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Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2015

posted: December 30th, 2015 by Dave Trout

It's time to honor the best of the best music that graced our ears in 2015.  Our honors are not for popularity, sales, or radio spins - our panel of critics voted on releases that plumbed the depths of creativity, honesty, spirituality, & artistry.  A wide array of well-crafted projects were cited by our critics, but these finalists the ones that showed up on the lists of multiple critics.  Here are The Top Gourmet Albums of 2015. [Albums qualified for consideration if the recording was made by Christian artists, contained over 50% new songs/arrangements, & released between 12/1/14 and 12/1/15.]                                                                                                                                                     

1. The Burning Edge of Dawn - Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson has been one of the most consistently poetic and insightful songwriters of the last 20 years. Yet, creating a follow-up to a career masterpiece like 2012's Light For The Lost Boy was an intimidating task. On this release, Peterson goes inward and reveals his artist's soul as one who feels deeply and communicates in a true and intimate way. One critic stated this project "reminds us that our God is always faithful even when it seems He is slow to answer." Another shared, "Andrew went a more personal, introspective, and at times darker direction, and it’s oozing with goodness. These songs touch deep nerves." The Burning Edge of Dawn is THE BEST album of 2015! 

2. Floodplain - Sara Groves

Even folks that are the best in their field have occasional ruts. Such was the case with Sara Groves, who dealt with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt in the season prior to recording Floodplain. The final result is a stunning collection of songs that reach into the middle of our common struggle for time, purpose, and community. Critic Russ said Floodplain "is exceptional even compared to many of her previous albums." Another panelist stated that Sara's "sweet voice weaves its way through thick lyrics as she seemingly works out her own struggles through these songs." This is Sara Groves at her best lyrically, musically, and vocally. Sara, please never stop writing and recording, we need you.

3. The Wonderlands - Jon Foreman

His solo debut of Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer in 2008 still stands as one of the most important releases of the last decade.  And if being the front-man of one of the most-loved and well-travelled bands in the world wasn't enough, he releases an even more ambitious box-set. The Wonderlands boasts 24 songs guided by 24 different producers.  One of our critics especially appreciated the "depth and breadth" of the release. Another stated, "Individually, these four EPs are great; collectively, it's truly an impressive concept album."  Yet another says, "These songs are clever, creative, personal, and passionate."  Foreman delivers quantity and quality - what more can you ask for?

4. Fire and Stone - The Gray Havens

This first full-length release from one of the most original sounding "gourmet" artists is endlessly interesting lyrically, vocally, and musically. David Radford is a brilliant songwriting storyteller and Fire and Stone is a record for those who are looking for intelligent, well-conceived, and skillfully-produced music. One UTR panelist said, "The melodies are infectious and the allegorical poetry is quintessential Gray Havens." Another critic adds, "The whimsy and imagination found within these songs is transportive." David's vocals soar once again with simply delightful harmonies by wife Licia. It's no surprise that one panelist called them "a band to watch for years to come."

5. Dear Wormwood - The Oh Hellos

With the release of Dear Wormwood, The Oh Hellos are emerging as one of the top modern folk indie bands around. This release is a virtual smorgasbord of sounds and vocals cleverly woven together, including an arrangement of Dance Macabre - what other band does that? Panelist Jen agrees that they perfectly combine "pure folk goodness and thoughtful songwriting." Another critic adds that Dear Wormwood is "superbly crafted in writing and performance." This Texas-based sibling group is at top-form on this release, and its Irish influenced foot-stomping anthems coupled with poignant, and at times, profound lyrics are a remarkable listen (especially in one sitting).

6. Home - Josh Garrels

This is a near-perfectly-produced album. Garrels' lyrics are interesting and engaging, touching on a wide variety of topics. His vocals are, as always, so very soulful. John said that on this latest offering Garrels is "more laid-back and understated than usual, and still somehow cooler than everyone else in the room." Jen concluded that this is "an easygoing folk record that celebrates the joys of home, family, and community." Matt shared, "Instead of the previous album's incredible scope of sound, Garrels sets aside his hip-hop leanings for an intimate set that explores soulful influences for the first time. Home is warm and lovely and still as hopeful as ever."

7. Medicine - Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors

"A dose of Drew Holcomb's latest cures most ills considering how affirming these 12 songs are," stated panelist Matt.  The release of this album in January launched a banner year for this Memphis-based band, which included their network TV debut performance and touring with Needtobreathe.  UTR critic Lindsay added, "From front to back, this album is exquisite. Holcomb has mastered that precarious blend of folk, pop, and rock and managed to craft an album full of heart and truth."  Another commented, "The instrumentation on Medicine is very unique - there's a little bit of everything." If you find most FM radio bland and passionless, then this album is likely the perfect "medicine."

8. Bows and Arrows - Cindy Morgan

In her illustrious 22-year recording career, Cindy Morgan has never penned better work, sung with more heart, constructed more timeless arrangements, or created a deeper soul-stirring project.  Bows and Arrows truly reflects her heart and, as one critic voiced, "her heart remains one of honesty and humility." Critic Larry described this release as "touching personal stories of people and places, that have a homey, genuine feel to them." The music is Americana-based with a wide range of influences making the music varied and vibrant. We really couldn't ask for more from this wonderful artist.  As one panelist concluded, "This is nothing short of a masterpiece."

9. One Wild Life: Soul - Gungor

Departure from a church community they helped form, a major relocation to Los Angeles, a self-described season of spiritual doubt, the subject of verbal attacks by fundamentalist groups, giving birth to a daughter with special needs... it's been one wild 2-year journey for the Gungors, and yet they are embracing their role as artists in sharing their unique perspective. This start of a 3-album series was called "accessible modern arrangements paired with personal lyrics." Another UTR critic said, "Soul turns some of the experimental sounds of I Am Mountain into a more cohesive record with great songwriting." If you walked away from Gungor's music for a moment, it's time to come back.

10. Carrie and Lowell - Sufjan Stevens

This creative troubadour marches to the beat of his own drum. What shocking sound will Sufjan give us in 2015? He actually stripped his arrangements way down, and visited his folk roots from the Seven Swans era - which likely shocked and thrilled his fan-base. One UTR critic said Carrie and Lowell is "heavy and sometimes hard to listen to, but perhaps one of the most moving and important records of 2015." Another panelist said, "Sufjan brings his talent to bear on a project dealing with the death of his mother who'd abandoned him at an early age. This is as true as any album I've heard in dealing with such levels of trauma and grief."

11. Then Came The Morning - The Lone Bellow

Could this really just be their sophomore album?  Instead of simply recycling their sound from their successful debut release, The Lone Bellow continues to challenge their own limits and add new dimensions to their style and writing. Panelist Lindsay said, "This album reveals a group that will never settle for status quo." Another shared, "Merging gospel, classic rock, country, and folk sounds with stunning harmonies, this early 2015 release breaks new ground for a fantastic band." Yet another mentioned, "This is a band whose earnest mix of harmony and melody get me every time; there's no ceiling for Zach Williams and company."


There are many more albums that were mentioned by our critics, but only 11 could fit in this list.  You can also read the list of all 50+ cited albums by our Critics!

This list is a nice snapshot of an amazing year of gourmet music. Of course, these types of lists can spark good conversations. 
          a) What is your overall reaction to the Top 11 list?  What do you agree with? Which albums, in your opinion, are missing?
          b) Are there any albums that you'll try out (or give a second chance) based on this list?

Comments (17)

3 of these albums are still on heavy rotation in my list. Saw Drew Holcomb this fall in Denton, TX and almost made it to the Switchfoot tour to see Foreman. Lone Bellow was an instant follow after seeing their late night appearance.

To say that Under the Radar chose well is an understatement for me!

Steve 06:54 PM Wed, Dec 30, 2015

I like Gungor’s music well enough, but to describe the valid concerns about its sub-biblical theology as “the subject of verbal attacks by fundamentalist groups” is unfair, to say the least.

jonswerens 07:58 PM Wed, Dec 30, 2015

What a great year for gourmet music! I already own 8 of these 11, so on the whole I agree with the pics, especially #1 and #2, which are already household favorites for us. The only album I’m really sad didn’t make the list is Sandra McCracken’s Psalms. I’ve worn that one out since it released in April and think it got overlooked by the panel. But all in all, a great list. I think I’ll have to check out the Oh Hellos now as I’m not familiar with them currently.

NicoleVZ 09:09 PM Wed, Dec 30, 2015

I have the top two and fully agree with your choices. This list offers me good ideas about where to turn next. Thanks for what you do. 09:36 PM Wed, Dec 30, 2015

Nicely done.. I will probably need to pick up a couple that I hadn’t got around to yet (Cindy Morgan and Sara Groves) and will be giving a fresh listen to Dear Wormwood.

Picking #1 would be a tough call for me between AP and Garrels. Both albums affected me in a way few things do (and both for the good).  I am very thankful to God for the gifts He has given us in these two.

While “Into the Sea” (Attalus) may be a bit heavy at times for inclusion in a list dominated by folk-ish artists, it stands out in my mind as one of the more original sounding, well written and personally impactful albums.  “Death Be Not Proud” will likely end up as my song of the year. 

The other MIA, in my opinion, would be “Lands and People” (Bill Mallonee).

MidWestSeive 09:41 PM Wed, Dec 30, 2015

Fabulous list. With favorites there are always those that I’ve heard of and listened to lots and also soon to be new favorites that I haven’t listened to yet. You can never go wrong with an Under the Radar list!
Love Sandra McCracken’s Psalms as well, Nicole.
Not as big of a fan of #10. Possibly because my first listen to it was in my office at church. I had to turn it off because it was a little distracting to worship planning. grin I do love what Gungor is doing during this season. Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, Cindy Morgan, Jon Foreman…love them all. Great list. Thanks again.

Rebekah Maddux El-Hakam 10:23 PM Wed, Dec 30, 2015

My top 10 list is in no particular order

Elenowen - for the taking
Sara Groves - floodplain
Amanda Cook - brave new world
Cindy Morgan - bows & arrows
May Kearny - Just Kids
gungor- one wild life
Drew Holcomb &TN; - medicine
Jon foreman - the shadowlands
Lauren Daigle - how Can It Be
Josh Garrells - Home

I’m really surprised that I haven’t seen Elenowen on any best of 2015 lists. In my opinion they are right up there with the likes of Drew Holcomb.  I would place their album somewhere in my top 5 for sure.

I also really wanted to put Audrey Assad on my list, but realized she didn’t release anything this year. 

I very briefly listened to a song or two from Sandra McCrackens Paslms album.  Based on the recommendations here, I plan to give it a more thorough listen.

I liked the Grey Havens on first listen because it was unique, but for me, it hasn’t warranted the repeat listens that these other albums have. I feel like they need a few more years to hone their craft to become a little more seasoned.

avtsellers 12:55 AM Thu, Dec 31, 2015

Love Sara Groves new album. 
I guess I am going to have to give “Dear Wormwood” another listen.  I didn’t care for it when I previewed it.

Jeff C 07:58 AM Thu, Dec 31, 2015

So glad to see Jon Foreman and The Lone Bellow on the list. Sara Groves is always top notch. I had not heard that Cindy Morgan released new music, so I will have to check that out now.

Chris Oakes 08:21 AM Thu, Dec 31, 2015

Good list! I’ll have to check out The Oh Hellos and The Gray Havens. I couldn’t get into AP’s new album (and I own and love several of his CDs). Here are my Top 11 Gourmet Albums:
1. Jon Foreman - Wonderlands
2. Gungor - One Wild Life: Soul
3. Matthew Perryman Jones: Cold Answer
4. Josh Garrels: Home
5. Mat Kearney: Just Kids
6. Dustin Kensrue: Carry The Fire
7. Sandra McCraken: Psalms
8. John & Sarah McMillian
9. Sara Groves: Flood Plains
10. Drew Holcomb: Medicine
11. Waterdeep: Waterdeep

RevRalph 08:24 AM Thu, Dec 31, 2015

I totally agree with the choice of Burning Edge of Dawn as #1.  Such great stuff from AP as always.  I’ll definitely be delving into the other albums on the list as well.

I was a little surprised that Rend Collective’s new album As Family We Go didn’t get any mentions, even in the full list of albums cited by the critics.  I think there are very few artists that bring as much lyrical depth to modern worship music as they do.

bookwormans 12:01 PM Thu, Dec 31, 2015

My first reaction to the list was how surprised I was that Sufjan was all the way down at #10. While all the picks are rock solid, I don’t know that I would label them all extraordinary in my opinion. I would label the releases by Sufjan & The Oh Hellos as extraordinary. I had a really difficult year this year and Sufjan’s album, along with “The Shadow Can’t Have Me” by Arthur Alligood were great therapy albums for me.  I definitely agree with the inclusion of Josh Garrels, Gray Havens, Lone Bellow, and Gungor. My other favorite releases this year in no particular order were from: Bill Mallonee, Waterdeep, Dustin Kensrue, mewithoutyou, Sandra McCracken, Doug Burr, The Vespers, Liz Vice, Seryn, MuteMath, 6’10, The Brilliance, Neal Morse, Pacific Gold, & The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus.

fillpower86 12:11 PM Thu, Dec 31, 2015

Each and every one of the Albums you picked appeal to me. I love my music. It for me is relaxing and at times moving. I believe that 2016 will be even more exciting in the world of Christian music. I can’t wait!!!!

soundbite00 03:33 PM Thu, Dec 31, 2015

Really loved the many great comments above. There was such a multitude of outstanding albums this year that it was inevitable some would get left out. I agree with how good the Sandra McCracken, Bill Mallonee, Arthur Alligood, Dustin Kensrue, mewithoutyou, and many other albums were. Also 2015 releases from Ben Pasley (Elemental), Joel Ansett (The Nature of Us), forBrothers (Fool), Jess Ray (Sentimental Creatures), and Melody Olson (Controlled Burn) are all worth checking out. I am sure I am forgetting some…

Larry S 09:22 PM Sat, Jan 02, 2016

I own #1 and #2, and they definitely belong on this list. I guess Andy Gullahorn’s newest is only released to Kickstarter backers for 2015 (everyone else in early 2016), so I’ll look for it on this list next year (it’s so good!). I haven’t heard the remaining albums, so I’ll have to take a good look/listen at at least a few. I’m kind of excited to have so many picks be new to me!

Jenn C 10:14 PM Wed, Jan 06, 2016

Great List. I’m a diehard AP fan and will always call his albums #1. But, Jon Foremans project is in my opinion the best non-AP work released in the last couple of years. Drew HOlcomb, Sara Groves, Josh Garrells and Sufjan all released great projects too. I haven’t listened to the others.

I was surprised to not see Ben Rector or Jenny and Tyler in this list or on the Honorable Mention List.

Thanks as always for a great list! 12:18 PM Tue, Jan 12, 2016

Of course, The Burning Edge needed to be #1 on the list. Those songs have given a voices to many of the cries of my heart. Besides that album, I own three others on this list: Fire and Stone, Bows and Arrows, and Medicine. I love The Gray Havens stories and images in their songs.

I need to buy Floodplain, Dear Wormwood, and The Wonderlands. Those were albums I heard much about but did not get around to purchasing in 2015.

hollyberryd 10:52 AM Fri, Jan 15, 2016

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