There's a sense among this year's panel that 2007 will go down as one of our most interesting lists of top Christian albums (released between December 2006 and November 2007). It could be because there was no obvious front-runner going in, and though we generally agreed on the same initial nominations, the finalists all placed within mere points of each other. The list also reflects the way Christian music has splintered from its established industry into the mainstream as well as independent music circles—hence why you'll find some unfamiliar breakout artists alongside the bigger names. But above all, this year's list truly reveals our painstaking efforts to recognize the best of the best, both inside and outside the gospel music scene. Christian or mainstream, signed or independent, these are the projects that impressed us most over the past year through their creative expressions of faith.

#12The Heat

NeedToBreathe

Atlantic Recordss

Is this really the same band that made their debut just 18 months ago? We liked enough of what we heard on the first album to name NeedToBreathe one of the best new artists of 2006, but The Heat shows considerable improvement in every way—they already sound like seasoned pros. Taking a more hands-on approach with their music, the band has shifted from generalized Brit pop/rock to a more organic Southern pop/rock style. It's as if NeedToBreathe stepped from a cramped cell and found freedom to make music that's true to their artistic roots, rather than what they thought they needed to sound like. The result is an album that's more varied ("The Heat," "Second Chances"), more hook-filled ("Movin' On," "More Time"), more thoughtfully written ("Streets of Gold," "Return"), and more spiritually ...

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