Every year, we offer our list of the year’s 12 most impressive worship albums, calling attention to music we believe will most bless the church and draw hearts closer to God. Our annual list remains unranked (listed alphabetically by artist’s last name) to avoid implying that one form of worship is better than another. The finalists are typically selected based on creativity and originality as it relates to encouraging Christians to worship their Creator—through song or private contemplation.

But this year, many worship albums were concerned less with original songwriting and more with spirited presentation. The year included more than a dozen albums featuring new arrangements of old hymns, as well as recordings that reworked familiar worship standards with new energy and inspiration. These CDs reflect a growing tendency toward “blended worship” in the church, crossing generational, denominational and style-of-music barriers to bring together the worshiping body of Christ.

Men and Angels Say

Ashley Cleveland (Rambler Records)Read the original review here.

The first of this year’s parade of hymn projects comes from one of Christian music’s most highly regarded yet vastly underrated artists. Ashley Cleveland generally doesn’t over-contemporize these hymns, nor does she keep them too traditional and dry. The album succeeds because it sounds fresh while remaining true to the spirit and melody of the source material. Cleveland’s signature vocal, drenched in passion and grit, carries over arrangements performed in her comfortable mix of roots rock, blues, and folk. Many of this year’s hymns albums share similarities, but there are subtle differences to their source of inspiration. In Cleveland’s case, she’s drawn to the unifying power of hymns and the way they bring everyone in a room to attention. There’s power to the songs of old, and these heartfelt renditions are indeed proof of that.

Alive Forever

Travis Cottrell (Hosanna!/Integrity)Read the original review here.

Alive Forever is the perfect example of how to do “blended worship” right. There are few originals here, but the album’s strength is its mix of styles and traditions, ranging from modern worship, traditional hymns, gospel, orchestrated choir pieces—all beautifully balanced without letting it get too wild or stale. You get the impression that nothing is routine at Cottrell’s church; the phrase that’s not how we usually do it doesn’t apply. Despite the choir and orchestra, it’s an example of what an average worship team can do to energize their church’s music program. While song quality and originality are certainly important qualities in offering praise to God, worshiping with sincerity and excellence matters even more.

A Collision

David Crowder Band (sixsteps/EMI)Read the original review here.

The most original worship album since … well, let’s just say A Collision deserves to join a short list of pivotal worship albums that includes Delirious‘ Cutting Edge, Sonicflood‘s self-titled debut, and the City on a Hill series. This epic album blends pop and rock worship conventions with glimpses of alt-folk, bluegrass, and gospel spiritual. Wildly ambitious, intriguingly varied, melodically infectious, lyrically reverent, and remarkably thought-provoking, it’s hard to determine whether or not David Crowder Band is trying to be as idiosyncratic and stimulating as they seem, or if they’re simply expressing love to their Creator the best way they know how. Probably both, but one thing is certain: A Collision rewrites the rules for creativity in worship, and should thus be commended for it. No, it’s not really designed for a corporate worship setting, but you’ve most likely never heard an artistic expression of worship as inventive as this.

Zion Rejoice

Faithful Central (Integrity Gospel)Read the original review here.

In a year when worship labels in general seemed to shy away from church-based worship albums, it’s refreshing that Integrity’s gospel branch stepped up to deliver this funky-yet-reverent congregational recording. Essentially the gospel equivalent to Hillsong Australia, but more energetic, Faithful Central Church sports an impressive choir with spirit to spare and a ridiculously talented band. This is a celebration of diverse musical styles, represented by a rhythmically buoyant version of contemporary worship staple “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” an exhilarating Latin-spiced “We Sing Hallelujah,” and the thrilling horn-driven gospel funk of the title track. An excellent gospel album for people who don’t typically like gospel music, and a creative extension into contemporary praise and worship for those who typically do, this album will surely add new flavor to your worship collection.

Look to You

Hillsong United (Hillsong/Integrity)Read the original review here.

This was the year that Hillsong Australia’s youth worship band United stepped up to become its church’s new source of creativity, originality, and most of all, unbridled energy for the Lord. If you need proof, simply note that the catchiest songs on recent live albums from the adult worship team were originally written and performed on United’s projects. You can similarly expect several of this album’s songs to catch on with modern worship services worldwide. “Tell the World” and “What the World Will Never Take” are examples of insanely catchy modern worship, “There Is Nothing Like” is a soaring praise ballad, and if the anthemic “Shout Unto God” doesn’t get you pumped up, nothing will. This is easily the band’s most fun and accomplished album, not to mention the year’s most productive offering of new songs geared specifically for corporate worship.

Redemption Songs

Jars of Clay (Essential)Read the original review here.

This is the year’s most inventive hymns project, and as the cover art suggests, it’s one that seems to take deeper root after repeated listens. Acclaimed Jars of Clay draws from a wide variety of sources to the delight of musicologists everywhere. Lesser-known hymns like “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” are made fresh with revamped melodies. Familiar favorites such as “It Is Well with My Soul” and “Nothing but the Blood” are energized by contemporary arrangements. And outstanding highlights like “God Will Lift Up Your Head” and “Hiding Place” set old texts to original music for the first time. Performed with Jars’ newfound love of refined Americana rock and alt-folk, these Redemption Songs are simultaneously old and new, providing a musical link to our heritage of faith and celebrating centuries of hymnody.

God of Infinite Worth

The Kry (LeKri Music)Read the original review here.

Odds are you’ve either never heard of this Canadian band or else you assumed that they had called it quits years ago. But The Kry (now a duo) has lasted for nearly 15 years, and based on the strength of this album, they’ll hopefully continue for a good while longer. Who would have thought their foray into worship music would be so strong? In essence, it’s Vineyard music meets indie rock—unadorned and stripped-down, but also ambient and atmospheric. Yet despite these strong rock qualities, the songs have strong pop sensibilities with soaring melodies, shimmering harmonies, and a Psalm-like earnestness that would make old-school Maranatha! aficionados smile. Instead of crafting a formulaic pop-praise effort, The Kry have come up with an album that ranks with Delirious and other Brit-styled modern worship artists.


Bart Millard (INO)Read the original review here.

Another from 2005’s supply of new hymns albums, and in some ways also the most impressive. Based on his albums with MercyMe, most would have expected Bart Millard to cover his favorite hymns with his rich vocal tone and familiar acoustic adult contemporary sound. Instead, Hymned renders these timeless classics from the Southern tradition with a remarkable array of styles that range from country and gospel to jazz and funk—all with his rich vocal tone. Admittedly, this is more performance-based than most other worship projects, but it does demonstrate the power of musicianship and arrangement in drawing people to God through music. Additionally, Millard uses Hymned to celebrate the importance of family and tradition to share our faith with future generations.

Passion: How Great Is Our God

Various Artists (sixsteps/EMI)Read the original review here.

The Passion movement seems to be gathering more momentum with every passing year, drawing young adults closer to God through numerous worship conferences and events. How Great Is Our God is the most rocking Passion album to date, and that really is saying something. Fueled primarily by the irresistible melodies of Chris Tomlin and the driving beats of David Crowder Band, among many others, it’s easy to get caught up in the energy of songs like “Here Is Our King,” “Indescribable,” “Whole World in His Hands,” and the title track. Kudos also for featuring the crowd more prominently in the mix, allowing a more infectious live worship experience at home or on the go. As always, Passion remains an excellent snapshot of the latest songs that are currently connecting with the hearts of youth everywhere.

Blessed Be Your Name: The Songs of Matt Redman Vol. 1

Matt Redman (sixsteps/EMI)Read the original review here.

There’s no question that Matt Redman has had a profound influence on the modern worship renaissance of the last ten years with numerous contributions to the songbooks of churches around the world. Still, including a collection of his best-known work might initially seem dubious to some, especially without a single new song on it. However, all 12 tracks on this album were recorded live at a worship conference, and it adds a new level of passion, energy, and in some case, imagination to familiar favorites like “The Heart of Worship, “Let My Words Be Few,” “Once Again,” “Lord, Let Your Glory Fall,” and “Let Everything That Has Breath.” It seems only fitting that we pay tribute to this pivotal worship leader by joining alongside him in giving praise to our Lord and Creator.

I Have to Believe

Rita Springer (Found/Floodgate)Read the original review here.

The best-kept secret in worship music today delivers another impressive recording, this time with a little more polish and a broader range of sounds and ideas. Both the joyously soulful “Rise Up” and the title ballad reveal a gospel-influence that was previously unknown, while the prayerful “O God of Mine” is stylistically closer to Twila Paris. She also adapts covers like Vineyard’s “You’re More Than a Friend” and Delirious‘ “Rain Down” into her own style. Many songs are introspective and not particularly designed for corporate singing, but some like “Captured” (written with Margaret Becker) prove that she’s expressing worship with artistry and vulnerability. It’s high time more people become acquainted with Rita Springer, and this album’s a great place to start, especially since select copies are packaged with a best-of collection titled A Fragrant Offering.

Draw Me Close: Songs of Worship

Kathy Troccoli (Reunion)Read the original review here.

When a Christian pop artist decides to release a worship album, it typically ends up as another routine collection of church favorites. And, well, that’s true here too, but all 16 songs are beautifully rendered with exquisite, stripped down arrangements of piano, guitar, and cello. This is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises, very much like a reflective Wednesday night service led by Kathy Troccoli and a trio of musicians. The song selection transcends time and denomination with covers of hymns, contemporary standards, inspirational favorites, Southern gospel, and even her own “My Life Is in Your Hands,” which sounds perfectly at home here. The gentle atmosphere and seamless flow between songs makes this an effective hour of quiet that truly captures the spirit of worship, and not the spirit of a trend.

Check out our “Best-Of” Archives to see other lists from previous years.Copyright © Christian Music Today. Click for reprint information.

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