The Top Ten Albums of 1999

All Together Separate,All Together Separate (Ardent)

My pick for new Christian group of the year, this California foursome blends funk, jazz, blues and rock with reflective lyrical depth for a mature and original debut. You'll spot traces of Seal, Bob Marley, Phish and Average White Band, but these guys own a groove all their own. Album highlights include "Eternal Lifestyle," a hot little number worth the price of admission, and "Something Electric," the musical equivalent of chocolate mousse. Guitarist Andrew Shirley has something electric when he catches fire on that song and "Truth about God"—the solo is back, ladies and gentlemen. Twentysomethings all, the boys of ATS have a head-turning first effort and a promising future.

Carolyn Arends,This Much I Understand (Reunion)

If you're not opposed to happy, hooky songs that occasionally get a little sappy or a bit sentimental, you'll dig Carolyn Arends' latest. The Canadian singer/songwriter has an uncanny ability to take on the weight of the world with a smile—and in today's bleaker-the-better pop music scene, that's nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the first song on This Much I Understand is titled "Happy." "The Day Will Never Come" affirms Arends' commitment to her husband without sidestepping the real world ("I may get selfish/I might get sad/I will forget sometimes just what I've had" she sings). "Life is Long" has a serious block party vibe going, a la Sheryl Crow. A thoroughly uplifting record from start to finish, This Much stands far above most "inspirational" music.

Jonatha Brooke, Live (Bad Dog)

Jonatha Brooke is among the finest contemporary folk artists around. You'll see how fine on Live (uh, that's "live" as in "live performance"), a composite of some of her best-loved ...

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