Various Artists
This is My America (Hutton Music)

This ambitious three-disc project, featuring 56 songwriters and performers, spans the entire history of the U.S. in 38 songs interspersed with narratives. Beginning with "pre-America" and running through the events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the album mostly has a country music feel. The thread of faith, including clear references to Christianity, runs through the entire project, which makes for a surprisingly thorough overview of U.S. history. —Mark Moring

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Sarah Brendel
Early Morning Hours (Gerth/Medien)

In 2005, this German artist released a Christian album on an American label and made a small splash in the U.S. Now back in Germany, Brendel's latest isn't getting as much attention stateside, but it should. One of the best albums I've heard in the past year, it not only features Brendel's keen lyrics and unique voice, but also the last two songs that Larry Norman recorded before his death—a pair of duets with Brendel on a visit to Berlin. —Mark Moring

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Heather Headley
Audience of One

(EMI Gospel)

Headley's soulfulness and powerhouse voice come together on her gospel debut. She shines in glorious, gospel-pop confections, such as the sobering "Simply Redeemed," an apologetic case for faith, and "Jesus Is Love," a cover of the Commodores' hit. But Headley is at her best in the stunning "Hymn Medley" and the soaring ballad "Running Back to You"—where she shows she can sing circles around the likes of pop divas Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. —Andree Farias

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Judd and Maggie
Kingdom of Noise


This brother-sister duo downplays its earlier folk-pop instincts in favor of a more electronic, offbeat form of expression à la Wilco, Iron and Wine, and even Films for Radio-era Over the Rhine. It's an alluring mix, made all the more captivating by the siblings' crisscrossing harmonies as they portray an unredeemed world but leave the door open for hope, such as in "Hunger," a song emphasizing that the soul's void leads us back to God. —Andree Farias

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