The Top 10 Albums Of 2010 NRT contributor Kevin Davis reviews his picks for the top 10 albums of 2010, along with 10 additional honorable mentions that make up another incredible year of Christian music.
Kevin Davis: "2010 has been loaded with quality albums making it an incredible follow-up to last year, and two of the most amazing years for Christian music that I can ever remember." (Pictured above: Bebo Norman)
I am really impressed with the quality of new Christian releases this year. For sure, 2009 was the best year in the past decade in Christian music with career albums by Jars of Clay, Needtobreathe, David Crowder*Band, BarlowGirl, Switchfoot, Relient K, Mark Schultz, Phil Wickham and Sara Groves.
2010 has also been loaded with quality albums making it an incredible follow-up, and two of the most amazing years for Christian music that I can ever remember. I can now name over twenty artists who have released the best albums of their careers these past two years, and on both lists from 2009 and a year later in 2010, it's interesting that Jars of Clay is present on both lists. What a great way to start a new decade of new Christian music!
Here are my top 10 albums of 2010 and 10 honorable mentions rounding out my top 20 albums of the year. I'd love to read your comments if you have a few minutes to post. Enjoy!
01. BEBO NORMAN - OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 28, 2010
Every two years, singer/songwriter Bebo Norman undergoes what he calls an extended therapy session. The intensive process isn't always smooth sailing, but it does result in ten or twelve moments of completion--a clear look back through his own window at a story God is telling. Also known as making a new album, it's an exercise in discovery that Bebo takes to remarkable depths on his seventh studio project, Ocean. As the writer and singer of some of my all-time favorite songs "The Hammer Holds," "Great Light Of The World," "Nothing Without You," "I Will Lift My Eyes" and Dove Award winning "The Only Hope," I eagerly anticipate each new album by Bebo Norman. After repeated listens, I'm convinced that Ocean is the best overall album by Bebo Norman and the top overall album of 2010.
What's so amazing about this album is that I feel like I know every song. What I've come to realize is that Bebo's story is also my story and anyone struggling with the balance of life and faith can truly relate to the incredible messages of these songs. They only grow deeper with each listen which is my favorite type of album.
"Everything I Hoped You'd Be," "Here Goes," "God of My Everything," "Could You Ever Look at Me" and "I Hope You See Jesus" are all stand-out songs and among my top 10 overall favorite songs by Bebo Norman. I can't help but give this album a perfect score for message and music. Musically and lyrically this is literally a perfect album. Thanks so much Bebo for writing and singing some of the deepest and most meaningful songs I've ever heard. Pick up Ocean and you won't regret it. For me this is a 5-star album and my top overall album of 2010.
02. JARS OF CLAY - THE SHELTER - OCTOBER 5, 2010
Acclaimed for its music and leadership as humanitarians, Jars of Clay released its community-inspired project, The Shelter. The four men at the heart of the project--Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Matt Odmark and Stephen Mason--find their calendars filling up with appearances designed to shed light on the new project, inspired from an old Irish proverb, "It is in the shelter of each other that the people live."
I am a long-time fan of Jars of Clay and credit the Gospel messages from their landmark debut album for leading me to my salvation, for which I'm eternally grateful. I was amazed that as I was still savoring The Long Fall Back To Earth and trying to guess which single would be next from that incredible album, I heard about The Shelter. At first, I couldn't image how they would follow-up what I considered their all-time best album, and yet again they continue to surprise and amaze me with their song-writing, music and lyrical messages and in this case, their collaborations. For anyone who has always wanted to hear Jars of Clay sing with a "who's who list" in Christian music, here's your chance. Mac Powell, Amy Grant, Brandon Heath, David Crowder, Audrey Assad, TobyMac, Mike Donehey, Sara Groves, Derek Webb and Leigh Nash all appear on this album, among others.
For me, there are several 5 star songs that give glimpses of the excellence of this 5 star album. All of these songs now rank in my all-time favorite songs by Jars of Clay.
The stand-out songs for me on this brilliant 5 star album are "Small Rebellions," "Call My Name," "We Will Follow," "Eyes Wide Open," "Shelter," "Out Of My Hands," "Lay It Down" and "Benediction." Once again, Jars of Clay has released their newest "best" album and are at the top of their profession. My best description of the album is The Eleventh Hour meets Redemption Songs splashed with City On A Hill style all-star guest vocalist appearances and worship focused lyrics.
03. MERCYME - THE GENEROUS MR. LOVEWELL - MAY 4, 2010
MercyMe's latest album is called The Generous Mr. Lovewell. The album has already garnered a No.1 song with "All of Creation," almost four weeks before the album released.
"He's like Buddy the Elf meets Forrest Gump," says MercyMe singer Bart Millard of the fictitious namesake behind the band's sixth studio album. "He sees the good in everyone and knows his neighbors enough to know their needs. Mr. Lovewell may not be the next Billy Graham, but he's changing the world each day in every little word and deed."
His advisory board--Millard, guitarists Mike Scheuchzer and Barry Graul, bassist Nathan Cochran, drummer Robby Shaffer, and keyboard player Jim Bryson--equips the red balloon-toting make-believer with airy ideas ("Pay for a stranger's lunch today") that were already being embraced by MercyMe fans before this batch of songs left the studio.
The album kicks off with "This Life" with an electronic rock beat in the style of Electric Light Orchestra. The chorus, "this life was meant to shine," sums up the message of the song and album. I've been telling people that the new MercyMe album reminds me of a classic theme album like Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles or Songs For Jane by Maroon 5, both in musical diversity and with the challenging lyrics. The message of committing to extravagant selflessness and faithful optimism threads its way through every song, and while "It's one thing to be kind to someone, to be decent," Millard concludes, "if we really believe we have this hope, then to stop short--to not be the hands and feet of Jesus--seems almost offensive. Our dream is for this album to inspire others to 'pay it forward' to the cross. It doesn't have to be about major sacrifices. Just let your life become such that people know what you stand for."
CLOSING THOUGHTS: The Generous Mr. Lovewell is RIDICULOUS!! If you are like me and have been enjoying this band ever since the first time you heard "I Can Only Imagine," then surely this is your most anticipated release of 2010. This album truly establishes MercyMe as the premier artist in all of Christian music. I didn't think MercyMe could top All That Is Within Me but The Generous Mr. Lovewell rocks, has some incredible new musical twists and Bart's vocals have never sounded better.
04. SANCTUS REAL - PIECES OF A REAL HEART - MARCH 9, 2010
If you like the new, softer sounding "Forgiven," then you will absolutely love Pieces Of A Real Heart. Personally, I'd say Sanctus Real's songs have matured along with the band members, similar to Switchfoot in that way. However, if you're looking for edgy rock songs like "Everything About You," "I'm Not Alright" and "Turn On The Lights" you won't really find them on this album with maybe the exception of "Take Over Me," which is one of the rockers on the album. If you liked radio hits "Something Heavenly," "Face Of Love" and "Don't Give Up," then you'll love this album, which is chock full of radio-friendly yet very personal and engaging songs including "These Things Take Time," "Lead Me" and "The Redeemer." "These Things Take Time" got me moving in a similar way to hit song "Don't Give Up." "The Way The World Turns" completes a trilogy of songs that all focus on the topic of faithfulness and the challenges in our walks as Christians to accept and give forgiveness, and also seeking Truth and Hope.
"Lead Me" is a surefire hit and is a musical response to Matt Hammitt's wife Sarah imploring him to be a better spiritual leader in their marriage and for their two young children. Having been married for 15 years and having three young daughters, this song moves me the most on the entire album. This song is a "must own" for all husbands, fathers and young men looking for an honest portrayal of the prayer of a Christian man asking God to lead their lives. I could see this song being a worship anthem for Promise Keepers.
This album is very personal and engaging. If you like Leeland, MercyMe and Jars of Clay, then you will enjoy Sanctus Real, whose musical style I consider a great blend of alternative rock and worship. I expect multiple hit songs to emerge from this album. Sanctus Real has really hit the mark with Pieces Of A Real Heart.
05. HOUSE OF HEROES - SUBURBA - AUGUST 4, 2010 Suburba is an album like nothing else you will hear today. Since House Of Heroes' last album, The End Is Not The End, I've been convinced that this band is the top alternative band in all of Christian music. With this album, they are now my favorite alternative band in all of rock music. I am a long-time fan of Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, Plain White T's, Death Cab for Cutie and Relient K. If you like those bands, get this album immediately. House of Heroes won me over 2 years ago with "If," "Lose Control," "In The Valley of the Dying Sun" and "Field Of Daggers." I have had the privilege to see the band in concert twice. If you like what you hear on this album, don't miss out on seeing them perform live. I haven't seen many bands who are even better in concert at performing incredibly tight guitar riffs and singing amazing harmonies than on the studio recording. House of Heroes are the real deal.
The opening moments of the first track, "Relentless," will appeal to any fan of 1980's electronic rock. The mix of diverse musical styles with Tim Skipper's amazing vocals are an incredible combination that gets better and better with each album. The standout songs on Suburba include the anthemic album opener, "Relentless," "Elevator," "So Far Away," "Salt In The Sea" and the epic "Independence Day For A Petty Thief."
House of Heroes went the extra mile this time around to create lyrics that are cool, calculated, and crafty, while remaining vertical all the while. On "God Save the Foolish Kings" they comment on the search for significance: And we fight `cause we'd rather break our bones than brave this loneliness, And we draw blood `cause we're just trying to draw out some significance, But I met God on the street tonight, He said, "Choose your battles wisely or you'll never find me."
On "Love Is For the Middle Class," they comment on materialism and unconditional love: If all I gave was love, Would you give up on me? But if you measure love in false securities, I owe you nothin' at all.."
Perhaps the most poignant moment of all on the record comes in its most worshipful, on the track "Constant," where House of Heroes simply states the following: All thru the night I was fallin', Straining to hear your voice callin'. You never gave out. You never gave in. You never quite gave up on me. You are my constant.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Suburba is without a doubt the top alternative rock album of the year. I can't get enough of this album and expect multiple GMA and GRAMMY award nominations for this album. If you haven't jumped on the House of Heroes bandwagon, don't wait any longer. This album will stay in heavy rotation for me and although I didn't think it was remotely possible to match the intensity and brilliance of The End Is Not The End, after constant listening of Suburba, I'm now convinced that this is their best overall album.
06. ADDISON ROAD - STORIES - JUNE 22, 2010
For an "accidental" band formed in college by now husband and wife Jenny and Ryan Simmons, along with guitarist Ryan Gregg, bass player Travis Lawrence and original drummer Jeff Sutton, Addison Road sure has had a purposeful impact on Christian music. Their self-titled 2008 release on INO Records garnered strong reviews and chart-topping singles, and songs like "All That Matters," "What Do I Know of Holy?" and "Hope Now" still resonate with listeners. But the success became intermingled with a season of struggle. Their van and trailer were stolen twice, along with their gear, and once the van was finally recovered it was soon totaled in a collision with a fallen oak tree. The songs on their new album, Stories, became part of a theme without the band realizing it, a theme the members would soon experience quite personally. The first radio single, "Fight Another Day" (written by TobyMac), is a good example.
"We've never done anybody else's song, ever, but he felt sure the song sounded like us," Simmons recalls. "We had no idea when we recorded lines about feeling the flames when the fire gets hot that we would actually have everything we own literally burn up in a fire."
"Fight Another Day" is a great anthem in the style of Toby's hit song "Get Back Up" and is a surefire hit for the band. I'm a huge fan of the electronic music of the 80's and for me the best part of this album is the musically diversity of the songs. The pulsing beats of "Won't Let Me Go," "Don't Wait," and "Where It All Begins" which include a Depeche Mode type musical vibe blend perfectly with gorgeous ballads "Change In The Making" and "Need You Now." "Show Me Life" actually features a synth-pop keyboard part, harmonica, guitar and banjo all in one song which for me is musical genius.
The messages behind the songs are what truly lift Stories to that upper echelon of albums released this year, and for me this is one of the top albums of the year. This is a 5 star album. If you liked Addison Road's debut album, then you'll absolutely LOVE Stories. This is an excellent album and I can't get enough of the musical hooks, Jenny's vulnerable and sincere vocals and the extremely poignant lyrics.
07. AUDREY ASSAD - THE HOUSE YOUR'RE BUILDING - JULY 13, 2010
Singer/songwriter Audrey Assad, originally from New Jersey and most recently Florida, weaves her captivating voice into a thread of contemplative yet accessible music and lyrics on her debut release, The House You're Building.
Individualistic. A free spirit. Untraditional. In junior high those labels are a death sentence. In adulthood, they usually describe people the rest of us wish we could be--creative, intriguing people like Audrey Assad. Truly one-of-a-kind, this intensely honest singer-songwriter is carving out her own unique path in the music industry and opening hearts to God along the way.
"For Love of You," the album's first single, was inspired by the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" and is one of my favorite songs on the album. There's no struggling or wrestling, it's simply a celebration of the idea that there are traces of God everywhere.
"The House You're Building" is arguably the album's most personal song. Written with Ben Glover, the tune finds Audrey comparing herself to a broken, misshapen stone.
"It's about being a misfit, of not feeling fit to be a Christian, but then realizing that the walls of God's house are being built from oddly-shaped and misfit stones," she says. "He does that on purpose so I know I have a place. There's a hole in the wall that I fit perfectly in. 'Restless' was written with Matt Maher, and comes from the confession of Augustine. If there's any song I have that's relevant to this generation it's this one. We are so restless and transient and spread across so many social networks. Our relationships have increased in numbers and decreased in depth. Each generation has something that reveals the restlessness of the human heart, and I think this transience does that for our generation; it serves a purpose. My restlessness actually addresses that need. It's a reminder that God should be my first source. 'Carry Me' has prayerful and very emotional lyrics, As I carry this cross, You carry me. 'Known' has very vulnerable lyrics, As a lover knows his beloved's heart / All the shapes and curves of her even in the dark."
Audrey has a phenomenal singing voice which reminds me of the top female vocalists in the business--Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood, Christy Nockels and Adie--which is amazing company in my opinion. "For Love of You," "The House You're Building," "Restless," "Carry Me" and "Known" are all stand-out songs on this album. I expect multiple GMA nominations for new artist and female vocalist for Audrey Assad, my choice for top new artist of the year. I haven't heard an album that has struck me like this album since Albertine by Brooke Fraser. If you like that album, you need to get The House You're Building.
08. JJ HELLER - WHEN I'M WITH YOU - OCTOBER 19, 2010 When I'm With You is JJ Heller's latest release. JJ says, "This is by far my favorite record I've made. As the title implies, the theme of the record is relationships, and how they affect our lives."
In writing material for the new release, JJ poured her every day observations into her songbook: stories she heard while traveling, and those nearer to her heart.
"This album is all about redemption," observes JJ. "Looking back on the songs, there's a lot of struggle written into them because that's life. Everyone has different problems to face, but in the end, the outcome hinges on how you deal with those struggles--if you allow them to destroy you or make you stronger."
If you liked "Your Hands" from JJ's last album Painted Red, don't hesitate to get When I'm With You. A song that will stop you in your tracks is the first single, "What Love Really Means." I have been married for 16 years and have 3 young daughters and everyone can really relate to the sincerity and sensitivity of this amazing song. The song addresses the broken cry of all of us, especially women who struggle with finding their true identity in Christ. All believers know that Christ is the only answer to the question in the extremely moving chorus, Who will love me for me? Not for what I have done or what I will become, Who will love me for me?, Cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means."
Perhaps it's her insight and sensitivity that consistently draw a female audience to JJ's music. She touches on issues of self-image and worry, questions of faith, and feelings of loneliness; her songs resonate with women and offer encouragement.
"For some reason, Christians (including myself) sometimes think, 'if I'm following the Lord and doing the best I can, that life will be easy,' and it's not," JJ explains. "That's where grace comes in, and that's where we grow." We have the choice to live in fear, or to live in the hope that God is in every moment with us. That's one of the major themes of this season in my life.
There are no weak songs on this album and lyrically this is easily the most moving album I've ever heard. JJ's sincere and sweet vocal style has never been better and if you like Audrey Assad and Sara Groves, you need to pick up this album. You won't regret it.
This is one of those "gourmet albums" that only comes along every once in awhile. For me, I have to fight back tears while listening to several of the songs, especially the lead single, "What Love Really Means," which should win song of the year in my opinion, along with "When I'm With You" and the gorgeous and moving song, "Control." This is one of the freshest and most authentic albums of the year. Surprisingly, it exceeds Painted Red picking up where "Your Hands" left off and taking it up a notch.
09. ROBBIE SEAY BAND - MIRACLE - MARCH 23, 2010
Robbie Seay Band released its third label project, Miracle, on March 23rd. A reflection of Seay's work and relationships within Ecclesia Church in Houston, the record captures thoughts, feelings, and realities of his local community. Miracle is a collection of songs inspired by the real life stories of those around him. It is a call and response to life, to what God is doing in their midst, as it happens. Seay wrote the album's title track, for example, in reaction to a friend who was diagnosed with cancer, while "Lament (We Cannot Wait)" was penned to express the grief of his congregation over a church member's death.
The title track and first single of the project, "Miracle," came in the wake of devastating news. Robbie says, "I remember getting a phone call from one of my closest friends. 'Kristy has cancer. It doesn't look good, but we're believing for a miracle.' I wrote the lyrics the next day. I prayed and believed with him. Kristy, wife and mother of three young boys would die two months later. The song is not a promise of a miracle. It is, however, the declaration that we all will find ourselves in great need of one at some point in our lives--and in those moments, we choose to believe even when we can't see our hands in front of our face."
The song is very convicting and a sobering reminder that God brings trials to remind us how much we need Him. I love the song order as the next song is an amazing cover of the Jon Foreman song "Your Love Is Strong," which is a worshipful response back to God including the words to "The Lord's Prayer."
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Miracle is a very emotional album and if you're not familiar with Robbie's passionate vocal style, this album is hook-filled with catchy melodies wrapped around very introspective, biblical and emotional lyrics. My favorite types of albums grow deeper with each listen, and Miracle is the deepest album I've heard all year.
10. NEWSBOYS - BORN AGAIN - JULY 13, 2010
Genesis, Van Halen, newsboys. They all did it. Many legendary acts have introduced a new lead singer amidst their career without missing a beat. So when newsboys announced that dc Talk vocalist Michael Tait would take over for exiting front man Peter Furler--after a natural period of surprise--the band and its fans alike began to relish the positives and possibilities of this fresh start. Some have forgotten that newsboys already changed lead vocalists from original singer John James after Take Me To Your Leader to Peter Furler starting with Step Up To The Microphone.
This new album opens with "Born Again," the amazing title track which reflects how newsboys became a band completely renewed. "We've all believed in lies at some point. I had some prodigal years in the past," says Michael Tait. "But I hope the song encourages others to make the same decision I did: I'm giving Him the best of everything that's left of the life inside this man / I've been born again."
Crowd-rallying "One Shot" is where Michael's childhood dreams (All I wanted was to do the rock thing) meet the newfound joys of being center stage with newsboys, helping spread their kingdom cause even further. We say there's one way / when push comes to shove we're gonna sing of His love.
"When The Boys Light Up" is destined to be the album's most celebrated track. A biographical anthem of reignited belief and purpose penned with longtime newsboys collaborator Steve Taylor, it puts every transitional issue anyone might raise to rest. "Running to You" emphasizes the change that must occur in a relationship with God: More than just emotion, my broken heart has chosen / Jesus, I'm running to You.
The musical hooks and Michael's stellar vocals have raised the bar on what to expect from newsboys. From someone who has collected their entire catalog, this is without a doubt their best album. My top 3 albums by newsboys are Born Again (2010), Go (2006), and Going Public (1994).
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Born Again is the HOTTEST album of the year! In comparing top albums this year from former dc Talk members Michael Tait versus tobyMac, advantage Tait and newsboys. If you are looking for musical hooks and lyrics that are not ashamed of the Gospel, you need to get Born Again, hands-down the best album ever by this legendary band. Newsboys already have over 20 #1 hit songs. I expect a few more #1s from this incredible album. "Born Again," "One Shot," "Impossible," "Build Us Back" and "On Your Knees" are among my favorite songs ever by this incredible band.
The following are worthy albums that also deserve your attention. Click on the links below to read my full review.
Posted November 09, 2010 | Kevin Davis is a long time fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. Kevin also writes reviews for ChristianMusicReview.org. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.
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you missed some great stuff but got it right with Suburba!| Posted January 05, 2011
Others beat me to it in making the case for Fireflight's album - and Disciple, too.
I'll simply agree wholeheartedly on Suburba and House of Heroes in general. Had the rare privilege to see them acoustic in a private show after hours at Purple Door last summer (for Jesus Freak Hideout) and then their main stage performance as well. AWESOME!
Good...| Posted November 12, 2010
But Fireflight, tobyMac, and Third Day should've been on this list... and Anberlin... these are some of the movers and shakers in the Christian Music world... jj Heller isn't all that exciting, inspiring, or interesting, she's all right, but not when compared to Fireflight. Natalie Grant really could've been on this list too... The Newsboys are AWESOME for the very first time, in my opinion, ever since the start of Michael Tait as frontman; can't get enough of Born Again!
One more| Posted November 11, 2010
I almost forgot. What about Disciple? That album was amazing! Cademon's Call was actually a flop; I my humble opinion. And yes, against popular opinion, I do listen to their (CC) style of music, and I was disappointed by their album.
Questionable| Posted November 11, 2010
I am actually surprised that Fireflight is not on this list. They broke out with "Unbreakable" and have established themselves as one of the top Christian rock artists. Tenth Avenue North should have been higher also for the very fact of how transparent their album was. The message they are presenting is something that is rarely spoken and is something we all need to hear in these troubled times. And it sounds like you may be sticking to your musical comfort zone because you are forgetting Lecrae, Trip Lee, and Demon Hunter; all of whom made career defining albums as well. Great job on the list though as I agree with many of the selections, and you wrote many of the same feelings/opinions I had of the same albums you wrote on.
Another Album to add to the list| Posted November 10, 2010
There's a lot of great albums on the list. I would have added Jeremy Camp's We Cry Out to the list as well (somewhere in the top 20). It's pure heartfelt worship where many of the songs were used by God to work in Jeremy even if they are covers of someone else's work.