You’d think picking a list of our ten favorite new artists would be a cinch, but 2001 saw an unusually high number of talented artist debuts. After picking our favorites, there were still five more we wished we could have included. This is surely an indication that the Christian music industry isn’t hurting for new talent! It’s our pleasure to share with you some of the fresh new faces in Christian music — why we love them and how we think they’ll grow in years to come. The artists are listed in no particular order, and clicking on their image will take you to the original album review.
You have to like Matt’s personable and humble attitude at his newfound success as a recording artist — “Who me? A rock star?” It’s this humility and his heart for God that make him perfectly suited to lead worship, and because he’s been doing so for years at his home church’s growing modern worship service, he’s a proven grassroots artist as well. His debut album,
The Light in Guinevere’s Garden (Floodgate/Epic)
In the hardcore music scene, bands stereotypically scream the vocals unintelligibly at the top of their lungs while recycling the same roaring guitar and drum patterns throughout the entire CD. Thankfully, East West came along this year to prove a hard-rock album doesn’t have to stick with that formula. Certainly the roaring bombast is present, but melodic modern rock also infiltrates the project in various spots. East West is also in a wonderful position to spread their spiritual message to the masses, thanks to their mainstream record contract. The group has the potential to follow a similar course as P.O.D., and could grow even more if they break up the hard-driving beats with additional glimpses of modern rock and more prevalent acoustic arrangements on future projects.
Katy Hudson (Red Hill)
This is a surprisingly sophisticated and mature debut from a 17-year-old who’s capable of reaching multiple age groups even beyond her teenage fan base. Katy’s songwriting is probing and intelligent, blending alternative pop, rock, and jazz into a distinct sound in Christian music. And it’s all her own since she wrote or co-wrote every song on the album. Her killer vocal range perfectly suits the musical moods and styles she creates, though at times her vocals get a little out of control. We hope Katy finds a new home with a record label now that Red Hill and Pamplin have shut their doors, and it would be great to pair her with a vocally savvy producer for her next album (perhaps John Elefante?). Katy’s exuberant personality and insightful music make her memorable both on and off stage, and we see her becoming one of Christian music’s most fascinating songwriters in the years to come.
Invitation to Eavesdrop (Rocketown)
He may be new to the scene, but Shaun Groves seems like an old friend as he invites listeners to eavesdrop into some very personal, but all-around applicable, dialogue with God. Groves balances his deep, provocative conversations with the Creator with lighthearted and simple themes. Musically, the contrast ranges from upbeat pop/rock jams to peaceful acoustic reflections. We hope he’ll lean towards his more introspective lyrics in the future, simply so he can avoid sounding too similar to other popular male singer/songwriters these days. Perhaps even greater than his music is his integrity and character. After spending only a few moments with Groves, it’s easy to see that he holds on loosely to his status as an entertainer and would be just as happy in any ministry position.
Karaoke Superstars (Inpop)
Superchic[k] is a fun band with a great live show. Even with only two girls in the eight-member band, they’ve helped make “girl rock” cool in Christian music, succeeding where other artists have failed. But more importantly, Superchic[k] is in touch with their audience, evidenced in their socially relevant songs, their outspoken faith and wisdom in concert, and the way they connect with audience members after the show. It’d be nice if Superchic[k] could find the same sassy edge as mainstream counterparts Garbage and No Doubt — lead vocalist Tricia Brock seems capable of more emotion and energy in her singing. They may well evolve into something even more clever in time, but we’re all too happy with Superchic[k] so far … a band that proves Christian girls just want to have fun too.
Born Again (Word)
Previously known for touring the country as a lead guitarist for several well-known acts (his most recent outing was with Jaci Velasquez), Pete Orta stepped off the road and into the studio to create this fantastic debut recording.
Like Katy Hudson, Paige displays a remarkable maturity in her spiritual life and in her songwriting. Brent Bourgeois, producer and A&R executive for Word Records, is quoted as saying that Paige’s music is a textbook example of how good songs get written. With one listen to this album, you hear what he means. Her alternative pop sound is just as enjoyable as that of Alanis Morrissette or Michelle Branch, giving Paige a wide appeal. What’s most remarkable is that Paige is fairly new at this — she learned how to play the guitar and started writing songs only a few years ago. (Can you say “prodigy,” boys and girls?) If only this album was getting the attention it deserves — it’s packed with radio singles, but we have yet to hear them on the local radio stations. This is a talent who’s only going to get better with age, experience, and improved production.
Invade My Soul (Fervent)
By the Tree is not new to the touring and recording circuit (they’ve done so independently for the last few years), but
Joy Williams (Reunion)
At a mere 18 years of age, Joy Williams demonstrates a significant amount of maturity and vocal eloquence on her self-titled debut project. The disc is filled with an engaging song selection, biblical truths, and a glossy blend of teen pop and contemporary balladry. Williams fits in the teen female singer category with the likes of ZOEgirl and Rachael Lampa, who are also relative newcomers possessing a wide vocal range and vibrant stage presence. Like those acts, Williams is a wonderful example to her peer group who also appeals to an older audience thanks to a handful of contemporary arrangements. That will be a challenging balance to maintain in the future, but as long as Williams stays on the innovative side of the spectrum, constantly mixing things up and reaching beyond expectations, we think she’ll have no problem developing into a career artist.
If we haven’t told you enough already, this is hands-down our favorite debut of 2001. The band has a great sound that has a wide appeal — fans of Vertical Horizon, Jars of Clay, Train, Lifehouse, The Jayhawks, and Del Amitri should love them. Plus they’re talented all around, featuring a great blend of guitar rock with conventional keyboards and gorgeous string arrangements, and two superb lead vocalists to boot. The album is extremely well-produced by the band and Nathan Nockels of Watermark. Most of all, we love downhere’s songwriting, which is catchy and rocking, yet thoughtful and inspiring. These are great songs of worship and of desire to trust God through all things. We hope these guys will continue to gain an audience in the months ahead, and that they’ll continue to blaze new artistic trails on future albums, without altering their sound too much. If they could score a tour with Jars of Clay or Third Day, they’d be golden.