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Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2011

posted: December 28th, 2011 by Dave Trout

Before we look ahead into the new year, let’s reflect on the wonderful music that was birthed in 2011 – which was an amazing year for fans of gourmet music.  With the help of our 10-member panel of critics, we have determined the best of the best – in originality, spiritual insight, and artistry.  With great honor, we present UTR’s Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2011

[Albums qualified for consideration if they were from a Christian artist/songwriter and released between 11/30/10 and 11/30/11.]


1.   Invisible Empires – Sara Groves

This ambitious album hits a cultural nerve as Sara addresses themes of loneliness, self-worth, personal image, and interpersonal challenges in the Internet age.  One of our panelists said, “It's hard to imagine, but Sara has now once again released her ‘best’ album topping all of her previous excellent work.” Another UTR critic said, “Lyrically raw, but musically accessible, Sara uses the marriage of melody and verse to infuse her prose into the conversations of everyday people, in their everyday lives.”  Still another critic stated, “Lyrically intelligent and vulnerable, sonically lush and melodic, Invisible Empires should not be overlooked by anyone with a musical or social conscious.”


2.  Vice Verses – Switchfoot

Many are putting this next to The Beautiful Letdown as one of Switchfoot’s career best albums, which is truly saying something.  “If there was any question if the side projects, solo work, or social causes had distracted the band from focusing on rock and roll, this album screams the answer.  This will be one of the most lyrically and sonically mature albums on their merch table.  And it rocks,” stated one of our critics.  Another put it this way, “None of their albums are less than really, really good – but this one is crazy, scary good. The lyrics pull no punches as Jon Foreman and Company use the rebellious energy of rock and roll for its highest purpose.”


3.  Love & War & The Sea In Between – Josh Garrels

“This album, an hour-long, 18-track, fine-tuned musical exploration is everything I now expect from Garrels – unique, poetic, and deeply spiritual.”  Not only is this his career-best work, it also put him on the map for many music lovers as Josh decided for the first year to give away this incredible album for free (available HERE until June 2012).  Another UTR critic shared, “As epic as the sound can be, his lyrics shine with poetic songwriting that unearths the sacred in the everyday and explores the mystery between the beauty of this world and hope for the next.”


4.  Ghosts Upon The Earth – Gungor

“The latest from Michael Gungor and his band is a far cry from the worship music sung in most churches today, but it is nonetheless an extremely creative expression of praise.”  With the nearly impossible task of following up the Grammy-nominated, buzz-generating 2010 release Beautiful Things, Gungor shows artistic bravado and bold musical ambition in their latest.  One UTR panelists declared, “Gungor is simply amazing. Intricate, progressive, alternative rock with deeply worshipful & artistically stunning songwriting – played with a level of musicianship that belongs right up there with the greats. …I’ll probably be discovering things I love about it ten years from now.”


5.  Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

This is the most sparsely-orchestrated album on our list.  When we reviewed this album last February, we said, “While the rest of country-folk music is becoming a heaping mess of over-production, Barton Hollow stands out with stripped-down arrangements.” (Click HERE for our full review.)  A critic of ours stated, “Joy Williams & John Paul White have a fantastic performance chemistry and stunning vocal harmony. The lovely acoustic melodies and sparse production lend warmth to these songs of love & heartbreak.”  Another panelist said, “This Charlie Peacock produced album swirls and churns with tension, soul, grit and grace.”


6.  The Reckoning – Needtobreathe

One UTR panelist heralded, “This is a ridiculously fantastic album on all levels… the best album I’ve ever heard.”  Yes, Needtobreathe’s 4th release is worthy of high praise, for both quality songwriting and the musical diversity on display.  Their somewhat darker tones fit well as they explore themes of restlessness and longing. There’s definitely no less than 5 “favorite tracks” on this CD.  A fellow critic stated, “They don’t sound quite like any other Christian artists out there. Needtobreathe is quite simply the king of Southern anthem-rock.”


7.  The Long Surrender – Over The Rhine

“The songs are earthy and real, digging into musical backdrops of Americana folk, smoky barroom jazz, and soulful gospel choirs.”  This album marks the 20th year of groundbreaking music from this world-class band.  “The songs are poetic, rich with uniquely worded expressions of grace and forgiveness,” shared one critic.  Another UTR panelist proclaimed, “OTR sings from a place where pain lives.  And never has such painful strains sounded so sweet.”  The stand-out tracks are “Rave On,” “The King Knows How,” and “All My Favorite People.”


8.  A Way to See In the Dark – Jason Gray

Jason Gray is standing right where the scenic path connects with the main highway. He might be the ultimate example of someone who has bridged the expansive gap between fan-friendly, catchy hooks and theologically rich and poetic lyrics.  His third major release is a well-crafted exploration of how fear often robs us of our true identity in Christ.  One UTR critic said, “Jason Gray is a master at turning heady concepts and heartfelt confessions into accessible, literate pop songs – and for this album, he digs even deeper into the places where hope and fear collide.”


9.  Economy – John Mark McMillan

This guy is on the frontlines of a refreshing, new wave of worship music that is raw, heartfelt, passionate, and creatively rich.  Here’s how one of our panelist describes Economy: “Musically rich, lyrically gold, passionate, visceral, and hope-filled. McMillan poured his best song-writing efforts into this brilliant album and his talents shine through every track.”  Here’s another critic’s description: “It’s the music of blood and tears and longing, with gripping honesty that shows praise songs don’t have to be safe, but true.”


10.  Echo Boom – The Farewell Drifters

On their 3rd album, The Farewell Drifters break out of the bluegrass box and explore a variety of sounds that borrow a bit from The Coasters, The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas, and Simon & Garfunkel.  One panelist says that Echo Boom is “fresh and traditional at the same time, with song after song that bubbles with youthful verge and disquietingly soulful lyricism.”  Another panelist describes it as “modern bluegrass with a delightfully vintage folk vibe.  These guys know how to create fun with top-notch talent.”


11.  On The Altar of Love – Downhere

“One of the best bands in Christian music, yet also one of the most under-appreciated.”  Downhere’s 6th career album shows that they are growing artistically with each new release.  A fellow UTR critic stated, “On the Altar of Love is not one for lightweight stereotypes. This artful pop record blends a diverse musical palette with straightforward lyrics that resist cliché and stay fresh and sincere.”  Another panelist loves the “singable melodies, songs filled with biblical truth and some of the best vocal combinations in any genre.”


Now the fun begins.  I can already hear you pounding your first on the desk on why we left out so-and-so.  But there’s only 11 slots. In fact a big number of albums (35+) cited by our critics didn’t make the cut either. 

We are excited to get your feedback.  So much so, that we are going to randomly draw one commenter below (now through 1/9/12) to receive an $11 iTunes Gift Certificate so you can buy 1 song off of each of these albums.  Just answer one (or more) of these 3 questions:
     a) Which album on the list is one of your favorites & why?
     b) Which “missing” album do you think should have made the Top 11 & why?
     c) Are there any albums that you’re going to pay closer attention to because they made the Top 11?

Comments (54)

I haven’t heard all the other albums though I’ve heard tracks from some of them (downhere, Needtobreathe, Jason Gray and Gungor) and they are all well done, indeed.
But Sara Groves took my breath away with Invisible Empires. The album is stunning, musically and especially lyrically. I’ve likened her to a Christian Aimee Mann or Joni Mitchell in terms of the smart, perceptive nature of her lyrics. I don’t just listen to Sara, I absorb her music—I try very hard to learn from what I’m hearing. It helped that UTR had her on to discuss her music/lyrics soon after the cd dropped.
There are so many songs on the albums I love, but the simplicity of “Without Love” hits me where I live. There are so many, many things that come to mind when I hear that song—the state of politics, world affairs, family relationships and my own walk with the Lord. At the end of the day it’s about love—falling in love with Jesus and sharing that love. The message is timeless and Sara breathes new life into the words from Corinthians when she sings it.
In answer to question (c), my daughter gave me an iTunes gift card for Christmas. I’m going to have fun building a Top 11 playlist. Thanks for the suggestions.

pattyink 05:43 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

It is such a toss up for favrite album from this list.  Invisible Empires and The Reckoning compete with one another for my top pick, depending on my mood and the setting. If I absolutely had to choose, I’d say you got it right with Sara Groves taking the top spot.  I agree that Gungor, Jason Gray and the Civil Wars are all very worthy as well.

cibarra 05:59 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

I will be checking out the 3 albums that I do not have on this list. I currently don’t own #8,9 & 10.

Out of this list I would have to say Gungor is my favorite thought Josh Garrels is growing on me with each listen.

Reba Baskett 06:13 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

a) The Reckoning ny Needtobreathe is definitely the best of the ones I own. The range it covers is amazing, and they didn’t really make a bad song in between it all. They stepped into minor keys for the first time, which was cool. They have plenty of energy, and it all comes through. Great album from a band that has yet to really put out a bad album.
b) My goodness, the album “This Is Where We Are” by Seryn is a seriously sensational album, and, as I see it, any 2011 “Best Of” list would be complete without it. Folk and folk-rock at its dynamic, technical best. These guys out of Denton, Texas are going places. They must be Christians, though they do not say it outright, for their own reasons. They played the Catalyst Christian conference, come on. They have a song all about how “when this life get sto me, I’ll be found, ‘On My Knees’”. Great.
c) I don’t have the Downhere or the Farewell Drifters albums, so I’m checking those out now. Thanks for the tip off!

Logan Merkle 06:26 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

A.) Josh Garell’s album is a true work of art. Great album and message, with just enough catchy vibe to make a pretty mellow album interesting.

C.) You’ve pushed me over the edge to buy “Invisible Empires”.  I’ll also listen to 8-11 on Spotify (if they are available on it) to see if I like them.

Keith W. 08:54 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

Some of these I haven’t heard of but a for the Gungor song. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE it and them. ThEy are absolutely wonderful. Their songs sound so cool and the lyrics are incredible powerful. AND they are even better live then recorded, who in the weld can you say that about?? LOVE THEM!!!

Jesus Freek 09:34 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

A) So glad to see Vice Verses on here. I thought it was a really underrated album. Josh Garrels’ album was, of course, a masterpiece in every respect, and The Civil Wars deserve every bit of acclaim they have received.
B) In my opinion, Burlap to Cashmere’s release was pure poetry, and easily make my top 5 for the year.
C) I’ve picked up a couple of tracks from Over the Rhine and The Farewell Drifters, but now they’re at the top of my to-buy list.

theophilus07 09:53 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

I’ve been saving my music money for the year for the release of this year’s Gourmet Albums list - thank you for your careful consideration of so many artists that we many not otherwise hear of…

a) Civil Wars - Remarkable approach to the intimacy of duet vocals.  In their live recordings, the two of them joke about the audience needing to prepare themselves to be depressed…but really, what a blessing to hear how the gift of the human voice can be so carefully crafted to bring beauty to the mundane.  They leave you with the impression that with each song, they held hands tightly and watched one another with an intensity that removed any seams between them…

b) Burlap to Cashmere, oh Burlap to Cashmere, wherefore art thou, oh Burlap to Cashmere…

mschmaldienst 11:03 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

Echo Boom by the Farewell Drifters is an amazing album. I heard little boy from the album and purchased the rest. I love Bluegrass and their style is amazing. From the tight harmonies to the amazing ability of playing. This band totally rocks and supper excited to see them on the list.

Bdeagle1 11:34 PM Wed, Dec 28, 2011

a) Jason Gray’s album is my favorite on this list.  I have had the privilege of seeing him live 3 times this year and speaking with him at length. His honesty and transparency in real life make his music come alive for me. On the Altar of Love by downhere would be a close second.

c) I’ll give a closer listen to Sara Groves, Josh Garrels, Gungor, and The Civil Wars.  I own them all, but haven’t given them a thorough listen through.

momof2boys 12:36 AM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

LOVE Josh Garrels, and though I have loved all of his albums, Love & War is by far the best.

I kind of liked Denison Witmer’s album The Ones Who Wait mainly because of the song “Your Friend” and “Life Before Aesthetics” ... but I also like JJ Heller’s acoustic album this year.  But… the ones you have on here are hard to beat. 

As for new music I’ll try from this list, I haven’t heard of Jason Gray, so I’ll be looking forward to checking him out.

lsshaw 02:16 AM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

a) Switchfoot - Vice Verses, because Switchfoot is simply awesome and they were one of the first “Christian” bands that I found out about that I actually liked.

b) I have several, if that’s alright (in no particular order)
1. Blood of the Martyrs - Once More, With Feeling
2. Nostalgia - The Outlaster LP
3. Mat Kearney - Young Love
4. August Burns Red - Leveler
5. The City Harmonic - I Have A Dream (It Feels Like Home)

c) Josh Garrels - Love & War & The Sea In Between

Nitengale Rocks 02:34 AM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

Josh Garrels’ Love & War & the Sea In Between is my favorite in the group right now. However, I have only listened to albums 3-6 on this list-all very good and I’m a big fan of a Switchfoot, John Mark McMillan, and other bands on the list (so I’ll be paying closer attention to all of the other albums on the list-thanks for doing the legwork for new music to check out!).
I like that Love & War & the Sea In Between is a complete album not just a cd with a good song or two. The whole thing is solid. He isn’t afraid to mix it up a little and rap some in The Resistance. The cd has a very chill sound to it that can be played in the background and smoothly wash over you but still has depth to the lyrics. Think some of his lyrics are just beautiful-poetic like was said above. Farther Along has some great things to say and Ulysses is one of my favorites. Brings me back to reading the Odyssey years ago.
I listened to this album and Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto and liked Josh’s better. It surprised me how much more I liked his. I miss Coldplay writing songs that actually say something-seems like the last two albums have been more about the big stadium sound for concerts. I like Viva La Vida and some of the new stuff but hope the next one has more slower songs like Trouble, Green Eyes,  Warning Sign, Fix You. I digress but I think a member of City Harmonic said it best at a gig in Canada when they said that Coldplay has run out of things to say.
P.S. - The guys from City Harmonic are really cool and would recommend checking them out - Manifesto and I Have a Dream (It Feels Like Home) are great starters

Cubsfan14 06:03 AM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

Just a caveat to the last comment. I was just chatting with the guys from City Harmonic and they probably said the part about Coldplay much softer/nicer than I just stated it. I hope Coldplay proves us wrong.

Cubsfan14 06:09 AM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

“Barton Hallow” by The Civil Wars is my favorite album for 2011 <3
Their sound is fresh, simplistic, melodic, haunting..I can’t seem to express it any better, except that I have a hard time taking their cd out of my car stereo…waiting oh so patiently for a follow up smile

mlcotmyeye 01:20 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

Best song: Josh Garrels’ Farther Along. Expresses the tension of living in the “already” but the “not yet” kingdom for me.

Jrp 02:43 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

A) Vice Verses from Switchfoot is just wonderful.  I feel like every song traces the rythym of my heartbeat and where I am in life.  Songs like Thrive come to mind where they chorus sings “I want to thrive, not just survive”.  That moves me to do something more with my life than to just “pass through”.
I had the opportunity to see John Paul White and Joy Williams (The Civil Wars) in concert earlier this year.  They captivated the entire room with their voices and a simple acoustic guitar or piano.  Their melody and harmony trade off is like watching a beautiful tapestry being woven in front of you.  You would think they have been singing together their entire careers.  You cannot fake that type of stage presence/chemistry.  I’m really excited to see that they have been nominated for a grammy or two, definitely deserving!
B) While the band is not under the radar, necessarily, their new album could be considered to be.  MuteMath’s newest album, Odd Soul, is more guitar-driven and blues influenced than their previous releases, but it still maintains the signature feel that distinguishes them from everyone else: the sick drumming of Darren King, the kinetic bass grooves of Roy Mitchell-Cardenas, and the falsetto and emotion of Paul Meany’s vocals.  Roy, the bass player did all of the guitar work on their newest album right after their previous guitar player left.  The album is self-produced, and it shows in a good way.  check it out.
C) I’m interested in checking out Josh Garrells, the newest release by Over the Rhine and Echo Boom.

jonraz 03:59 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

wanted to add, that I just saw Odd Soul got honorable mention in the top 2011 albums.  I would argue that they should be in the top 10 though.

jonraz 04:03 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

jonraz, you should definitely check out Josh Garrells and OTR’s latest. They were my absolute favs this year!

I’d say Love & War and the Sea Between and The Long Surrender were probably the two most in rotation on my playlist for 2011. And the fact that Josh gave his away free?! Amazing. It just made me want to buy his other albums (which I thought were equally wonderful).

The Long Surrender just builds on the deepening sophistication we’ve come to expect from OTR since Trumpet Child. I have no words ...

I enjoyed John Mark MacMillan’s The Medicine, and didn’t even realize he had a new album! Exciting.

I also want to add that Sojourn put out a new album—The Water and the Blood—this year that I thought was great!

andi.anibal 04:34 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

Hey isshaw, great shoutout to Denison Witmer’s The Ones Who Wait. I agree with you about those two songs for sure.

andi.anibal 04:39 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

1) Josh Garrels! Totally my number 2 album of the year, it’s amazing. His lyrics and music are equally thought out and pleasing. They are so poetic but yet relatable to life’s situations! Switchfoot, gungor, needtobreathe, the cival wars, and john mark mcmillan’s cds were some of my favs this year as well

2) Falling Up’s new independent release “your Sparkling Death Cometh” should be on there! and Mutemath’s new cd. Falling Up has electronic rock like no other christian or non christian band alike. The lyrics & music are mysterious and thought provoking and they take you to places and it acts as a soundscape. Mutemath’s cd is straight up Bluesy electronic rock goodness.

3) I’m going to check out echo boom & over the rhine

Lindsey W. 04:44 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

A) Ever since downloading Josh Garrels’ “Love, War, and the Sea In Between” this summer I have been loving it!  The contrast in styles, the lyrics, and the musicality all blend together into a great, deep work of art.

B) I think the album missing would be Burlap to Cashmere.  Loved the mellower sound of this new album and perhaps feel a little Burlap nostalgia smile

C) I loved Gungor’s “Beautiful Things”... I feel the need to get a hold of “Ghosts Upon the Earth” very soon!  Also looking forward to getting into the Needtobreathe and Downhere releases.

Carl A. 06:42 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

I recieved Invisible Empires and Barton Hollow for Christmas and they are amazing!  I’ve heard a lot of people talking about Needtobreathe’s new album, even people who aren’t gourmet music types, so with my gift card that I also got, I’m going to have to buy that album and one other one…probably Gungor or Josh Garrels.  I love buying music!  Thanks for introducing us to so many great artists - looking forward to 2012 music!!

abreakfromlife 10:40 PM Thu, Dec 29, 2011

My top 3 albums from this year are #1, #8, & #4 (in that order).  I highly respect how these artists are living out their lives loving the Lord & serving others.  Sara & Jason’s albums are favorites because of the content of the lyrics and how they speak to my struggles, relationships, heart issues, etc.  Gungor is in my top 3 because of their creativity & stellar musicianship.  I think UTRs list is close to what my list would be, but I’d probably include Mat Kearney in my top 10.

avtsellers 12:15 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

a) Love & War & The Sea In Between ”“ Josh Garrels - It just came out of nowhere and brings me a lot of peace and fun while soaking it in. My fav. of the year!

b) The Valley - Eisley - Although I have not heard all the albums on the list, I keep coming back to Eisley’s latest as a refreshing rock album.

c) Yes, when I get a chance and money I want to check out the Over the Rhine album and Sara Groves.

jerlgrain 12:42 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

a) I love the Downhere album.  I think they are one of the most underrated bands out there. My wife would want me to also list the Sara Groves album as one of the best.
b) For me, the best album of 2011 is Ad Astra Per Aspera by Abandon Kansas.  I’m kind of shocked it was not on the list.  I also think Hyland’s Weights and Measures should be in consideration.
c) I would like to check out the Jason Gray album.  I have only heard one of his songs before, so, based on the comments, I should listen to his album.

kenmil 02:28 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

A) I’d say either Economy or Love & War & The Sea In Between are my favourites on this list, although I don’t like instrumentals. But “The Resistance” is my song of the year.

B) A few albums I would have considered…The Story of our Lives by The Violet Burning, a terrific trilogy of brooding alternative rock. Burlap To Cashmere’s sophomore release is pretty nifty. But probably the best album overlooked in my opinion is Bill Mallonee’s The Power & The Glory. It’s Bill’s first studio album in a few years, funded by fans, and it’s absolutely amazing. I don’t think there’s a better songwriter alive today than Bill Mallonee.

C) I need to pay more attention to Vice Verses as I’ve only listened to about half the album.

Mr Bultitude 03:01 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

I was thrilled to see my favorites Needtobreathe and Switchfoot on the list, but also love Gungor and John Mark Mc Millan. I think this selection was done very well! A suggestion of a christian local band to check out (who also released a new album in June 2011) would be Melodime - great lyrics and melodies!
I will definitely check out the other artists, just started by downloading Josh Garells album (thrilled to see it was up for free) - a good friend has been trying to get me to listen to the Civil Wars so I will give in to that for sure!....and I will continue with the others soon!  thanks for the tips!!!

Musicfreak 03:02 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

Switchfoot is my all-time favorite, not much anything will change that. But I will be checking out all of the rest of these artists because of this post. Maybe you missed “Above the Golden State” but that was a 2008 album. It should not be missed!

Holly 03:07 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

I will purchase many of these albums due to your recommendations; you should put direct links to the albums! Thank you.

Holly 03:26 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

I was given ‘music money’, as requested, for Christmas.  And I was all set on what to use it on until your list came out.  Now I’ve rewritten my list!  Next year I’ll just wait.  smile

Jenn C 03:38 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

I got to this page from the Downhere Facebook page and I am so glad. This is a great collection of music I would not have heard otherwise. I listened to most of them on Spotify tonight. Definitely going to be buying a lot more music!

Ken A. 05:58 AM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

Love Josh Garrels, Downhere, Jason Gray, The Civil Wars, and I think I’ll be buying the Gungor next. I’m enjoying checking out others I’m less familiar with, like Over the Rhine. Great list!

LauraBean 12:23 PM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

I definitely agree with Invisible Empires by Sara Groves, but then I love everything she does.

I need to give Josh Garrels another look.

Jeff C 01:55 PM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

I discovered The Civil Wars and Josh Garrels this year - I love them both! I’ve been a Jason Gray fan for some time, and A Way to See in the Dark is one of my favorites. I will be purchasing Invisible Empires and Ghosts on the Earth very soon! Thanks for compiling this list!

Kristen Anna 05:42 PM Fri, Dec 30, 2011

a) My favorite on this list is Josh Garrells’ “Love & War & The Sea In Between.” This is an excellent album. After getting tipped off from a friend, I downloaded it for free on Noisetrade. I have been wanting to donate towards it for a while, though, because I’d like to support Garrells’ ministry and musical talent. After I downloaded the album I listened to it every day until I was familiarized with the songs, and now I probably listen to it about once a week. This is one of my top ten favorite albums. I have not heard any of his other stuff yet.

b) I think the album that is missing from this list is Thrice’s latest “Major/Minor.” “Beggars,” their next to latest album is still my favorite, but “Major/Minor” combines elements of both Thrice’s older and newer sounds and it’s a really great track list. Kensrue’s lyrics and musicality is brilliant as ever and it’s worth a listen…or two, or a million :D

c) I have Gungor’s previous albums, so I’ll definitely be checking out his new album, and I’m a theology major so the description for Jason Gray’s “A Way to See In The Dark” sparks my interest as well.

I was unaware of this website until I saw a link this article on the side of my Facebook page. I’m really glad I checked it out!

jcgroff24 04:56 PM Sat, Dec 31, 2011

a) downhere’s album is my favorite from the list right now.  But, aside from The Civil Wars (which I didn’t really enjoy, except for the song Barton Hollow), it’s the only one from the list I’ve heard.  I own JMM’s and Needtobreathe, but have not listened to them completey, so I can’t consider them yet.

To be perfectly honest, I’m a long-time downhere fan, but am a bit disappointed with their latest effort.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s top-notch, but it’s not my favorite by them (and I haven’t been able to really pinpoint the reason for my opinion either).

b) The City Harmonic or Shane & Shane would be worthy additions to this list, in my opinion.

c) Based on everyone’s praise of Josh Garrels, I checked him out, but am not a fan.  Impressed that his album appears to be free to download on his website, but I just did not enjoy what I heard of the samples on Amazon.

I am already a fan of Switchfoot and Gungor, so as far as purchasing any of these albums, those would be the two most likely for me.

In conclusion, I’d just like to say that Under the Radar has been very influential in my music listening and purchases in 2011.  Thanks so much for your work in supporting these artists and not sacrificing quality in favor of popularity.

emruskin 11:10 PM Sat, Dec 31, 2011

Am I the only one who was really, almost incredibly disappointed with Switchfoot’s Vice Verses album? I thought the lyrics were sub-par at best in comparison with what we all know Jon Foreman is capable of and the music was mostly all show, with very little feeling. It all seemed WAY too produced. For the most part, aside from the mediocre lyrics, I blame Neal Avron for the mess that the album turned out to be. The album is like a Michael Bay film—flashy and filled with big explosions, but at the end there is little that keeps you clamoring for more. I’ll go back to Hello Hurricane for my Switchfoot fix.

However, John Mark McMillan, Josh Garrels, and The Civil Wars are all great picks for the list. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by these performers. I also had the pleasure to see John Paul White and Joy Williams perform together before they made a name for themselves and they are the most pleasant and humble musicians I have ever met, not to mention immensely talented. They definitely deserve what they’ve worked for and the acclaim they’ve received.

I would add to the list David Bazan’s “Strange Negotiations” album. I know he’s not a Christian artist anymore, but he speaks incredibly true to some of the very human questions and doubt that often times accompany faith and Strange Negotiations is another lyrical and musical triumph for Bazan.

sneakybuechs 06:19 AM Sun, Jan 01, 2012

You have such a good list so I’m really not sure if I would put my nominations in your “best of” list or if they would be honorary mentions.

Caedmon’s Call - Raising Up the Dead
Matthew Perryman Jones - Until The Dawn Appears
William Fitzsimmons - Gold in the Shadow

johndarm 11:58 PM Sun, Jan 01, 2012

1- favorite off this list- Switchfoot! JMM and Josh Garrels have all been staples for a few years. Love them!
2- Album thats missing, I guess would be MuteMath’s Odd Soul, or Run Kid Run’s Patterns. Even Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons, (though mainstream/worship).
Some of the music I’ve discovered through UTR recently haven’t been new releases when I realized it; Rend Collective Experiment, Bifrost Arts..
3- I’ll be checking out the Farewell Drifters next!

jennagarrison 05:16 AM Mon, Jan 02, 2012

Wow, surprised to see Jenny & Tyler left out.  Out of all the music released in the last year, my wife and I play Jenny & Tyler’s Faint Not more than anything else.

Here is my list of favorites in order:
1. Jenny & Tyler - Faint Not
2. Josh Garrels - Love & War & The Sea In Between
3. Gungor - Ghosts Upon the Earth
4. John Mark McMillan - Economy
5. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
6. MuteMath - Odd Soul
7. Ben Shive - The Cymbal Crashing Sounds
8. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors - Chasing Someday
9. Katy Bowser and Kenny Huston - Ghostly Songs
10. Buddy Miller - Majestic Silver Springs
11. Danielson - Best of Gloucester County
12. Needtobreathe - The Reckoning
13. Abandon Kansas - Ad Astra Per Aspera
14. The Farewell Drifters - Echo Boom
15. Over the Rhine - The Long Surrender

Also, there were some excellent family/children’s albums released as well:
Slugs & Bugs - Under Where?
Dan Zanes & Friends - Little Nut Tree
Coal Train Railroad - Coal Train Railroad Swings! (although I think this one may have just missed the date cutoff)

I’m sure I’ll get dismissed for not having Switchfoot on there, I guess I’m just getting a little tired of them - but I used to be a huge fan.  I haven’t heard the albums by Sara Groves, Jason Gray, or Downhere.

fillpower86 05:25 PM Mon, Jan 02, 2012

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a lot of new music this year, thanks to Under the Radar, which I only discovered this spring.  Thanks for all the great music!  Of the artists mentioned, my favorites are The Civil Wars and Gungor, both of these coming to my attention this year.

SMiller 05:10 PM Tue, Jan 03, 2012

Great list. I’ve got 5 of the 11 and love them all. I’m so impressed by the caliber of songwriting from these artists. Of the 5 I’m familiar with, I’d order them:

#1: Josh Garrels
#2: Gungor
#3: The Civil Wars
#4: John Mark McMillan
#5: Sara Groves

bw 05:18 PM Tue, Jan 03, 2012

I was directed to UTR by facebook, when I identified Sara Groves as a personal favorite. Thank you, UTR, for introducing me to so many talented artists and songwriters that don’t gain the acclaim of the masses! When is UTRpalooza? (”Ãœterpalooza” even has a great ring to it!)

emmanuelec 07:42 PM Tue, Jan 03, 2012

I am so glad that Sara Groves came in at # 1.  She is my favorite singer/songwriter because her music is original, inspiring, and full of truth.

angelahunt 01:12 AM Wed, Jan 04, 2012

Sara Groves is my perennial favorite—she won me over with “Pictures of Egypt” long ago, and I’ve savored each album since. She puts into words and music things that I’ve kept in my heart.

I wish that the David Crowder Band’s last album would have made your list.  They will be missed.

I’m looking forward to getting to know Josh Garrels’ work this year. 

Thanks for bringing these great artists to my attention.

Risserlee 05:55 PM Wed, Jan 04, 2012

“Discovered” needtobreathe at Spirit West Coast a few years ago and was blown away.  Since then, I’ve purchased all their music and The Reckoning does not disappoint as the band continues with their great music, thoughtful lyrics and flat out rockin’ sound!

Received Vice Verses as a Christmas gift but haven’t had a chance to sit down for a good listen.  However, I had listened to it on Spotify when it released and my initial impression is that it’s as good or better than anything they’ve done to date.  Switchfoot is another crowdpleaser here in San Diego.  You HAVE to see them live.  Great show, great music and their music is always thought-provokding.

Lastly, Josh Garrels’ recording is fabulous.

Oceancider 06:03 PM Thu, Jan 05, 2012

Needtobreathe is great and definitely my favorite thing on your list. Switchfoot and Josh Garrels are also excellent, but the best thing I heard this year is The Violet Burning triple album - The Story of Our Lives.

It is amazing to think that a band would release a 34 song triple album and that the songs with maybe a couple of exceptions are all really, really good.

I have not heard Sara Groves and I will rectify that ASAP.

Mikecb 02:53 AM Fri, Jan 06, 2012

Pretty cool to find out that some of your top eleven were in my top ten of this year. I forgot about Switchfoot, I should have had them in the top 10. My top 10 of 2011 were:

10. Know Hope Collective
9. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
8. Owl City - All Things Bright And Beautiful
7. John Mark McMillan - Economy
6. Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
5. The City Harmonic - I Have A Dream (It Feels Like Home)
4. Jason Gray - A Way To See In The Dark
3. Coldplay - Xylo Myloto
2. Gungor - Ghosts Upon The Earth
1. Cool Hand Luke - Of Man

If you haven’t heard CHL’s last (and by last I mean last) album, you need to listen to it. Amazing, haunting and convicting.

Adam Young 04:00 AM Fri, Jan 06, 2012

Of course i love Sara Groves, but i am thankful for this list be because i need desperately to find some new music. i have heard so much about the Civil Wars, so I’d like to check them out-among others on the list.

kmilligan72 05:23 PM Fri, Jan 06, 2012

a) John Mark McMillan - Economy. Simply put, it’‘s honest worship in a time where worship doesn’t feel very honest anymore.

b) Seyrn - This Is Where We Are. Why? ... because it is pretty amazing and relaxing.

c) For sure the Sara Groves album, I had heard of her but not really heard her if you know what I mean.

charleslallen 05:54 PM Fri, Jan 06, 2012

Congrats to Keith W. who was randomly selected as the winner of the iTunes gift certificate.  True the contest is over… but keep the good comments coming!

Dave Trout 06:07 PM Tue, Jan 10, 2012

Check out e Daniels free melodic rap album.  Very good…!/iamedaniel

ApologiaNZ 10:49 AM Thu, Jan 12, 2012

john mark mcmillan is really good—wow, thanks for highlighting his music—glen campbell’s ghost on the canvas will likely surprise you—definitely worth checking out.

good_music 05:58 AM Fri, Feb 03, 2012

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