Writing a blog post about one’s favorite recent Christian albums feels a little bit like writing about the best brands of VCRs for 2015. I’m aware that most people nowadays simply stream their music from Pandora, Amazon, Spotify, or some other service. It is increasingly rare to purchase an album from your favorite artist – or some newly discovered one – and savor it fully.
However, I was one of those kids who used to buy new cassettes, and later CDs, and play them on repeat until I got bored of them or had to replace them. I would grab the liner notes (another sad casualty of our digital age) and eagerly read them while I listened to the songs.
Like many people, my enthusiasm for discovering new music took a hiatus while my children were small, mostly because there was precious little time or quiet space to actually listen to music. I’ve always been a fan of artists whose lyrics are more contemplative and thought-provoking – Rich Mullins is my all-time favorite artist – so identifying music I love requires more concentration and space than I had when there were babies and toddlers at home.
This year, though, I have found or rediscovered a number of artists whose recent albums have deeply impacted me. Here are five new-ish Christian albums that I recommend:
This is hands-down my favorite album of 2015. From the first song to the last, Peterson weaves a story of loss and redemption, pain and healing, and death and resurrection. I’ve listened to it on repeat for several weeks now, and continue to find it deeply moving. Songs like “We Will Survive,” “The Rain Keeps Falling,” and “My One Safe Place” speak poignantly of the joy and sorrow that often permeate one’s middle years of life. Like an Old Testament prophet, Peterson always manages to shine a beacon of hope through the middle of life’s darkness. The title song, “The Dark Before the Dawn,” fits perfectly with “The Sower’s Song,” which concludes the record. Both speak of the power of God to bring life from death, and both are beautiful descriptions of Christ’s return and coming kingdom. This album is highly recommended.
I’ll admit that, for me at least, Garrels was an acquired taste. His vocal stylings sometimes make his lyrics difficult to understand unless you listen very carefully. But it’s worth the work. Garrels uses imagery throughout this album that is tied closely to the story of the prodigal son, one of my favorite biblical parables about grace. Even the title of the album reflects the theme. My favorite track is “At the Table,” a heart-breaking tune about the return of the prodigal: “Come on home, home to Me, and I will hold you in My arms, and joyful be; There will always, always be a place for you at My table, return to Me.”
If you listen to Christian radio, you’ve heard NeedtoBreathe. Their upbeat style of Southern rock is fun to listen to, even when you can’t understand what they’re singing about. That said, it’s worth taking the time to hear the lyrics, as well, because they are thought-provoking and well-crafted. These songs are about finding purpose and real community in a world that sometimes feels meaningless and isolated. Not to mention that “Brother,” probably the biggest radio hit on the album, is my kids’ favorite tune right now. If you want to get your family dancing in the kitchen, give this one a try.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I know Ross, since he has led worship at my church periodically for the past couple of decades. He’s a rare songwriter, one who seems able to move with skill between writing worship albums and singer-songwriter projects like this one. His most recent album is his best to date. My favorite song is “What Kind of Person,” in which he identifies with the sins of various biblical characters and then ponders why Jesus died and rose again “to save the kind of person that I have always been.” Ross centers on the person and character of Jesus, along with the hope that knowing Him brings in the midst of loss and trial.
Like Josh Garrels, Groves has been an acquired taste for me, and I don’t think I really “got it” until this brand new release. Her themes revolve around the concept that sometimes the line between pain and hope is fairly thin. “Some hearts are built on the floodplain,” she says, meaning that some people see the waters of doubt and fear rise regularly, but that they can also see the Lord plant hope and character and love in the midst of those struggles. I admit that I’ve only listened to this one through twice so far, but it’s already a new favorite. Perhaps the most poignant track is “My Dream,” in which she relates her grandfather’s story of falling asleep each night for years to the image of Jesus standing in his driveway, welcoming him home, not angry but running to greet him in the midst of his doubt and fear. Be prepared to cry if you buy this one.
There you are! Five albums I hope you’ll enjoy. Happy listening! Also, are there others you’d recommend? Feel free to include them in the comments below.
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