Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2015
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?