Various Artists

Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration  (EMI Gospel/Vector)

Incorporating jazz, rhythm and blues, down-home singin', and a little rock, gospel music has thrived since pre–Civil War days. Capturing this diverse legacy, Oh Happy Day partners gospel's best choirs with genre chiefs such as the Clark Sisters and the Reverend Al Green, as well as unconventional guests like Patty Griffin, Jon Bon Jovi, and Queen Latifah. —Andrew Greer

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Jars of Clay

The Long Fall Back to Earth  (Essential)

This album weaves a zeal for electric-guitar energy into a richly textured, six-stringed electronic hybrid, towering with crescendos and yielding to introspective respites—excellent complements to its lyrical moods and themes. It's big and intimate all at once. Brokenness and rebuilding, yearning and longing—for connection, intimacy, wholeness, and healing—flow freely throughout, on songs ranging from romance to anti-war to spiritual wrestling. —Jeremy V. Jones

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Phillip LaRue

Let the Road Pave Itself  (BEC)

The older half of former brother-sister pop duo LaRue has matured, taking pages from the playbooks of groups like Snow Patrol and Doves. Lyrically, LaRue is sending out paeans to his wife ("Sleeping Beauty"), urging a dying relative to let go of this mortal coil ("Black and Blue"), and laying out his flaws for all to see ("Before the Sun Goes Down"). Growing up never sounded so good. —Robert Ham

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Billy Ray Cyrus

Back to Tennessee  (Lyric Street)

You remember him for his 1992 hit, "Achy Breaky Heart," but your kids know him as Hannah Montana's dad. Yes, Miley's father really is a country music singer, and here he returns to his roots and "Southern air so sweet" on the title track. Cyrus is at his best when belting, "Red, white, and blue are the colors I bleed / I thank the Almighty for the land of the free" ("Country as Country Can Be"), and there are more hints at his Christian faith on the beautifully crafted "Somebody Say a Prayer." —Andrew Greer

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