Denver & The Mile High Orchestra
Lion of Zion
Arguably the most fun album of the year. Think big band. Think swing. Think, "If Frank Sinatra or Harry Connick Jr. were a Christian … " Well, you'd get something like this!
This gets the other argument for the year's funnest album. Superchic[k], founded by Church of Rhythm's Max Hsu, has a great message for teen girls struggling with self-esteem: God don't make mistakes, and he thinks you're beautiful!
Michael W. Smith
This CD released on September 11 with a message for a nation gripped with fear: God is still in control and worthy of praise. People who attended the live taping for Worship say it was one of the most spiritually moving times of their lives, and the CD captures that spirit very well.
Before they were famous, Caedmon's was leading worship services at its home church in Houston. And they still do. So it's fitting that they would do a worship album, and this one's better than most.
What makes T-Bone's rap music vital is its ability to reach kids on the streets — where he was before finding Christ. He uses street language-such as pimpin' and crack houses — that's, frankly, sometimes disturbing. But the lyrics are also jam-packed with the life-saving message of the gospel. One of the most socially relevant albums of the year.
Steven Curtis Chapman
What do you expect from a guy who brings home Doves and Grammys by the truckload? You expect more great music. Chapman certainly delivers here, with "walls of guitars," as he describes it. Add the most confessional lyrics of his career — with lines such as, "The pain falls like a curtain on the things I once called certain / And I have to say the words I fear the most: I don't know" — and you've got another award winner.
Nicole C. Mullen
After an incredible self-titled debut — which garnered Dove Awards for Song of the Year ("Redeemer") and Songwriter of the Year — expectations for Nicole C. Mullen's sophomore project were high. But she has delivered and then some. Stunning vocals and an eclectic mix of pop, R&B, jazz, hip-hop, gospel and more will make this a regular in my player for years.
The best rock band in Christian music keeps getting better. There's plenty of the band's typical Southern rock, plus a few fine worship songs — the genre in which Third Day snagged five Dove Awards from last year's Offerings CD. Come Together's title cut is a rousing call to break down denominational walls, also sure to be a favorite.
Jennifer Knapp's music has always swept me away, and The Way I Am is no different. It includes a good mix of rock and folk, with sumptuous support from the London Symphony Orchestra. But it's Knapp's knack with a pen that makes her music soar. One of the finest lyricists around — Christian or secular — Knapp's songwriting takes the listener to another place.
This hardcore/reggae/rapcore CD was slated for an August release, but was delayed for promotion on MTV. Satellite finally released on September 11, the day of the terrorist attacks. And how fitting, because it's filled with songs of hope for a hurting world — precisely P.O.D.'s target audience. The tunes are hard and heavy and excellent, but it's P.O.D.'s ability to impact secular culture in a huge way that makes this CD, and this band, extra special.
OK, I'm biased toward intelligent female singer-songwriters — they've filled my top two slots (and three of my top six). Carolyn Arends has always had a brilliant way with words — her marvelous book, Living the Questions (Harvest House), is further proof of that — and her writing keeps getting better. Travelers, part of the Living Room Series on fellow Canadian Steve Bell's Signpost label, has a warm coffeehouse feel with Carolyn's mellow vocals and a fine acoustic trio.
Though it's hard to pick a Top 12, No. 1 was a no-brainer. I first heard Conversations as an indie release 18 months ago, and was blown away by Groves' sensitive, insightful songwriting-not surprising for a former high school English teacher — tender melodies, and smooth vocals. I'm still blown away, probably 50 listens later. Every song's a gem on this 13-track CD, ranging from pop to jazz, but my favorites are "How Is It Between Us," "Going Home," "Tent in the Center of Town" and "Generations." Speaking of which, this CD is good enough to endure for many generations to come.