Wellspring / Sparrow
I love that this industry veteran has reinvented herself, showcasing her funkier side yet remaining true to all we've grown to love about CeCe and her family's musical legacy (read: amazing vocals and rock-solid faith). Along with her signature sweeping ballads, complemented by lush orchestrations, you'll hear some great car jamming songs, including "Out My House," a total dance hit about spiritual warfare co-written by CeCe herself. On this aptly self-titled album, I think CeCe's really come into her own as a solo artist.
During a year full of worship releases, Caedmon's Call's latest offering rises to the top. Instead of covering the latest contemporary worship favorites or forcing worship into an ill-fitting sound (as several artists did this year), this multi-talented group expanded our thinking about what constitutes worship by combining the best elements of praise songs old and new. There are a few old hymns with contemporary yet reverent makeovers and new worship songs that offer depth and poetic lyrics instead of simple repetitive choruses (which, don't get me wrong, also have their place). And all that's old on this album is made new with Caedmon's Call's signature modern acoustic folk-pop sound.
I can't think of a better title for this album full of conversational musings about life. Not only can I picture Sara performing these modern folk songs in a coffee shop, I can also picture her saying these lyrics to me over coffee as together we grapple with straining to hear God' s voice, recognizing the infallability of Scripture, idealizing the past, and eagerly anticipating our future in heaven. Amidst her questions are the kind of challenges, insights, and wisdom I need to hear and offer more regularly in my own conversations.
The diversity on singer/songwriter extraordinnaire Cindy Morgan's latest album is nearly dizzying. There's '70s Latin pop, lounge jazz, Abba-esque pop, her signature piano ballads, and even a Harry Connick Jr.-ish ditty. The unifying factors are Cindy's strong vocals, clever songwriting, and theme of hope and joy. The latter is a nice progression from her last album, the weightier Easter-themed The Loving Kind. Sound-wise she's pulled together the strong artistry of that album and the best of her inspo-pop days. I get the impression Cindy had fun recording this album, which makes it all the more easy to enjoy knowing she's not just trying to make us smile, she's smiling right along with us.
This way fun album can be summed up in four words: God-centered girl power. The beauty is that the album encourages us chicks to take ourselves seriously as valued creations of the Most High God, while simultaneously encouraging us not to take ourselves too seriously by injecting the songs with clever lyrics and modern punk-pop stylings (think The Go-Gos meets All Star United). Purity, self-assurance, and sold-out faith have never been more infectious, fun, and hip.
This is a Saturday morning album, the kind I love to listen to while curled up under a blanket sipping coffee and savoring a day off from the usual pressures of life. It's not sleepy, it' s just that the lyrics engage the mind and emotions (with topics such as loneliness and recognizing God's presence all around us) while the acoustic-based pop doesn't beat you over the head musically. I'd swear Bebo was channeling Marc Cohn at moments during this album, if I believed in such things. He's got the same dreamy, folky, whispery quality to his voice that makes Marc's songs ("True Companion," "Walking in Memphis") compelling. And how sweet is a guy who sings about his mom and his someday-wife?!
This brand new band from Canada took me by surprise — and by storm. All it took was one listen to their debut CD to decide they'd wind up on my list of favorites. The lead singers' voices are great together, and are sometimes even stronger apart (especially the ocassional falsetto from Marc Martel). Throughout the disc you'll hear hints of the bands that have influenced this mostly acoustic modern rock group — including Vertical Horizon, dc Talk, Sugar Ray, and Queen. The result is a catchy modern sound that ranges from the worshipy "Great Are You" to the moody "So Blue." I'm glad these Canadians have released their music down here.
Third Day is a great rock band — period. That these guys are Christians is just a really cool bonus. Lead singer Mac Powell's voice alternates between gritty on the driving southern rock songs and gripping on the moving ballads sprinkled between. I love that Third Day does both extremes well, all the while encouraging weary listeners, proclaiming compelling faith, oozing cool, having fun, and inviting believers to come together for God's higher purposes.
Kevin Max's voice has long been one of my favorites in the Christian music industry, so this album pretty much had me from the moment I pushed play. I admit there are times I have no idea what his lyrics are about (even after reading the liner notes), but with his cool moody, U2/Sting-ish sound, I really don't care. It's that voice …
Of the new crop of female teen CCM singers, Katy's my favorite. She writes her own songs, her sound isn't a Britney rip off, and her voice is a compelling blend of Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan. I can easily picture her in a smoky, sweaty jazz club (sound-wise, that is). Ironically one of her strengths is her frailty, as she vulnerably lays her fears, longings, weaknesses, and growing pains before listeners, and more importantly, before God. Who isn't drawn to this kind of relatable and gutsy honesty?
Nicole C. Mullen
What's cool about Nicole C. Mullen is that she writes back-to-back Dove Award winning Songs of the Year ("On My Knees" and "Redeemer"), builds bridges between racial and musical genres, performs with infectious energy and powerful scripture quoting, dances like the dickens on stage with the teen girls she mentors, and still begins the song destined to be next year's Song of the Year ("Call on Jesus"), "I'm so very ordinary, nothing special on my own." Her sophomore album captures all that's great about divas — attitude, soaring ballads, hip dance songs, and vibe — for all the right reasons: renouncing temptation, upholding purity, challenging believers to be bold for their faith, and pointing to the God who makes all this and more possible.
For her most lyrically mature album to date, I think it's a perfect fit that Jennifer Knapp fills out her usually acoustic-based blues/folk/rock/pop sound with more instrumentation and even the London Symphony Orchestra. The fuller sound seems to parallel the weight of her words — about searching for grace, grappling with the mysteries of faith, realizing how fallen we really are, and totally abandoning ourselves to God. That this singer/songwriter/guitar player creates songs that are simultaneously mind stretching and entertaining proves her genius. But with three stellar albums to her credit, she's already established that's just the way she is.