I am beyond impressed with the quality of new Christian releases this year. I thought 2009 was the best year in recent history in Christian music, with career albums by Jars of Clay, NEEDTOBREATHE, David Crowder*Band, BarlowGirl, Switchfoot, Relient K, Mark Schultz, Phil Wickham and Sara Groves.
Somehow, though, 2011 has managed to top that year and has been loaded with quality albums. The past three years (2009-2011) have been the 3 most amazing consecutive years for new Christian music that I can ever remember.
I can now name more than 20 artists who, in my opinion, have released the best albums of their careers these past 3 years. It's interesting that Sara Groves and NEEDTOBREATHE are present on both my 2009 and 2011 lists. I’ve rated those stellar releases as my top 2 albums of the year.
The unique aspect of 2011 for me is that it has been the year 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 2011, with an unprecedented six female artists on my top 10 albums list: Sara Groves, Dara Maclean, Christa Wells, Jessa Anderson, Heather Williams and Francesca Battistelli. What’s incredible is that Dara Maclean, Jessa Anderson and Heather Williams are brand new artists and these are their debut albums. Two independent releases have also made my top 10: Christa Wells and Satellites & Sirens.
As father of three young daughters, this is a great new trend in music and long overdue in my opinion. Here are my top 10 albums of 2011 and 10 honorable mentions rounding out my top 20 albums of the year. I’ve left compilations and live albums off my final list--just including studio albums. I'd love to read your comments if you have a few minutes to post. Enjoy!
(Make sure you check out the Top 10 lists from NRT Founder Kevin McNeese
and our Senior Editor Marcus Hathcock
1. SARA GROVES - INVISIBLE EMPIRES - OCTOBER 18, 2011
Each of Sara Groves' albums has received well-deserved acclaim for her premier songwriting ability. Ten years ago, 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 heart strings 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"
There is nobody else in any genre of music--including acclaimed GRAMMY Award winning singer-songwriters Adele and Sara Bareilles--writing such piercing, relevant and moving songs. If you are looking for an entire album of songs like "Blessings" by Laura Story, look no further than Sara Groves.
What's especially cool about this album is how Sara invites listeners into her life by sharing what's on her heart. She dwells on social issues, lays out spiritual truths and worships God all at the same time. "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 have made her my favorite female artist in any genre of music.
If you like JJ Heller, Brooke Fraser, Laura Story and Audrey Assad, you must get Invisible Empires
by Sara Groves. Truly, every song is amazing. It's hard to imagine, but Sara has now once again released her "best" album, topping all of her previous excellent work. Invisible Empires
by Sara Groves is the top album of 2011.
2. NEEDTOBREATHE - THE RECKONING - SEPTEMBER 20, 2011
This is a ridiculously fantastic album on all levels. You can be sure this is a five-star masterpiece that will propel NEEDTOBREATHE to major headliner status, just like GRAMMY Award winning bands Train, Kings of Leon and Muse.
All I can say is "ooh and aah" as I listen to each incredible song. The meteoric rise of this band from Daylight to The Reckoning is unprecedented and extremely well-deserved. If you've been waiting to jump on the NEEDTOBREATHE bandwagon, it's time to "wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes" as the album invites.
This is the best album I've ever heard. Bo Rinehart is a hit song-writing genius. Just like everyone else (including Taylor Swift), "More Time", "Lay 'Em Down" and "Something Beautiful" captivated me. Every song on this album is a guaranteed hit, especially "Oohs and Aahs", "White Fences", "Slumber", "Maybe They're Onto Us", "Keep Your Eyes Open", "Devil's Been Talkin'" and my song of the year, "Drive All Night." This deserves the GRAMMY award for Album of the Year. It is time to make history. Just like The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, The Reckoning by NEEDTOBREATHE is the Album of the Year by THE Group of the Year.
3. DARA MACLEAN - YOU GOT MY ATTENTION - JULY 12, 2011
Fervent Records' soulful new artist Dara Maclean is guaranteed to turn heads with the release of her debut album, You Got My Attention. Dara displays the strongest vocals I've heard in years, and her Brit-pop sounding vocals are similar to Adele and Natasha Bedingfield wrapped around Motown-style soulful music as displayed on upbeat title track "You Got My Attention," which is one of several five-star songs on this flawless five-star album. Dara Maclean's debut album blew me away! This is my top album of the year for sure, and Dara Maclean is the best new artist I've heard in CCM since Francesca Battistelli. I can't get enough of this album, which for me is flawless with 12 amazing songs. For sure you'll be hearing her name and her songs. Dara is my surefire choice for best new artist, female vocalist and pop/contemporary album of the year.
4. CHRISTA WELLS - HOW EMPTINESS SINGS - MARCH 15, 2011
How Emptiness Sings is a 7-track EP with all new original songs, and it is one of the best projects of 2011. Note by note, word by word, each song unfolds like a mirror allowing the listener to see himself in places and circumstances he was previously blind to. Christa Wells is, at the core, a believer in a relational God, and her songs echo that intimacy. LIstening to Christa's music, one feels this kind of acceptance. Yet, the honesty of her lyrics refuses to coddle. they point upward and onward, away from self to a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-worthy of praise. I am so captivated by this album, I have to give it five stars and every song is incredible. I only wish there were a few more songs--it's that good. If you like Sara Groves, Audrey Assad, Brooke Fraser, JJ Heller and Sarah McLachlan, then you must get How Emptiness Sings by Christa Wells. For sure, this is the ultimate "gourmet" release of 2011. Do yourself a favor and buy this album immediately.
5. JESSA ANDERSON - NOT MYSELF ANYMORE - SEPTEMBER 13, 2011
Not Myself Anymore by Jessa Anderson is truly the CCM album and artist I've been waiting for as a major fan of mainstream pop song singer-songwriters like Kate Voegele, Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat. Over the years, many secular and even now some Christian singers have decided to go the dance pop song route of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, which tends to be over-produced and vocally autotuned. In mainstream pop, the lyrics are rarely vulnerable or relatable.
Last year I was thrilled to savor the debut album by GMA Dove Award nominee Audrey Assad, and if you like her style and album then you need to get this album immediately. Everything that works for me about The House You're Building by Audrey Assad is in full effect for me on Anderson's album, one of the best of the year. Jessa has a vocal sincerity and creativity on par with Bethany Dillon, Audrey Assad and Sara Groves, who are my top female vocalists of all-time.
If you like those artists, you probably like female singers that make you think while you enjoy their sweet vocal style and catchy, worshipful songs. Not Myself Anymore by Jessa Anderson is one of the most captivating albums I've ever heard and is one of my top albums of the year.
6. DOWNHERE - ON THE ALTAR OF LOVE - AUGUST 23, 2011
Somehow Downhere just keeps finding ways to create their newest best album with each new release. This album, On The Altar of Love, harnesses the best of what I've come to love about this band: sing-able melodies, songs filled with biblical truth and some of the best vocal combinations in any genre.
Marc Martel has accurately been compared to Freddie Mercury from Queen and stand-out tracks "Rest", "Let Me Rediscover You", "Living The Dream", "For The Heartbreak" and stellar title track "The Altar Of Love" bring out the best in Marc. Co-vocalist Jason Germain just continues to get better with "Only The Beginning", "Turn This Around", "Glory By The Way Of Shame", "Holy", "For Life" and stunning closing track "Reveal The Kingdom" all display Jason's emotional songwriting and singing style.
This is easily the most radio-friendly Downhere album, and yet includes some of their most profound lyrics. Every single song will have you singing along in praise and worship to our Savior. Don't miss out on this gem, one of the absolute best albums of the year. All 12 songs are interesting and challenging; this is one of those profound listening experiences that you'll want to experience again as soon as you're finished.
7. HEATHER WILLIAMS - THIS TIME AROUND, SEPTEMBER 27, 2011
Early acclaim has followed Heather Williams since the release of her debut EP last fall. In addition to the radio success of "Hallelujah," Williams was named amongst the "Best Bets of 2011" by Billboard Magazine, one of only two Christian artists to receive this acknowledgement. Heather Williams has the greatest voice I've heard this year, bringing a strong and pure sound.
Musically and lyrically, her album This Time Around is brilliant. Look out GMA Dove Awards, a great new artist, female vocalist and stellar pop/contemporary album is on the way. Heather Williams is my choice as "the voice" in Christian music. This album is a five-star work of art that brings me closer to God.
8. FRANCESCA BATTISTELLI - HUNDRED MORE YEARS - MARCH 1, 2011
Right from the opening notes, I knew I was in for a treat and musically this album Hundred More Years is completely brilliant. The bridge of "This Is The Stuff" also summarizes my prayer as a Christian: "To break me of impatience, Conquer my frustrations, I've got a new appreciation, It's not the end of the world..." Amen.
"Constant" and "You Never Are" are also catchy pop songs. Every song includes at least one lyrical phrase that completely hits me where I am. I'm convinced Hundred More Years is easily the best album by a female artist I've heard in the Christian and mainstream music market since GRAMMY award winning 19 by Adele.
Reigning female vocalist of the year Francesca Battistelli has hit on all cylinders with this stellar pop music album. Every song is a perfect blend of compelling vocals, musical excellence and lyrical relevance. There are no filler songs and this album gets five very enthusiastic stars! This album is a "must-have" for fans of Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles and Adele.
9. JOSH WILSON - SEE YOU - FEBRUARY 8, 2011
Having previously enjoyed Josh Wilson's hit songs "Savior, Please", "3 Minute Song" and "Before The Morning," I have eagerly anticipated See You. 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 see God better.
This album is sure to connect with all listeners who like catchy songs filled with truth and yearning for God. You'll want to listen to every song in order, as Josh ties all the songs together from opening notes of "Sing It" through the end of closing song "They Just Believe." Josh writes catchy folk-pop style melodies and story-songs and if you like Bebo Norman, Matthew West and Jason Gray, then you should really enjoy Josh Wilson. 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.
10. SATELLITES & SIRENS - FREQUENCY - NOVEMBER 22, 2011
Frequency by Satellites & Sirens is my top alternative rock album of the year from both the Christian and mainstream music markets. They list as their influences Jimmy Eat World, The Killers, and 80's Music. They are a fantastic blend of those awesome musical styles, and with this album they have become my favorite Christian alternative rock band. I truly enjoyed their debut album and the stand-out hit songs “Breaking The Noise”, “Anchor” and “Take Me Back.” If you liked those songs, you’ll love this new album which is one of the catchiest and most hope-filled emotional rock albums I’ve ever heard. This is a five-star album and is great for fans of alternative rock bands Abandon, Between The Trees, Deas Vail, House of Heroes, Mae, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers and Jimmy Eat World, which are all my favorites. Frequency is by far the catchiest, most energetic and emotionally engaging alternative rock album I’ve heard this year.
11. Rush of Fools - We Once Were
12. Leeland - Great Awakening
13. RED - Until We Have Faces
14. Tricia Brock - The Road
15. Shaun Groves - Third World Symphony
16. Jason Gray - A Way To See In The Dark
17. Brandon Heath - Leaving Eden
18. Building 429 - Listen to the Sound
19. Jamie Grace - One Song at a Time
20. Laura Story - Blessings