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Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2016

posted: January 6th, 2017 by Dave Trout

This is one of our favorite UTR traditions - to honor the best of the best music from the year gone by.  Our honors are not for popularity, sales, or radio spins - our 10-member panel of critics voted on releases that were truly creative, honest, spiritual, & artistic.  A lot of records are worthy for consideration for this list... in fact, our critics cited 62 albums total as Top 11 recommendations, but these finalists are the ones that were mentioned multiple times.  No it's not easy to make this list - especially when combining the collective feedback of 10 music connoisseurs. We are excited to present... The Top Gourmet Albums of 2016. [Albums qualified for consideration if the recording was made by Christian artists, contained over 50% new songs/arrangements, & released between 12/1/15 and 12/1/16.]    

1. Fault Lines - Andy Gullahorn

We think the secret is out... Andy Gullahorn is one of Nashville's finest songwriters.  The layered acoustic melodies, the authentic lyrics, and those classic Gullahorn "turns" (where he takes you from laughter to tears in just seconds) are all on full display here on Fault Lines. One UTR critic called this release "a raw and honest look at humanity & its desperate need for grace." Another stated, "This is a master class in the art of musical storytelling."  Fault Lines is THE best album of 2016!

2. Where The Light Shines Through - Switchfoot

Fine wine. Poets. Cathedrals. Baseball cards. Some things naturally seem to get better with age. Rock bands are usually not on this list, but Switchfoot is.  Instead of chasing the nostalgic sounds of a former glory, they keep growing and evolving as incredible artists. One of our panelists says Where The Light Shines Through is "arguably the band's strongest release to date." Another described it as "thoughtful lyrics, punchy hooks, and a crisp sound that continues to explore new territory."

3. Hard Love - Needtobreathe

"This is one of the most meaningful albums I've ever heard." Our critics adored the latest effort by Needtobreathe, which was (justifiably so) the most commercially successful album on this list. One critic said, "Full of groove, great horns, amazing vocals, and thoughtful lyrics, Hard Love stands the test of repeated listens."  Another chimed in, "This might be the most mood-changing album this year. The synth, grungy beats, soul, and wall of sound on Hard Love can brighten anyone's day."

4. Far Side of the Sea - Eric Peters

Eric described this album as "an intentional left turn." Producer Gabe Scott said "that was a rule, not just an idea." They pushed each other to not make any predictable musical and production choices, and the result has been described by our own panel as "breathtaking," "ambitious," and "mesmerizing." As one of our critics stated, "Of course the lyricism is fantastic as ever, but the epic electronic soundscapes breathe plenty of fresh life into these songs."

5. Where The Light Gets In - Jason Gray

Jason Gray's previous album dealt with pain and heartache, and here we get the natural expression after walking out of darkness and into light... joy.  Some of the production choices are clearly aimed at a CCM audience, yet what truly shines is the excellent songwriting. As one UTR panelist described, "His most joyful and fun record-to-date mixes thoughtful songwriting with catchy hooks." Another said, "It may be his career best work. Gray wears happy well."

6. House On Fire - Kerosene Halo

"These guys offer well-crafted, unpretentioius music that is sure to delight fans of classic country rock." Derri Daugherty of The Choir and Michael Roe of the 77s team up to form this side project, Kerosene Halo, and we finally get the follow up to their 2011 debut. One UTR critic stated, "House on Fire is one of the under-rated highlights of the year." Another agreed, "This quiet and soulful record would have knocked me out even if the ones behind it weren't musical legends."


7. White Flag - Branches

Gritty yet singable. Thoughtful yet relatable. Indie yet commercially viable.  It's not easy to describe the jaw-dropping new album White Flag by Branches. Rawckus Magazine described the sound as "think Peter, Paul & Mary singing Arcade Fire tunes." One panelist said, "The whole album is around the theme of surrender - very catchy songs, and at times very psalm-like." Another wrote, "This mature and layered record will 'wow' you on first listen, and even gets better after that."

8. Ghost of a King - The Gray Havens

"It feels like the soundtrack to a familiar story you haven't read yet." Our critics instantly fell in love with this April 2016 release, the third career project by The Gray Havens. This fan-funded album was produced by Ben Shive and gives a more epic tone to these well-written songs. One UTR panelist described it as "a stirring collection of songs with folk sensibility and rich, layered soundscapes." Another stated, "Ghost of a King will take your ears and heart on a memorable journey."

9. Inheritance - Audrey Assad

These are not your grandma's hymns. Well... actually they are, but these new arrangements are as sweeping as a movie soundtrack. Here's how one critic described Inheritance, "Floating and crystal clear vocals are supported by a lush bed of instrumentation - sweeping and beautiful."  Another explained, "Audrey's vocals will soothe your soul - all of the songs are reverent and worshipful."  This project might be the perfect compliment to your personal time of prayer and worship.

10. American Prodigal - Crowder

This is the 2nd release of David Crowder's new band, and there is no sophomore slump here. Their unique swamp-pop/folktronica style will have your feet stomping with a smile on your face. You'll find some worship songs, some of them will gain some CCM radio airplay, but it's the more grunge-Americana songs that are the true gems.  One panelist said, "David Crowder once told me he wanted to blend the front porch with the dance floor. Mission accomplished."

11. God's Highway - Sandra McCracken

Over much of the last 2 decades, Sandra McCracken has quietly become one of the most prolific songwriters & psalmists of our generation - especially in her contributions to a "new sound" of worship in the Church. One critic shared this about God's Highway: "McCracken's voice has found a natural home amongst Scripture songs, and this album is lovely." Another said, "So beautiful. Several of these songs bring water to my eyes whenever I try to sing along."


Are these the only GREAT albums from 2016? Of course not -- but these 11 are a great place to start for high quality soul-enriching music.  And though the Critics picks were widdled into this collective Top 11 list, a total of 62 ALBUMS were cited by our panel -- and you can read the entire list here!

On January 9 & 10 respectively, we will be releasing an audio podcast and a video feature sharing this Top 11 list. Of course, these types of lists can spark good conversations. Answer one of these questions [or both] in the comment section below, and we will draw one random commentor to receive a $25 iTunes Gift Card on 1/31/17.
          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 (25)

Nice list guys!  Some are pretty mainstream (surprisingly, yet not unfairly) and I know well and enjoy, others are I’m anxious to check out sometime.  Really glad Assad’s is on here, even though there are just a few originals on Hymns, it’s stunning.  And she puts a welcome spotlight on some of the Church’s liturgical treasures.
  I will say, I was surprised Kings Kaleidescope’s “Beyond Control” did not come up in any discussion, thought their sophomore attempt was very well done—powerful, honest, gutsy.
Young Oceans’ Voices Vol. was wonderful too, but it’s more of a compilation so I don’t know if it meets the criteria.
I definitely want to look into Andy Gullahorn, Eric Peters, and Sandra McCracken because I have not listened to them yet.  Thanks all!

DaveLayser 08:24 PM Fri, Jan 06, 2017

Great list! I’ll be checking out a few that I missed (like Branches and Eric Peters). I was really hoping to see Maron Gaffron’s “Holding Pattern” on the list. That album is outstanding! I hope it at least received consideration.

RevRalph 11:31 AM Sat, Jan 07, 2017

Maron Gaffon’s album was one of the 62 albums cited by the critics panel. There is a link to the list near the bottom of this blog post. I agree that Holding Pattern is excellent!

Larry S 02:01 PM Sat, Jan 07, 2017

Great list!!  These’s only one on your list that was new to me (White Flag - Branches) and I’ll be taking care of that shortly.  I’m missing the podcast, I’m looking forward to what the new year holds.

TJHouse 02:54 PM Sat, Jan 07, 2017

Honestly…I thought the list was too predictable. And 3 of the 5 in the top 5 probably wouldn’t make my top 30. I, too will be looking up White Branches. #6 is likely my #1. I also wonder how a multi-hued album like “Beyond Control” didn’t get more votes. And Maron’s great record.

Shawnuel 06:27 PM Mon, Jan 09, 2017

My top 10 albums for 2016 (or eps)
1. Srvcina - Lover. Fighter. EP
2. Switchfoot - where the Light Shines Through
3. Audrey Assad - Inheritance
4. The Gray Havens - ghost of a King
5.Crowder - American Prodigal
6. Gungor - One Wild Life - Body (& Spirit)
7. All Sons & Daughters - Poets & Saints
8. Future of Forestry - Awakened to the sound
9. Jon Guerra - working demos 2
10. Citizens & Saints - A Mirror Dimly

Honorable Mention
Young Oceans - Voices, Vol. 1
Unspoken - follow through
Shel - Just crazy enough
Jordan Feliz - The River
Dave Barnes – Carry On San Vicente
Paper Route - Real Emotion

27 Favorite songs of 2016

1. Judah & the Lion - Stockholm
2. Shel - You Could Be My Baby
3. Corey Kilgannon - Rosanna
4. Srvcina - Lover, Fighter
5. The Afters - Live on Forever
6. The Gray Havens - Diamonds & Gold
7. Brooke Fraser - St. Petersburg
8. Colony House - Lonely
9. Citizens & Saints - Day by Day
10.  Todd Smith (w/ Ellie Holcomb) - Right Where I Belong
11. Unspoken - higher
12. Unspoken- Open the Clouds
13. All Sons & Daughters - You Hold it All Together
14. Jon Guerra - the cure
15. Jon Guerra - No Strings Attached
16. Switchfoot - Live it Well
17. Switchfoot - Shake This Feeling
18. Crowder - Shouting Grounds
19. Crowder - Praise the Lord
20. Gungor - let bad religion die
21. Gungor - lovely broken
22. Dave Barnes -Sunset Santa Fe
23. Future of Forestry - On Giants Shoulders
24. Future of Forestry - Life Begins Today
25. Audrey Asad – holy, holy, holy
26. Paper Route - Chariots
27. For King and Country - Priceless

Honorable mention

Citizens & saints - madness, faith
All sons and daughters – I surrender
Matthew Parker - heaven calling

I’ve been wanting to buy the Sandra McCracken album but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I haven’t followed Eric Peters or Branches much, but I will have to give them a listen. Another under the radar album I haven’t listened to yet but know you’ve played her music before is Staci Frenes.

avtsellers 06:47 PM Mon, Jan 09, 2017

Also, I always loved the 77s back in the late 80s, early 90s, so I will check out Kerosene.

avtsellers 06:49 PM Mon, Jan 09, 2017

We’ve enjoyed inheritance greatly as a family. Have had my eyes on Fault Lines and Ghost of a King, and will probably get both of those to start the new year.

Michael 09:14 PM Mon, Jan 09, 2017

Great list…wonderful to see Andy Gullahorn at the top of the list.  My wife and I saw the Gray Havens live this year - disappointed by the size of the crowd, but an amazing concert, and thankful to see you recognizing them for their talent.  Now, I’m a sucker for Christmas music, but I have to say I would have included Josh Garrels’ Christmas album this year right up there with my other favorites this year!  God Bless and thanks for another great year!

mschmaldienst 08:56 AM Tue, Jan 10, 2017

Really enjoyed the episode, Dave. Faultlines, Where the Light Gets In and Ghost of a King (as well as a heavy dose of Slugs and Bugs). Have been a large part of our soundtrack during 2016.

David L 01:12 PM Wed, Jan 11, 2017

So glad that Brettan Cox got an honorable mention. Beautiful music. This is indeed my favorite part of UTR - the Year end wrap-up. Andy Gullahorn and Eric Peters have been constant companions this whole year, so I’m delighted to see them at the top of the list.

jasontodd 02:18 PM Wed, Jan 11, 2017

It was a good year for music. Switchfoot was probably my favorite,with Needtobreathe, Crowder, Sandra McCracken, and the Gray Havens not far behind. I like Andy Gullahorn but haven’t listened to his new album yet, so maybe I will have to check it out.

rlsimpson2 05:10 PM Thu, Jan 12, 2017

I love Audrey Assad’s Inheritance album, but I haven’t heard the other albums yet. I look forward to listening to the rest of the albums, as one of my new year’s resolution was to broaden my scope of music and artists. I love reading the other comments and hope to check everyone’s favorite songs!

imajewell 11:35 AM Sat, Jan 14, 2017

WooHOO! It’s mid-January and I’m still working on taking down the Christmas tree. I’m gonna hook up the Top 11 of 2016 podcast to my sound system and crank it while I do this most unpleasant task. I love many of these artists, but quite a few I’m not familiar with, and I’ve only heard one of these albums (Ghost of a King) and I have one on it’s way to me via mail (American Prodigal). I have no doubt a lot of these will land on my “must have” list.

OK…off to listen! Thanks UTR!!

Sharon 12:05 PM Sat, Jan 14, 2017

Great list! There are a few that I still need to check out so thanks for the recommendations!

Thank you for including Audrey Assad and Sandra McCracken. Both great records!

swatson 12:08 PM Sat, Jan 14, 2017

I just recently discovered The Gray Havens, and I LOVE Ghost of a King. Fav tracks: 3, 6, 7. Second fav tracks: 2, 9. :D

But my favorite album from 2016 was Love Be the Loudest. Best song: The Fire.

rmlulich 05:11 PM Sat, Jan 14, 2017

Thanks for the tip on the Andy Gullahorn album. I’m loving it. My favorite albums of the year were Assad and McCracken’s latest offerings.

Catherine Parks 12:02 PM Mon, Jan 16, 2017

I own 1,4,9 and 11.
I haven’t listened to 9 and 11 all the way through yet, but I already know I will love them.
I’m sure I will love the others on the list as well. I know where to apply my gift card if I win. 02:16 PM Mon, Jan 16, 2017

Love the list. Thanks so much!

thestandefer5 08:44 AM Wed, Jan 18, 2017

Nice list. I’ve really enjoyed Audrey Assad’s album and as a dad that has lost three children to a genetic condition, Eric Peter’s song Beautiful One (Nowhere) is especially powerful. Thanks for exposing me to his music.

I listened to the podcast and see that a sampler from Branches is available on noisetrade. My afternoon listening is set.

Weibs 12:41 PM Wed, Jan 18, 2017

Good selections.  I Kickstarted a few of those so it’s good to know I have good taste in music too.

Kman81 02:41 PM Sat, Jan 21, 2017

I never got around to listening to Fault Lines, even though I heard about it so much at the Rabbit Room. I’ll have to check that out soon.
The Ghost of a King album was almost all I listened to this fall; it’s one of my favorite albums ever. So glad to see it here. I bought the first half of Far Side of the Sea as well and it’s been playing a lot around the house (strongly reminds me of Owl City’s sound—nostalgia for anyone else??).
Also, I’ve only heard Audrey Assad’s voice on the UTR samplers, but her music is so beautiful.
Great list!

winterfinch 10:06 AM Mon, Jan 23, 2017

Branches is a new find for me! Thanks!

jordol 10:28 AM Mon, Jan 23, 2017

So glad to see Fault Lines at the top.  Gullahorn has been one of my favorites for years now. 

I see the Rabbit Room fellows made a significant impact in 2016!

Thanks for this.  Always highly anticipated.

stuffofstories 07:07 PM Tue, Jan 24, 2017

The Gray Havens have been a steady back drop of sound thru this fall and winter as has Andy Gullahorns album. I love love love his song “Is It Real?” In which the lyrics “there’s a man who looks like Donald Trump” opens up the vivid imagery of this song and album. I have also loved Giants and Pilgrims “Almanac”, sorry to not see it here.  I enjoyed the video you did to highlight these records and will be checking out Sir Eric and Sandra McCracken soon. 08:37 AM Wed, Jan 25, 2017

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