Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2012
We love well-crafted & honest music - and 2012 gave us a lot of fantastic offerings. We enlisted the help our our 10-member UTR Critics' Panel to place votes on what was the best releases from the year gone by - projects that were creative, heartfelt, and spiritually engaging. It is our privilege to present to you the Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2012.
[Albums qualified for consideration if they were from a Christian artist/songwriter and released between 12/1/11 and 12/1/12.]
1. Light for the Lost Boy - Andrew Peterson
One of our critics said this project is "quite possibly the most perfect record I’ve heard in a long time, hitting all the marks with sonic creativity, powerful songwriting, and emotional delivery." Another called it "a bold leap forward with his artistry." Andrew released this introspective yet sonically progressive collection of songs that laments the innocence we once had as children and how that child-like heart must inevitably die as we experience various pains and sorrows. Ultimately these songs point to the hope we have in our Redeemer who can restore us and reclaim our brokenness. As one critic said, this is "some of the smartest lyrics in the music industry today."
2. Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut - Andrew Osenga
"These haunting song stories resonate with human nature's most intimate sentiments." This concept album is set in the future in outer space, but the subject matter is timeless and will strike a chord in nearly every active listener's heart. As one UTR critic said, "When an independent artist (with a young family and bills to pay) can take a complex artistic vision from concept to completion – for the sake of the art itself – then we should pay attention." Osenga tackles the topics of love, loss, regret, & loneliness with honesty, emotion, & intelligence. I know exactly what our panelist means when he said, "What a painful and wonderful album."
3. No Man's Land - Charlie Peacock
13 years. That's how long it's been since Mr. Peacock released his last vocal project. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely! Even though he's a Grammy Award-winning producer, one panelist said this CD is "proof enough to solidify him as a legend. It sounds nothing like anything you'll hear on the radio (with the exception of UTR, of course) today - and that's a good thing." The songs have a travelling feel to them, drenched in Southern Americana, but ultimately help us travel through the realities of the human soul. In fact, one of our critics said that these songs are "provocotive writings on faith and life."
4. Heart - Audrey Assad
"This sounds like the music she was born to create." No sophomore slump is experienced here on Audrey Assad's 2nd studio project. The CD is full of catchy, hook-laden melodies - but don't let that fool you - these 12 songs are poetic, engaging, emotional, and devotional. She can take theological principles and make them conversational, much like her friend, Sara Groves. One of our critics couldn't sing the praises of Heart loud enough: "Loaded with meaningful, engaging and beautiful songs, this project is the most amazing album by a female vocalist I have ever heard."
5. Birds of Relocation - Eric Peters
To call 2009-10 a "dark season" for Eric Peters is putting it lightly. In his trademark honesty, he chronicled many of his sorrows on his CD Chrome. It's easy to call a sad, confessional album "vulnerable," but it's harder to recognize vulnerability on a more joyful project. However, knowing the darkness that Eric walked through makes this release that much more authentic & hopeful as he releases an album that he said is "a coming back into the light." Our critics call it "wildly infectious," "heartfelt and joyful," "personal yet relatable," and is simply his career-best work.
6. The Fourth Wall - The Vespers
This young, talented quartet of multi-instrumentalists consists of sisters Callie & Phoebe Cryar and brothers Taylor & Bruno Jones. They've only been a band for 3 years and they are all hovering around 20-yrs-old, but you would never guess it by the layered beauty and complex textures of their sophomore release. One panelist called it "an incredibly fun new wave of bluegrass music." Another said that if the Civil Wars really do call it quits, this might be the crew that can fill that musical gap. It's full of amazing harmonies, skilled instrumentation, raucus melodies, & faith-infused lyrics.
7. Wounded Healer - The Followers
This new band led by the songwriting skills of Josh White (formerly of Telecast) and Eric Earley (formerly of Blitzen Trapper) created an album of neo-gospel that has a 70's time warp feel to it. As one of our critics put it, "The echoes of Jesus Music era songs combining with the very current alt-country trimmings won me over big-time." Another stated, "The Followers CD was my favorite musical find of 2012... a clear Christian message, a retro sound that isn't gimmicky, and high replay value." If you are tired of the mass-marketed sound of today's worship music, this project will give you creative hope.
8. Open Your Doors - Jenny & Tyler
One UTR panelist suggested, "These guys easily take the cake for duo of the year! This album has been an incredible source of spiritual nourishment for me this year." With Mitch Dane at the production helm, this project was a bit more laid back in tone and likely more true-to-form to their live concerts as a duo. The tracks are devotionally rich with a hymn-like quality to the songwriting. As another panelist shared, "This is an album of personal experience, doubts, fears, and desire to to trust in God. It begs me to join in on the emotion of worship and storytelling."
9. Homemade Worship by Handmade People - Rend Collective Experiment
Of course, there are times when it is quite appropriate for worship music to be contemplative, reflective, and weighty. But I think I've been so inundated with that style, that I forgot how fun, joyful, and celebratory worship can be as well - until I heard this album. One critic called this "a stellar five-star worship album... surely one of the top worship albums ever made." Another mentioned, "These songs require participating. There is no background music here, but full in-your-face worship with deep passion and joy." Make sure to check out this amazing Northern Irish 15-piece band.
10. Land of the Living - Matthew Perryman Jones
Hollywood appreciates his talent (MPJ songs have been used on over 50 nationally broadcast TV episodes). Still, the Christian community is largely ignorant of his body of work. He reaches new heights on his 5th studio project, showing more vulnerability in the process. A UTR panelist said, "Each song creates a rich and frequently fascinating bed of Gabriel-esque, sophisticated music for his aching voice to slide across. The spirituality is as deep as the performance is emotional." Another panelist wrote, "MPJ’s cinematic exploration of death and grieving is simply breathtaking."
11. Lights of Distant Cities - Bebo Norman
Bebo's long-time friends, Ben Shive and Gabe Scott, take over the production on his 9th career release. He has a bit less of the CCM polish his last couple of efforts have had, and this CD strikes a good balance of pop accessibility and indie-folk. One critic stated, "Norman's infectious melodies and thoughtful lyrics have never sounded better." Another called this album "the most vulnerable offering from one of Christian music's most tranparent singer-songwriters to date." Yet another said, "Anyone struggling with the balance of life and faith can truly relate to the incredible messages of these songs."
There you have it! Our "Top 11" list is always a very good discussion starter. There are several other dozen amazing releases that caught the attention of one or more of our critics, but there has to be a wider consensus to land on this selective list.
To help get the conversation started, just answer one (or both) of these 2 questions:
a) What is your overall reaction to the Top 11 list? What titles were you happy to see? What albums, in your opinon, are missing?
b) Are there any albums that you are going to try out or give a second chance to based on this list?