Best Artists of 2006
Our annual best-of coverage winds down again with some quick picks for Best Artists, drawing your attention to some of the industry's best vocal performances from the past year, as well as the most impressive bands and gifted solo artists. We've also added a new category that recognizes the artists we feel have shown the most improvement in 2006. The finalists are a mix of veterans and newcomers, some that you would expect and some that may surprise you.
Best Female Vocalist
It's no secret that all of us at Christian Music Today are in love with this woman's voice, enough to place her indie release Before the Daylight's Shot among our Best Albums of 2006. In turn, that album is strong enough for Ashley Cleveland to top our list of the year's Best Female Vocalists. Most say she sounds similar to Melissa Etheridge, but that's oversimplifying. Cleveland is actually far more versatile than blues, rocking with the best of them before backing off for tender delivery on the next track. She doesn't just sing—she emotes all the way through.
For the record, we're not honoring Kathy Troccoli just to recognize her 25th anniversary as a recording artist this year, though that makes it all the more appropriate. Have you heard her latest, The Story of Love? It's easily one of the best albums in her illustrious career, and a throwback to classic inspirational pop albums of the '80s (in a good way). Troccoli has seemingly discovered newfound freedom with her KT Records imprint, allowing her to dabble with jazz as much as pop—think Twila Paris meets Ella Fitzgerald. As a result, she sounds like she's enjoying her work more than ever. We are too.
3. Cindy Morgan
Wait, three veterans in a row? Is this a reunion for early '90s artists? The great Cindy Morgan has lost nothing in the five years between her last album with Word and her debut with Reunion. Taking a little more of a rootsy Americana approach, Postcards includes some of Morgan's most emotional songs to date, and she delivers them with the same passionate voice that's earned her so many Dove nominations in the past. We hope it's not another five years before we hear her rich and refined pipes again.
Finally a newcomer that we can't stop singing praises for. Not that Ayiehsa Woods has the larger-than-life voice of a diva like Whitney Houston or Nicole C. Mullen. Instead, we're more impressed with her enjoyably smoky vocal quality as well as her versatility, ably jumping between R&B and soulful pop on her debut—not to mention slipping back into her Caribbean roots with the greatest of ease for "Crazy." Woods seems well on her way to remain a favorite for years to come.
5.Christy Nockels (Watermark, Passion)
And now a fond farewell, though we know it's not goodbye. With the release of their concert album A Grateful People, Christy Nockels and her husband Nathan decided to discontinue as Watermark this past year to make more time for their budding family. However, we'll still hear her sweetly blessed sound as the primary female vocal for the Passion worship conferences. And she's still a regular for guest vocals and duets on other albums. But we suspect a solo album isn't far down the line either—may we suggest some country a la Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood?
Best Male Vocalist
1. Todd Smith (Selah)
We've always known Todd Smith to be a remarkable singer as a member of Selah, but by the same token, we've taken him for granted as part of a package deal. Nicol Sponberg has since left, and in the process of succeeding her (with Amy Perry) Selah released a duets album. Bless the Broken Road shows Smith capable of holding his own with impressive talents like Nicole C. Mullen, Christy Nockels, and Plumb. With great physical and stylistic range, Smith's impressive voice reveals him to be this generation's Matthew Ward (2nd Chapter of Acts), offering one knockout performance after another.