I've got the honor of picking up where NRT's founder, Kevin McNeese left off after highlighting his favorite albums from each year of the first decade of NewReleaseToday's existance (2001-2010). If you missed his picks, you can click here to read.
I was beyond impressed with the quality of new Christian releases this past decade from 2011-2020. I thought these were among the best years in the history of Christian music, with career albums by veteran artists NEEDTOBREATHE, Audrey Assad, Matt Maher, Switchfoot, Francesca Battistelli, Plumb and Sara Groves, and emerging artists Ellie Holcomb, Unspoken, and Jordan Feliz.
The unique aspect of this past decade for me is that it has been the emergence of the female vocalist, both in the Christian and mainstream music markets with Adele, Colbie Caillat, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry topping the mainstream charts. That trend has "crossed over" to infuse those same popular musical styles into my top 10 albums of the decade, with a noteworthy five female artists on my top ten albums of the decade list: Sara Groves, Audrey Assad, Plumb, Ellie Holcomb, and Francesca Battistelli.
As the father of three young daughters, this is a great new trend in music and long overdue in my opinion. Here are my top 10 favorite albums of the past decade and the posted top 10 lists. I've left compilations and live albums off my final list–just including studio albums.
Best of 2011: Sara Groves - Invisible Empires
Each of Sara Groves' albums has received well-deserved acclaim for her premier songwriting ability. Sara's major-label debut album, Conversations, led to her nomination for Best New Artist. Each of her albums has always had at least one song that pulls my heartstrings and brings out an emotional response. From "Maybe There's A Loving God" to "I Saw What I Saw" and "It's Me," I always expect at least one of Sara's songs to make me cry. On Invisible Empires there are several personal songs that melt my heart including "Obsolete", "I'll Wait", "Precious Again" and "Finite." "Miracle" beautifully sets the tone for this five-star masterpiece with her signature piano-based introspective style. Sara's excellent songwriting and captivating piano-based singer-songwriter style make her one of my favorite female artists in any genre of music.
Audrey Assad was my favorite new female vocalist from 2012 and this album really captured the beauty and sincerity of her incredible vocals and stirring songs. The House You're Building captivated me and Heart completely "won me over." From start to finish, all 12 songs weave a tapestry that is artful, engaging, catchy, and emotional. After several listens and goose-bump-inducing moments, I am convinced that this is now my favorite album, ever. If I'm ever stranded on a deserted island and I can only listen to one album the rest of my days, I'll forever choose Heart.
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.
Best of 2014: NEEDTOBREATHE - Rivers in the Wasteland
The band consistently makes songs that remind us to get to that place where we are in humble submission to God, not playing it safe but taking a chance and asking for God to be real in our lives. Rivers in the Wasteland is the best album I've heard this year. The album includes a solid mix of Southern-rock-tinged music with inspirational lyrics. Although every song is absolutely amazing, don't miss the standout songs "Wasteland," "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," "Difference Maker," "Rise Again," "The Heart," "Multiplied" and "More Heart, Less Attack." The very relatable and transparent words of these eleven stellar tracks use poetic descriptions and biblical language throughout, resulting in NEEDTOBREATHE's best album to date.
Highly anticipated after the success of his last album, All the People Said Amen, this compelling, 11-track album is an excellent follow-up. The album keeps Matt's signature holy energy flowing and has plenty more songs that you'll soon be singing with fellow believers. The album perfectly captures the penetrating spirit and charisma Matt Maher's worship songs have become known for. Maher's theological, holy, and reverent style of writing and singing worship songs has consistently attracted me. Several of Maher's new prayerful sentiments should be added to your Sunday morning worship set, especially "A Future Not My Own," "Deliverer," "Glory Bound," "Because He Lives (Amen)" and the gorgeous ballads "Abide with Me" and "Rest." This album provides listeners with eleven tracks of vertical offerings to God that you can sing in any circumstance, making it my album of the year.
Best of 2016: Switchfoot - Where The Light Shines Through
Switchfoot has had a major impact on my walk as a believer from the time of their third release Learning to Breathe. The band's following seven releases have been a constant companion on that journey as my faith has matured. We have a responsibility to remember that "we were meant to live for so much more" than what the world tells us, and in the name of unity and as we look at all people as made in God's image, know that "love alone is worth the fight." Considering the recent tragedies surrounding us all over the world, the band's 10th release Where the Light Shines Through is another timely reminder of those themes and arguably the band's strongest release to date. The album is full of songs about healing, including the title track, "I Won't Let You Go," "Hope is the Anthem" and "Live it Well," providing more guidance and comfort to believers trying to make sense of it all.
Ellie is an anointed songwriter, and she has a profound way of bringing me closer to God with her poignant words, tender singing, and inspirational truths. I get welled up singing along with several of the emotion-laden songs on Red Sea Road. I've been yearning for more "gourmet" songs like these since As Sure As The Sun. Ellie brings sincerity and relatable themes that get deeper with each listen.
I absolutely love Francesca's intentionality and complete focus on God's provision in her life. She is a uniquely gifted singer/songwriter with a big voice that is memorable and dynamic, yet intimate. These songs all have biblically-based lyrics that poignantly capture life's simple, yet vital messages. I'm really engaged by the emotional vocals and the prayerful lyrics found in these sacred songs. Francesca's vocals will soothe your soul, and the vertical lyrics will direct your attention and focus to Jesus. There are several personal songs that melt my heart, especially "Royalty," "This Can Change Everything," "You Belong," "Let the Light In," "As Good As It Gets," and "Defender." If you like female singers that make you think while you enjoy their catchy and empowering songs, Own It is for you. I have three young daughters, and this is a solid upbeat pop album with positive biblical messages that is a great alternative to mainstream pop artists. This is easily my top pop album of the year, and Francesca's "very best" overall album.
Unspoken's Reason followed up on the success of their debut eponymous album and sophomore album Follow Through, which featured the hit songs "The Cure," "Higher," and "Miracle." Both albums ranked in my top 5 albums of the year and The Reason is a worthy follow-up. It is chock-full of hits including "Reason," "Help is on the Way" and "Just Give Me Jesus." It is refreshing how in this age of lyrical ambiguity, there is no question that this band is sold-out for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Reason" is a very convicting and sobering reminder that God brings trials to remind us how much we need Him. The song, as well as the album itself, gives many glimpses of the authentic reality of life and its experiences–good and bad. Things don't go as we want or even how we pray for God to work in our lives. For me, I like to listen to this song in the context of the order of the songs on the album. The album's music celebrates God's sovereignty and professes that He's the ultimate ruler over our lives. With this excellent album, Unspoken is offering a great example of how you can write and sing lyrics that are unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reach the lost with transparent confessions of faith. Every thought and lyric in this song and this album is rooted in Scripture, which I admire.
This album is sure to connect with all listeners who like catchy songs filled with truth and yearning for God. I really enjoy the exciting musical vibe of this album, and the melodies and lyrics are all catchy and biblical. Say It is loaded with great rock beats, catchy melodies, and solid lyrics reflecting unashamed faith in Jesus. Don't miss out on this incredible album, one of the best of the year for sure. Jordan's enthusiastic and reverent style of writing and singing songs has consistently been a draw for me. His prayerful sentiments are consistently filled with his personal adoration of God. I've felt that he's improved with each new album and this is my favorite Jordan Feliz album.
Want more? NRT's founder, Kevin McNeese, chose his favorites from each of the first ten years of our existence. You can catch up with Part 1 of our annual best of picks, here.
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.
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