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.
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.
Travis Cottrell (Hosanna!/Integrity)Read the original review here.
David Crowder Band (sixsteps/EMI)Read the original review here.
The most original worship album since … well, let’s just say
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.