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The Top Ten Albums Of 2004
This year, I found myself gravitating away from the major artists whose music is becoming less inspiring and embracing the fresh and innovating sound of new acts.

THE YEAR THAT WAS, The Top Ten Albums Of 2004
Posted: December 31, 2004 | By: NRTeamAdmin
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I strongly believe I'm getting harder to impress. Each year, as I comb through the stacks of albums that have been sent my way during the past twelve months, it's becoming harder and harder to find those albums that have truly struck a chord in my soul. This year, I found myself gravitating away from the major artists whose music is becoming less inspiring and embracing the fresh and innovative sound of new acts. So this year, you'll see a few familiar faces, but the majority of my picks are from artists who you may have yet to discover. As always, I hope this annual list helps you find some diamonds in the rough. Thanks for yet another great year here at and I look forward to staying with you during the next 365 days. 

In a musical landscape that is continually being filled with underdeveloped, youth group bands, Shawn McDonald's Simply Nothing is a breath of fresh air. Stripped down to an acoustic guitar, piano and light percussion, the eleven tracks on Shawn's debut share the heart and passion of an artist who has something to say. On "Gravity," Shawn sings, "This place is not my home, it's got nothing for me. Only leaves me with emptiness, and tears in my eyes." Shawn shines brightest on tracks like "All I Need," and the title track, where he sings "What are you man if, you do not know love?" On "Take My Life," an amazing cry to God, we hear about a man wanting wholeness after a life of selfishness. Shawn also provides worship that would fit into any Sunday morning service on original tracks like "Yahwah" and "Here I Am." Throughout the album, Shawn shares the peace that only Christ can bring. But with his younger years spent running from God and chasing drugs, the message is simplified even more. God meets you right where you are. The themes on Simply Nothing should not be earth shattering to today's believer, but instead of dumbing down the message, Shawn delivers solid truths and gentle reminders that drill to the core of Christianity. Simply Nothing is a beautiful start from a gifted singer/songwriter that leaves the listener with a peace rarely found in today's music. 

In 2004, Jeremy Camp took home Dove Awards for "New Artist of the Year" and "Male Vocalist of the Year," taking it from annual favorites like Third Day's Mac Powell and Steven Curtis Chapman. His early 2004 worship release, Carried Me, fared even better. The two albums have sold more than 500,000 copies combined. With an amazing story of loss and redemption, it's no surprise that Jeremy has been able to connect to so many fans. His third album, Restored, does not fail to disappoint. The focal theme of God's greatness, forgiveness and message that "God loves us right where we are" is continued on Restored. The album starts off with the title track, a simple thanks from a broken son to his healing Father. "Take You Back," the first single and one of the best songs on the album, is classic Jeremy Camp, blending awe struck lyrics with an acoustic verse, driven by a hard pounding chorus. Camp sings, "You take me back, even when my fight is over now, even when my pain is coming through." Jeremy does rock music as good, if not better, than his worship soaked ballads, and songs like "Lay Down My Pride" and "Breathe" keep the album from stalling half way through. Other highlights include "Everytime," a musical force that acknowledges the constant in God, ("Everytime I'm on my knees, pleading for your strength, I will find You there"). Jeremy Camp as an artist works for many reasons: His music remains relevant in a number of genres. His message is elementary enough for non-believers and challenging to strong believers. But most importantly, his testimony revolves around loss and redemption and gives hope that can only be found at the core of God's grace. In today's world, where disappointment waits around every corner, that's a message I simply can't get enough of.

Kutless' debut album, released in 2002, failed to grab me. The few radio hits were solid, but the album on a whole was forgettable. Sea Of Faces, however, has returned to my musical rotation time and time again since its release this past July. Kutless certainly gets the award this year for "Most Improved," delivering my favorite collection of rock songs since last yea's The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot. The album kicks off with the hard hitting "Not What You See" and never fails to loose its energy. Even when passing over the ballads like "All Along" and the title track, there's a sense of bigger purpose and drive absent from most albums. I also love the unapologetic messages found throughout the album. The title track explains God's sacrifice and love for ever person on Earth. The final track, "It's Like Me," is one of the best songs I've heard from this group and it tears me up each time I hear it. Its angst filled lyrics is summed up in the lines, "We talk of God, but still I don't share." It's a challenge to spend our time capturing every opportunity to truly share what God has done in our lives. "Perspectives" talks about the choices we make. "Why can't you see, freedom is just simply another perspective away. Who could you be, if your hands was changed for a moment would you still be the same." And "Treason" knocks it out of the park by saying "With my two lips I will praise your name. Then I turn around and only cuss and blame." The members of Kutless understand that we all are human, born into a life of sin. But instead of leaving it at that, they offer a hope and a way out. Set that message to quality, progressive rock music, and you get one of the best albums of the year. 

Coming off 2002's Fireproof, still one of the best rock albums ever released, Pillar continues to ride high, gladly taking P.O.D.'s spot at the Christian band to watch. "Bring Me Down," their first single from Where Do We Go From Here, a powerhouse collection of twelve tracks, has been the mainstream breakout hit they have been looking for. Expect more to come. "Simply" is the best song I've ever heard from Pillar as lead singer Rob Beckley delivers a performance that send shivers up your spine. The message is summed up in the first lines of the chorus: "You simply love, despite all the stupid things I've done." From "Hypnotized" to "Aftershock," the resulting songs burst with sweeping tempo shifts, relentless melodies, and a resolute, stand-tall attitude. "The album's theme deals with being pulled at from different directions, and the people who always tell you who to be and what to do," says Beckley, whose band co-produced the album with longtime collaborator Travis Wyrick. "This record is a direct reflection of all the challenges we face." While Fireproof is the album that put this band on the map, Where Do We Go From Here will be the album that solidifies Pillar as the best rock band in Christian music"¦hands down. 

It's been three long years since we've had new music from Toby, but Welcome To Diverse City proves it was worth the wait. No corners were cut here as Toby delivers a solid effort that expands on his first solo record, Momentum. A perfect blend of hip-hop, R&B, rock and pop, each song builds on the next, and by the time you get to the last track, you wonder where the last hour went. WTDC features a more eclectic mix than his previous album, ranging from radio friendly songs like "Gone" and "Hey You" to urban heavy tracks like "Catchafire" and "Ill M I." Guest artists also appear all over adding another layer of surprises. T-Bone takes "Slam" to new heights with his amazing ability to cram 100 words into 20 seconds, Papa San provides a perfect Jamaican flavor on "Catchafire" and Nirva, the female powerhouse that has toured with Toby for the past two years, dabbles in background vocals and interludes. The much anticipated reunion of dc talk on "Atmosphere Remix" does not disappoint. Michael Tait and Kevin Max may have never been in the studio with tobyMac recording this song, but this silky smooth song reminds you that dc talk has no competition in this industry. There's just something special that happens when these three stars align. Toby, in true form, includes humor throughout, peaking with the "TruDog: The Return." Every time I listen to this track, I want kids"¦and McDonalds. He's that cute. This is an album that will have a long shelf life and plenty of diversity to hold off my dc talk cravings for awhile. 

Joshua Brown, lead singer of the new group Day Of Fire, enjoyed a level of success that most people only dream of. He was formerly the front man for Full Devil Jacket, a mainstream band signed to Island/Def Jam Records, touring with some of the hottest bands in rock music. Joshua indulged in all the excesses of a rock and roll lifestyle, searching for something to comfort the pain inside of him. His dreams of being a rock star were finally coming true, but as his fame increased, so did his drug usage. Finally, after a near-fatal drug overdose, Joshua found the answer that he was searching for. It may seem a little too simple to believe, but God's message is not complicated. Joshua is walking testimony to God's promise found in Revelation 3:20 that says, "If any man hears God's voice and opens their heart to Him, He will come." Joshua responded to that call. Out of that experience comes one of the best Christian albums of the year. Day Of Fire's debut album, produced by Scott Humphrey, (Metallica, Motley Crue, Fleetwood Mac, The Cult, Rob Zombie), is split between powerful guitar driven rock, ("Through The Fire," "Detainer") and some of the best power ballads to hit the Christian music scene. "Cornerstone," currently enjoying the #1 spot at Rock Radio, is the best song I've heard in years. Josh sings "Be a cornerstone, Be a foundation for all, You are the builder of my heart, You've held me together from the start." Throughout the album, Josh acknowledges the fact that God has been chasing him his whole life. On "Rain Song," he sings, "Rain, Lord we thirst for water, we are desert land, Bring your rain again." Overall, Day Of Fire is an excellent debut album from a group that truly understands God's grace and forgiveness. And they rock that message all the way home. 

Thousand Foot Krutch, like Kutless, is another group that surprised me with their new album. If you like rock music, this is a must have in your CD collection. There really is not a band song on the album, and every one translates well into their live show. If you have a change to see TFK live, don't pass it up. TFK does a great job of balancing rock with hooks, not allowing the guitar to overpower the overall message. Standout tracks on their latest release include "Last Words" ("You can have everything, But have nothing, Listen I've got to tell you something") and the crowd favorite (Throw Up Your) "RawkFist." "This Is A Call" is one of the few times TFK slow things down as they tell the stories of people asking God to show them what this life is all about when stuck in a corner. ("And he cries, but you rarely see him do it, He's calling out to you, Cause everything I fall down, I reach out to you.") Overall, this is an album that gives the upper numbers of your stereo a workout""the louder you play, the better these songs are. Sure, Christian music should be worshipful and happy, but sometimes you need to just raise a rawkfist. As long as that fist eventually turns into a hand raised to God, it's all good. 

There are groups that I have never "got." Third Day is one of them. The only album I really enjoyed was Conspiracy No. 5. So, while I have heard most of the music they've put out, I've been out of the Third Day loop. Their last album, Come Together, started to perk my interest, but their new album Wire has got my full attention and I haven't turned away since. This band continues to mature musically with each release, and Wire includes some of the best guitar work I've heard in Christian music. Produced by Paul Ebersold (Three Doors Down, No Doubt), Wire is about as rock as you can get. These songs drive with an energy you can't ignore, and coupled with Mac Powell's amazing vocals, the album runs strong from start to finish. "Come On Back To Me," "'Til The Day I Die" and "I Got A Feeling" are songs that have that lingering effect that stays with you all day. The title track is a powerful ballad and "You Are Mine" is possibly the best Third Day worship song since "Love Song." If anything, I know Wire will capture an audience that, like me, wrote off Third Day as a sub-par band. Now I need to go back and see what I've been missing. 

When Sarah's debut album hit shelves, it was interesting to hear what people thought of the album. This is an artist where listeners embraced her or shunned her. I have yet to find someone who thought the album was ok. It's either amazing or one of the worse things they've heard all year. Well, let's admit that not everyone can like every album, but I definitely fall into the former category versus the latter. Apparently, Grammy voters feel the same way as she received a nod for the 2005 Grammy Awards in Best Rock Gospel for "Best Rock Gospel Album." Sarah's music is a cross between Jennifer Knapp, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette and Janis Joplin. Her approach to music is extremely raw and uncensored. The tracks transition easily between ambitious rock-flavors to the fearlessly intimate moments of softer songs like "More Than Anyone," "All I See" and "Hallelujah," sure to become a worship favorite. Overall, Sarah's timidness to follow God's call proves to be a wide open door that allows her to connect to her listeners in a way that many artists fail to achieve in their career. And because of that, I'm all ears. 

Fans of the haunting Evanescence like track, "Never Alone" may be disappointed to find Barlowgirls' debut album full of pop/punk fare like "Pedestal," "Average Gift" and "Clothes," but once you get past the fact that Barlowgirl, at its core, is three young women growing up in a world that sexualizes female bodies, challenges moral decisions and encourages promiscuity, you realize that they have something more to say. "She Walked Away" is an honest song about independence and fits well alongside "On My Own" and "Harder Than The First Time." Their second album, due in 2005, is skewing more towards the rock than the light pop, so enjoy their youth while they are still sharing. This is a fun album with a great message than anyone can relate to.

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.

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