Best Artists of 2004
We finish up our 2004 season of year-end lists with this brief summary of Best Christian Artists. The finalists for Best Female and Male Vocalists were selected for their vocal skills, as demonstrated on albums and in concert. The Best Band or Group and the Best Solo Artist are both chosen based on the whole overview of ability, songwriting, and impact on audiences.
Best Female Vocalist
We're always going to have the memory of Charity singing for us with her guitarist outside our offices on a beautiful sunny summer day, her powerful and soulful rock vocal soaring over the Chicago suburbs like a young Janis Joplin or Ashley Cleveland. Amazing that she never took a voice lesson until the summer of 2004, after recording her self-titled debut. Now if she only had equally strong and interesting songs to match for her next album, we'd have a breakthrough on our hands. If you plan to catch Point of Grace's Spring 2005 tour, prepare to be wowed.
Mullen remains one of the Christian music industry's most dynamic and soulful vocalists, as she's proven again in 2004 with Everyday People. Her voice is more than capable of matching her diverse songwriting—a playful blend of pop, soul, and funk that is both contemporary and retro—whether belting out a classic power ballad or nimbly warbling over some upbeat R&B.
With her latest double album Hymns of Faith … Songs of Inspiration, Patty reminded us once again why she's been long regarded as one of America's greatest vocalists. Classic hymns, patriotic standards, modern worship, pop, gospel, orchestral accompaniment, backing band—it all works for this versatile, professionally trained soprano.
4. Christy Nockels (Watermark)
She's always had an impressive voice, richened by a beautiful tone and pure emotion, but Nockels seems to be improving with time. She demonstrated her considerable skill in a busy year that included the release of The Purest Place (possibly Watermark's best work yet), contributions to the latest Passion worship projects, and a vocal lead on Rocketown's Gloria Christmas tour.
5. Sarah Kelly
Everyone was buzzing about this husky-voiced powerhouse after the release of her national debut Take Me Away. Like Rita Springer before her, she redefines passionate worship with her bold and affecting outpourings. It'll be fun to hear Kelly stretch herself in the years to come.
Best Male Vocalist
1. Bart Millard (MercyMe)
Say what you will about MercyMe. Whether you find their material dull or inspiring, this dude can sing. In 2004, the band proved their crossover success with "I Can Only Imagine" was no fluke, thanks to the popularity of the new album Undone and its hit single "Here with Me." No doubt a key component to that popularity is the strength, range, and clarity with which Millard delivers—both on stage and in the studio.
Chapman wouldn't make this list only based on past merit or popularity. The truth is, at the age of 42, he seems to be varying his vocal style today more than ever … and succeeding. He tries new things on All Things New, integrating some subtle new techniques, and the accompanying Fall 2004 tour was easily one of the best we've seen in Christian music for some time.
3. Matt Hammitt (Sanctus Real)
One of the best rock vocalists in the biz right now, Hammitt strikes a nice balance between loud and melodic. Check out the high notes he belts on choruses like "Alone" and "The Fight Song"—almost screamed, yet still controlled. The rock energy carried over into their live act too.