Several Christian music industry insiders called 2000 “the year of the new artist.” That’s an accurate description — there were a lot of debuts this year. Below we present to you our picks for the best new artists of the year, how they’ve impacted the industry, and how we think they can improve for their future projects.
Everyone’s raving about Earthsuit for one reason in particular: they’re a truly original band, and that’s a rarity in Christian music. You can’t categorize their sound by a single genre, and the closest artist I can compare them to is dc talk, another very eclectic group with a sometimes unique mix of styles. Earthsuit is a blend of P.O.D.‘s guitar-driven hardcore-rap, the Euro-reggae of UB40, and the Rhodes electric piano laced pop-jazz of Steely Dan. And yes, amazingly enough, it works! I also find Earthsuit an impressive band lyrically, offering smart and creative expressions of the Gospel that are neither vague nor cliched. Earthsuit is certainly not for everyone — some are sure to find them a little too hard or too weird — and I personally would like them to write songs that are a bit more melodic and easily memorable. And though their musicianship is solid, Earthsuit could throw some more impressive instrumental work into their music. They rely more on establishing grooves than on performing elaborate solos. But nothing stimulates the mental palette like a new, unique sounding band, and Earthsuit’s got the potential to leave a long-lasting impact in Christian music, if not the mainstream.
Once in a while an artist comes along who has the ability to draw people who might not otherwise listen to his genre of music. Andrew does that with this acoustic folk project. “Nothing To Say” is probably his best-known song, and it could be a song-of-the-year candidate. Other highlights include the intricate, guitar driven “Shiloh,” and “The Chasing Song,” which has some of the best lyrics on the album. When an album strongly features one main instrument, the songs can sound more or less the same. A few songs seem to pair up on this CD, but the lyrics are so strong that each track keeps its own identity. I hope his next album does what
When I first saw PR photos for Salvador before their album was released, I cringed — “Oh boy, Ricky Martin meets the Backstreet Boys … the Christian version of Menudo.” An important lesson: NEVER judge an artist by the photo. What a pleasant surprise it was to discover that Salvador is nothing close to a “boy band.” They are instead a talented group of guys who write fusion Latin-rock with a strong praise & worship focus. At times their sound recalls the music of Santana, and often they reminded me of Burlap to Cashmere (only with Latin roots instead of Greek). For their next project, I’d like to see Salvador develop and showcase their instrumental skills more (a lot of the guitar solos on Salvador’s debut were not performed by the band members). Also, I personally found their praise & worship lyrics at times to be a little too clichéd, though on some tracks they are as inspiring as anything I’ve heard. Since Burlap to Cashmere’s future is uncertain, I’m glad we have Salvador to step in as a band with a widely accessible sound, yet offering something unique to Christian music. You can’t help but get up and dance!
“Funkabilly.” “Rockabilly.” It was one of these terms that Nicole kept using to describe her music to me earlier this year. If those words have meanings, then the songs on this collection are the definitions. The album explores a lot of different styles (Funk, R&B, black gospel, folk, and “hillbilly” — sometimes all in one song), and does each quite well. The defining moment on this project is the instant classic, “My Redeemer.” It’s not overproduced, and the strings accompany her voice, which is featured best on this song. It’s a tune you won’t easily forget. Nicole is more than a pop singer (she wrote Jaci Valesquez‘s “On My Knees,” for which she won a Dove Award), and it’ll be interesting to see if she’ll stick to one style on her next album or if she’ll introduce a whole new blend. Then let’s call up Webster’s and add her new words and definitions in the next edition.
Don’t be fooled. Mark Schultz is a deceptively simple artist with a lot of depth to his songwriting. Sure, his brand of pop music sounds a lot like Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman. But the truth is, few artists are able to sing, play piano, write songs (music and lyrics) and do all three of those things as well as Mark. His lyrics are reminiscent of great storyteller songwriters like Harry Chapin and James Taylor. His music is filled with pop hooks and atypical chord progressions (again like Michael W. Smith), and he’s just as capable of belting out a rocker (“Let’s Go” and “Legend Of McBride”) as he is at singing over a soaring power ballad (“He’s My Son” and “When You Come Home”). Kudos to producer-of-the-year (in my opinion) Monroe Jones for helping craft a fine modern pop album. Will Mark continue to write pop songs as solid as those found here? Will he write with more diversity and rely less on standard ballads with his next album? Can he break out of the Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman mold? Time will tell, the masses are watching closely, and I personally can’t wait to find out.
“Let no one despise your youth … ” (1 Tim. 4:12). We apply this verse to many areas of the Christian life, but seldom to musicians. Without thinking twice, we can discount a teenager who starts her career about the time we were bogged down by homework, not a tour schedule. Rachael is a strong talent no matter how young she is. Her debut album had a marketing machine behind it, including stops on the Tonight Show, and the World Youth Day in Rome, Italy. But even if the “machine” wasn’t present, this project has its own legs to stand on. Track one starts off with the haunting, Middle-Eastern flavored, “Day of Freedom,” and then moves into the radio-friendly-but-well-done song, “Live for You.” Influences from other artists clearly come through on the album such as Jaci Valesquez on “God Loves You,” Christian Aguilera (her voice, not her lyrical content), Mariah Carey (check out “Always Be My Home”), and Crystal Lewis. Her “soul side” comes out to play on her personal favorite “Blessed.” That’s only the first half of the album — I’ll let you discover the rest on your own.
Technically Kendall’s first album was released last year. But despite participation in the high-profile Lilith Fair tour and the use of her song “Supermodels” for the theme song of the television show Popular, no one’s taken much notice of her. That is, not until she switched this year to Sparrow records for distribution of her album to the Christian market. Since then, Kendall has slowly been gaining attention, thanks in part to a tour with Audio Adrenaline as well as the success of the single “Closer To Myself.” Here’s an artist who had a hand in writing all of her songs, plays guitar, and can sing with the best of them. Her songs are intensely personal, sometimes biographical, and often relating to experiences of friends. It’s a knockout of a debut! About the only thing I can be critical of on
There’s an abundance of praise & worship in Christian music today, compared to just a year ago. Many of us are hesitant to be critical of praise & worship, since it’s a genre of music specifically written to honor God. We should hold a high standard to praise music! That’s why Tree63’s American debut album deserves recognition — it’s done with reverent artistic excellence. The lyrics are intelligent, original, and rooted in Christian truths. Here’s hoping this trio is fully embraced by the U.S. audience for many years, and albums, to come.
(Artist commentaries written by Russ Breimeier and Mike Herman.)