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Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2012

posted: December 27th, 2012 by Dave Trout

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?

Comments (42)

a) I almost forgot this was Under the Radar because a lot of other great albums came out this year - Andrew Peterson, Audrey Assad, the Vespers, and Redn Collective are all top picks for this year.

b) I’ve heard so much about Matthew Perryman Jones that I’ll have to try out his album. Jenny and Tyler haven’t disappointed me in the past so I’ll have to check that out as well!

duckster004 11:18 AM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

a) Great list…about half that I have not yet listened to.  Was great to see Matthew Perryman Jones…he was the special guest on the Behold the Lamb of God tour, and we were all wowed by his powerful, but melancholy vocals on “Deliver Us”...and then picked up his album to hear more!  As far as what’s missing…I realize rap might be a stretch for making an appearance here, but Humble Beast Records released an amazing project this year called Satellite Sky by Beautiful Eulogy.  Josh Garrels collaborated with them on Anchor, and I hope Under the Radio is able to connect with this group in 2013 to tell folks about the exciting new approach (great harmonies, live instruments, and just plain great song-writing) these gentlemen are taking to Christian rap.

b)  I love Andrew Peterson’s writing…bought the album, and didn’t really connect with it until he did “You’ll Find Your Way” during the first half of the Behold the Lamb of God concert…and told the story of his son that informed much of this writing.  The song hit home, and AP again brought tears to my eyes.  Looking forward to giving the album a whole new listen!

mschmaldienst 11:31 AM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

I have five of these albums and four of them are in the top five.  I will definitely be checking out the ones that aren’t in my collection.

CyndaP 12:01 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

a) Definitely agree with AP at the top of the list, although I’m still trying to figure out how Bill Mallonee consistently misses these Top 11 lists. Is he even in the running? Or is he too far below the radar for even UTR?

b) I’m going to have to give the Eric Peters album a spin, and give Jenny & Tyler and Matthew Perryman Jones a shot. Thanks!

jonswerens 01:02 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

a) Woohoo!  I own 6 of these albums and was fortunate enough to see 4 of them live this year.  Light for the Lost Boy is amazing and deserves the top spot. 

b) Definitely going to check out MPJ and Bebo Norman.

momof2boys 02:39 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

Lots of good choices.  I guess I need to give “Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut” a second chance.

Jeff C 03:36 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

A: I loved seeing Charlie on the list as well as The Vespers. Love that album. Also the Followers & Jenny & Tyler. The list is sorely missing Derek Webb’s “Ctrl”, especially when paired with Sola-Mi.
B. I’m going to check out the Rend Collective.

Waltrane 03:37 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

Well, I guess I have a lot of listening to do! The Vespers sound like a great band that I will need to listen to, as well as the latest from Osenga and Peterson. And can someone tell me why Peterson and the Lamb of God tour wasn’t better advertised in my area?!?!?!

dougk32 03:48 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

a) Completely agree on Charlie Peacock, The Vespers, The Followers, and Jenny & Tyler!  Those albums were the most pleasing to my indie-ears this year, along with other great albums made by Christians: The Welcome Wagon - Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, MewithoutYou - Ten Stories, ElisaRay - All Creatures, Tim Coons - Potomac, Soul-Junk - 1961, Bill Mallonee - Amber Waves, The Oh Hellos - Through the Deep Dark Valley, Various - Mercyland, Josh Harmony - Benefit of the Doubt, Soma Music (Aaron Spiro et al) - The Story Vol 2.  Just outside my very favorites include new music by Wovenhand, Branches, Indelible Grace, Damien Jurado, Will Retherford, Chris Lizotte, The Olive Tree, The Hot Shot Freight Train, Aaron Espe, Rosie Thomas, The Opiate Mass, Future of Forestry, Derek Webb, and Ryan Delmore. I admit a lot of my picks are probably under under the radar’s radar…which only speaks to how much Christians have been stepping it up the last few years!
b) I’m willing to listen to the MP Jones release again and I still haven’t heard “Leonard” at all so I’ll have to check that out.  I’d hate to miss out on something great. I still don’t know how I missed The Last Bison, Seryn, and Damion Suomi last year - they were some of my favorite albums of 2011 and I didn’t even discover them until 2012. I wonder which albums will be like that for me next year…

fillpower86 08:28 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

A) Good list, I was very happy to see The Vesper’s on the list! I think SONS, Propaganda or beautiful Eulogy should have been on there, quality stuff.

B) I am going to give Andrew Peterson another try, I love his song “Dancing in the Minefields” but didn’t really care for the rest of his stuff. However I don’t think I eer gave it a fair try.

Lindsey W. 09:04 PM Thu, Dec 27, 2012

Amen to #1! Peterson’s LFTLB already an all-time favorite of mine.  Was grateful to have AP RT my reflections on the concert/album (here): 10:14 AM Fri, Dec 28, 2012

I will have to give Wounded Healer - The Followers another try.  I have it, but have not spent enough time letting it sink in.

Here is my list.

1. Audrey Assad - Heart
2. Bebo Norman - Lights of Distant Cities
3. Matthew Perryman Jones - Land of the Living
4. Ben Kyle - Ben Kyle
5. Future of Forestry - Young Man Follow
6. The Vespers - The Fourth Wall
7. Chris August - The Upside of Down
8. Andrew Peterson - Light for the Lost Boy
9. Group 1 Crew - Fearless
10. House of Heroes - Cold Hard Want
11. Paper Route - The Peace of Wild Things

If you haven’t heard Ben Kyle’s album, please do yourself a favor and give it a listen!!

Honorable Mention - Trent Dabbs - Future Like Snow, David Crowder Band - Give Us Rest, Cheri Keaggy - So I Can Tell, Esterlyn - Woven, Lara Landon - Overcome, Various Artists - Nashville Indie Spotlight, Sarah MacIntosh - Current, Will Retherford - Walk, and though it’s not a full album release, I must mention Young Oceans - Advent as music I can’t stop listening to since it was released.

avtsellers 05:26 PM Fri, Dec 28, 2012

a) It looks like a great list.  I’m always glad to see AP’s work on the list.  I wonder if the albums need to be ranked.  Such a variety of styles and expressions.

b)  I’m very intrigued by The Followers!  Looking forward to checking out their music.

DanH 06:50 PM Sat, Dec 29, 2012

a). What a great list. I have all of them except 1,2 and 11. I loved seeing Audrey Assad on the list because Heart is my favorite CD of 2012. The three glaring omissions in my humble opinion are: 1. Derek Web - Ctl 2. Sarah McIntosh - Current and 3. Future of Forestry - Young Man Follow
b). I haven’t bought a Bebo Norman CD since his very first one (which was rather boring to me at the time). I checked out Lights of Distant Cities because it was on the list and I love it. I’ll be picking it up soon! I’ll also be checking out AP and AO when time permits. Thanks for opening my ears to some great music over the last year. grin

RevRalph 08:18 PM Sat, Dec 29, 2012

Totally agree with AP being #1. One of the best CD’s of the year. I would have to add All Sons & Daughters Season One to this list. It has been in “heavy rotation” in my CD player for months!

swatson 05:40 PM Sun, Dec 30, 2012

1. I loved Andrew Peterson’s, Rend Collective Experiment’s, and Bebo Norman’s albums.  I think that All Son’s and Daughters would have been a good addition to the list. 
2.  I love finding new music so I’ll go through the albums on the list that I have not tried and listen to samples.

StephanieC510 05:40 PM Sun, Dec 30, 2012

#1 and #2 are amazing.  Looking forward to listening to all the others.

lohrfink 05:54 PM Sun, Dec 30, 2012

Have always loved CP - have that CD -and Andrew Osenga - bought that for Christmas, so now I still have to get Andrew Peterson, whom I love - so much great music this year!!!

amdzuck 06:38 PM Sun, Dec 30, 2012

I think it’s really hard to pick the best of when I can think of so many different artists with remarkable albums. 

I was very happy to see both Andy’s (Peterson & Osenga) as well as MPJ.  I own every album that all 3 have put out and they are consistently great in the music they put out. 

The immediate album that I believe is missing is the final act for the David Crowder Band….the writing, the concept, the packaging of the vinyl….all made it one of my favorites of the entire year, even though it came out right at the beginning of the year.

I’ve listened to most all of the albums on the list except The Followers.  I had actually not heard of them.  As for second chances….for some reason, this is the only Bebo Norman album I don’t have so I’ll definitely have to give it another chance.

jthylton 10:55 PM Sun, Dec 30, 2012

a) Looks like a great list! I’m especially happy that Audrey Assad and Jenny and Tyler made the list. They’re some of my faves.
b) I haven’t actually listened to Andrew Peterson before, so I’m doing that right now!

WriteOn316 07:52 PM Tue, Jan 01, 2013

The Followers were my favorite “find” this year. Their sound is awesome, reminds me of my dad’s old record collection!

MPJ was also a new find for me this year and I’m really enjoying his new album. His voice is super addictive.

I’ve been a fan of Andy O since his Normals days, he always is surprising and his songwriting somehow finds a way to improve with each album.

Great List!

SWofJustice 08:38 PM Tue, Jan 01, 2013

LOVE that Andrew Peterson, Audrey Assad, and Jenny and Tyler made the list.  I didn’t even know Bebo Norman had a new record out, so I will be giving that a listen.  Thanks for all the great recommendations!

alicias 02:28 AM Thu, Jan 03, 2013

I was familiar with about half of this list and had heard of several others, lately.  My favorite has to be the Matthew Perryman Jones album; with Andrew Peterson’s an extremely close second.  I’m excited to pick up the Eric Peters and Rend Collective Experiment albums.  I’d suggest Clear the Stage by Jimmy Needham as a possible contender—though his 2005 For Freedom album is my very favorite of his.

mckel 12:13 PM Thu, Jan 03, 2013

I was giddy to see AP, Andy Osenga and Eric Peters on this list.  These three albums have brought me much good this year.  I was especially happy that Andrew Osenga’s “Hold On, Boy” was the song you played on your podcast.  My initial reaction to that song within the album was one of painful avoidance.  It was so vivid and raw.  I kept going back to it though, and it’s now one of my favorite two or three songs of the year.  Incredibly insightful, and practically screaming for hope to be held and love to be treated beautifully and mutually. 

Based on this list, I’m going buy Rend Collective Experiment (didn’t know about this cd but love their song “Come On”), Jenny & Tyler’s album (finally giving in - I love everything you’ve ever played by them!) and Audrey Assad’s ‘Heart’.  I don’t usually buy albums because of one song I love, but if Audrey’s song “Lament” is even remotely indicative of the rest of the album I’ll be a new fan. 

Thanks so much for this list!

Jenn C 03:30 PM Thu, Jan 03, 2013

Loved the AP and MPJ albums!  There is an epic feel to Light for the Lost Boy that I really enjoy.  The albums I want to check out more of are #2, #5, #8,#9, #11.  Hadn’t heard of the Rend Collective Experiment and liked the feel to the song featured in your podcast.  Thanks for continuing to stretch my musical tastes!

Carl A. 04:01 PM Mon, Jan 07, 2013

a) I agree about Andrew Peterson’s new album being #1 on the list.  It’s fantastic, refreshing, soulful, honest and so very easy to relate to.  I think you missed one though—Shaun Groves’ Third World Symphony is EXCELLENT.  Check it out!
b) Looking forward to trying out Bebo Norman’s new one.  Didn’t realize he had released a new album this past year!  Also hoping to listen to Jenny & Tyler and Audrey Assad via Spotify to see if I like them.  Thanks for the great recommendations!

aliciahorn 03:50 PM Wed, Jan 09, 2013

b) Aside from MPJ, I’m not familiar with any of these, so I have lots of listening to do.

hEEd 03:58 PM Wed, Jan 09, 2013

a) not at all surprised to see AP listed first smile
b) I have been meaning to purchase some Audrey Assad because I have watched numerous Youtube clips and I really like them. I should check out some more of those listed, for sure.

kmilligan72 04:14 PM Wed, Jan 09, 2013

a) I have surprisedly not listened to any of the top 11 but I am ready to change that. Artists that I think came out with great Albums in this year were:
1 For King and Country
2 Anberlin
b) as I did last year, I will make a playlist of these artists. Last year I discovered 2 great new artists and even got to see them live (Jason Gray, Downhere)
- Thanks for the list!

Musicfreak 11:05 AM Fri, Jan 11, 2013

Looks like “the oh hello’s”, “Monsters calling home”, “wayfarer”, and “the modern post” were under your guys’ radar. As for your picks, I liked “the followers”, MPJ, and Jenny & Tyler, so I understand their placement, but I didn’t “love” them persay. But to each his own.

glahoiten 07:58 PM Sat, Jan 12, 2013

a)  I was pleased to see Peterson and MPJ on the list - both albums were fantastic, but MPJ was unknown to me, making my discovery of his music a real joy. Peterson was as wonderful as expected smile

b)  I’m definitely curious about Assad, the Vespers, and Wounded Healer now!

Turambar29 07:34 PM Tue, Jan 15, 2013

I absolutely love the Andrew Peterson, Jenny & Tyler, and The Vespers albums.  Definitely need to check out Charlie Peacock and Rend Collective Experiment.

jonmarc 06:28 PM Wed, Jan 16, 2013

The only one on the list I’ve heard in its entirety is the Rend Collective Experiment one. I love it because it’s so joyful.

The next on my list to buy is Andrew Peterson. The song You’ll Find Your Way really touches my heart, as I watch my children growing up and navigating the ups and downs of life.

EmilyH 10:50 AM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

I appreciate the Gourmet Albums post at the end of the year. It lets me catch up with the things I missed! Jenny & Tyler remind me a lot of the music of my earlier days - simple and beautiful. And Andrew Peterson is always a favorite. I’ll be investigating several of these, especially Rend Collective Experiment (previewed on iTunes and loved the small bits I heard.) Thank you for highlighting these excellent musicians for us.

dulcigal 11:02 AM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

a)  Good list.  I like The Vespers and Andy.  Would like to have seen Wovenhand, Bill Mallonee, and The Welcome Wagon included.
b) Need to give AP a better listen.

blw777 11:07 AM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

I am a huge fan of Andrew Peterson and am in love with Light for the Lost Boy!!! So thirlled to see that at #1.

I will take a closer look at Lights of Distant Cities by Beboe Norma because it is on this list.

Amy St 11:08 AM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

I am seriously going to have to figure out how to get my hands on some of these albums! They are artistically inspiring! Love it!

Sharon 11:11 AM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

Dave, you are spot-on with the inclusions of “Light for the Lost Boy” and Jenny & Tyler’s release.  The other records I’m not as familiar with, but I intend to get better acquainted.  Due to your recommendation here, my radio station began spinning the Rend Collective’s “You Are My Vision.”  Fun!

Karisa 12:40 PM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

I’m really glad to see AP’s “Light for the Lost Boy” at the top of this list. I heard no better music ANYWHERE last year than this fine album.

I’m also happy to see Andy Osenga and Eric Peters on the list. They both did great work this year.

Because of your list, I’m planning to give The Vespers a try - I’ve never heard them.

kmcarlson 12:58 PM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

By the way - I encourage everyone to check out The Oh Hellos - a brother and sister duo from Lake Jackson, Texas (and good friends of a good friend of mine). Produced and recorded in a bedroom in their home, it’s stellar work on a shoestring budget. The kind of stuff I love to see succeed!

kmcarlson 01:03 PM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

I am excited to listen to some of these.  Unfortunately, the Rend Collective album is the only one I KNOW I have heard.  Our lament about the local Christian radio station is that they never play anything new.  Sigh.  Yea for finding Under the Radar!

Smuddpie 03:10 PM Thu, Jan 17, 2013

Sorry I’m a bit late here.  But congratulations to “swatson” and “hEEd” who were randomly drawn to receive $20 iTunes cash!  Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful comments on this Top 11 post.  It’s really important for us to see your thoughts, reactions, and future artist considerations!

Dave Trout 03:23 PM Tue, Jan 22, 2013

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