The Best Albums of 2009
After releasing two albums that focused primarily on justice, mercy, and social commentary, Sara Groves wondered where to turn next for her ninth studio project.
She didn't need to look very far. Encouraged by her record company president, INO's Jeff Moseley, Groves decided to look inward for inspiration for Fireflies & Songs, arguably her most personal project yet.
"As a songwriter," Groves says, "it's easier to step back and take an observer's view, and that's what I had been doing the last couple albums. Of course, I'm in all those songs and they're personal, but I wasn't 'digging in the dirt' for sure. It's hard to do that. It's hard to say, 'Here's my stuff.'"
Perhaps, but this "stuff" earned Fireflies & Songs Groves enough votes from a panel of ten music critics to be named Christianity Today's Album of the Year. It was a runaway winner for first place, beating out other 2009 albums from Switchfoot, Steven Curtis Chapman, Buddy & Julie Miller, Ashley Cleveland, and even U2.
"This is a complete surprise, and I'm deeply grateful," Groves told CT upon hearing the news. "When I'm done with a record, I try to let it go, knowing I have done everything I can do. But at the same time, a record like this is my heart and soul parading around. It feels good to know that it is resonating.
"I know this gospel can square off with any complexity in our culture or relationships, and that brings me a great deal of joy, to look into every corner of life with this worldview."
Groves also gave a nod to INO.
"I have always been given a great deal of creative freedom from our label to write about the whole of life, and I know that freedom has made me the songwriter I am today. With this record, you are hearing a very raw version of how I write."
Here are CT's Top 12 Albums of 2009:
1) Sara Groves
Fireflies & Songs (INO)
Already known for her transparent songwriting, Sara Groves gets even more piercingly honest on this, her ninth album. Whether her relationship with God, marital tension, or a private battle with anxiety, it's poetically spilled forth in Groves' call for the church to "live confessionally." And paired with less poppy, stripped-down arrangements, her achingly clear vocal remains front and center. This is vintage Groves—yet more herself than ever.—Andrea Bailey Willits
Hello Hurricane (Atlantic)
After three years between albums, Switchfoot churns out its most urgent and immediate project to date, while kicking up the socially conscious songwriting another notch. Hello Hurricane reads like a sequel to the band's breakthrough The Beautiful Letdown, but finds the band taking additional sonic risks (such as extra grimy riffs and experimental programming), while never losing sight of its anthemic, stadium-shaking appeal.—Andy Argyrakis
3) Buddy and Julie Miller
Written in Chalk (New West)
For years Americana's prize singer/songwriter team, Buddy and Julie Miller have issued standout alt-country records as a fresh alternative to Nashville's radio-ready schmaltz.Paving highways of heartache with each and every strum,the Millers write from a place where pain lives, but they always turn to eternal promises for a remedy. Written in Chalk allows the spouses space to hurt and hope, dipping into musical inspiration from a well that seemingly never runs dry.—Andrew Greer
4) Bifrost Arts
Come O Spirit! (Great Comfort)
A song compilation with collaborators including Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, and Damien Jurado, Come O Spirit! avoids indie-rock clichés by approaching classic (and new) hymns with awe and reverence. Arranger/producers Isaac Wardell and Mason Neely prove that modern worship doesn't have to aim at the bombast of U2 or Coldplay to be contemporary or relevant; this collection feels humble and holy.—Joel Hartse