing a worthy follow-up record that fans did not see with Resonate. It's impossible not to listen to this record and be recaptured by the brilliance of the former frontman of the band that changed the face of modern worship. Jeff has penned 9 new worship songs that include "Let It Flow" and "Satisfy." tobyMac is also arresting on background vocals for the blazing remake of "More Love, More Power." A surprising favorite is the orchestral-rock cover of the classic hymn "I'd Rather Have Jesus." Originally written in the 30's by Rhea Miller and George Shea, "I'd Rather Have Jesus" is a very rocking tune that keeps its hymnal roots while still sporting a modern edge. This is done in what seems to be the new fad of redoing old hymns. Much like "Before The Throne Of God Above" from Sonicpraise. The album closes with "Sing For You," a duet with Rebecca St. James. There is simply not one miss on this album as each song provides great music and more importantly a great message.
"Broken" by Joel Hanson - Released in July 2002
Joel Hanson, former frontman for the late great PFR, released his second independent solo project this year, and by doing so solidified my thought that Joel is one of the best songwriters out there. His musical style is as captivating, original and dynamic as ever and his lyrics are honest and forthcoming in their simplicity. Joel has always had the ability to blend driving music with lyrics that seem to be written in the most intimate of times and it's almost like he invites you into this personal time with him. It's obvious that Joel Hanson is continuing to be blessed with inspiration long after the demise of one of the most influential bands in Christian music. Broken is one of the only indie albums I've bought this year, and it was worth every penny.
"Amazing" by Parachute Band - Released In January 2002
It is extremely rare to find a collection of original worship songs on one album, but Parachute Band's latest record, Amazing, accomplishes just that. New Zealand based Parachute Band's music has never been eye opening before (this is their fifth record), which makes this album that much more enjoyable. Songs like "Amazing," "All The Earth," and "Complete" showcase the powerful harmonies and dynamics that have been missing from the group's previous efforts. These are some of the most beautiful new worship songs I've heard in a long time. Aside from the odd placement of the in-your-face R&B styling of "Sovereign" and "Shepherd," Amazing is definitely one of the best praise and worship recordings to come out this year.
Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991.