New Christian Music Reviews
With more than 1.2 million Facebook friends, 32 No. 1 songs and 4 Gold albums, Jeremy Camp is one of Contemporary Christian music's most popular male vocalists. His fans will be delighted with the Grammy-nominated artist's new project, Reckless. The 11-track album from BEC Recordings continues the worship focus Camp honed in his last record, We Cry Out: The Worship Project (2010). Its title track encourages listeners to be unafraid of surrendering to God, calling us to live reckless "because He's endless". The album follows that theme, declaring God's greatness, His relevance and radical love. Reckless leads us in a worshipful response to God 'till the world comes alive'. The album isn't mind-blowingly inventive, musically speaking. But, Reckless has some instrumental surprises along the way. Listen intently to the lyrics, and you'll get lost in the songs' awakening power. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "Reckless", "Paradise" and "Reign in Me"
The top-selling act in Christian music since 2007, Casting Crowns has released its first acoustic project called The Acoustic Sessions: Volume One. The record is just that – simplified acoustic versions of some of your favorite Crowns songs, including “If We Are the Body”, “East to West” and “Praise You in This Storm”. In addition, two brand new songs, “Delivered” and “Only You Can Satisfy” are featured. Stripped down to just acoustic guitars, a piano, Cuban box drum and an occasional hint of a violin, Mark Hall and company provide a welcome departure to their recent string of overproduced fare (see Come to the Well). Some of the songs actually work better with the sparser arrangements. In the end, The Acoustic Sessions: Volume One is a must-have for all avid Casting Crowns fans. For those who aren’t, it is still a good pick-up for all the incredibly rich, worshipful lyics that are brought to the forefront by the simplicity of strings and a prayer. - chris carpenter
Album Highlights: “East to West”, “If We Are the Body”, “Praise You in This Storm”
The husband-wife duo of FFH are back on the music shelves with a new album titledThe Way We Worship. The 12-track record shares their takes on traditional hymns, three original songs and a couple of One Sonic Society covers ("Always" and "As For Me"). FFH fans will recognize the group's pop harmony, but may be surprised to hear Jennifer's country sound featured more prominently on this project. These guys aren't one-trick ponies. Her twangy take on "Come Thou Fount" definitely contrasts with the Jeromy-led tunes, "First Love" and "Glorious King", but its that variety that engages you. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "Come Thou Fount" and "First Love"
On his latest release, “Lights of Distant Cities” (BEC Recordings), Bebo Norman takes the basic concept of honest, heartfelt lyrics and wraps them around atmospheric musical arrangements. Think muted tones and softened outlines. This is not to say Norman has lost some of his rootsy appeal. His folksy flair still exists in abundance. It is just that the added textures are a welcome addition. The results take this album to an entirely new level of artistic brilliance. With a hint of Coldplay, the opening track, “At the End of Me”, sets the tone for the entire album with swirling keyboards juxtaposed against Norman’s raspy declaration that we are broken people saved only by God’s grace. No song illustrates this thought of God’s grace saving us more so than the poignant “Collide”. In it, Norman demonstrates a vulnerability so commonly found on earlier album releases “Myself When I Am Real” and “Between the Dreaming and the Coming True”. Perhaps the best track on the album is the mid-tempo “Outside the Window was Her World”. So different than what people are used to hearing from Norman, this track is a wonderful blend of storyteller-themed lyrics and the musical flavoring of progressive rock guitars infused with eighties-era synthesizers. Not afraid of testing his tried and true folksy formula, this album is a gem that needs to be appreciated for its honest, worshipful charm. - chris carpenter
Recorded live at Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., For The Sake Of The World pulls you into a congregational worship service that is intimately moving. Led by worshippers Brian and Jenn Johnson, Jeremy Riddle and others, this new live worship experience drives you to declarative and reflective praise. Fine vocals and rhythms on 13 tracks, including two spontaneous songs, guide you to a place of surrender before a holy God. Churches around the world will no doubt be introducing these songs to their Sunday morning service. Even then, For The Sake Of The World is one you will want in your collection so that you can worship along with it all week long. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "To Our God", "Closer", "For The Sake Of The World"
I've got to say it. I'm not a big fan of Tenth Avenue North's third studio project, The Struggle. Sure, the 12-track album features several radio friendly songs including the debut single "Losing" but something gets lost in translation. Thematically, The Struggle explores the challenges of life and how God's grace consistently delivers us from the depths of despair. Frontman Mike Donehy, an emerging voice in contemporary Christian music, has crafted a set of lyrics that are powerful and strong but sometimes feel disconnected from the musical arrangement. Perhaps the addition of two new band members into the creative mix finds them in a transitional period of sorts that is reflected on this record. The strongest track on the album is actually the final track, "Lamb of God", a stripped down acoustic arrangement that will certainly find it's way into church worship services across the land. In summary, the lyrics are strong, the music is well crafted, but it just does not come together in the end. - chris carpenter
Album Highlights: "Losing", "Lamb of God", "You Do All Things Well"
My first memories of Tamela Mann are from her days singing with Kirk Franklin and the Family in the '90s. When I heard her powerful soprano on “Now Behold the Lamb,” it instantly captured my heart and brought me to tears. On her latest album, Best Days, the acclaimed actress and Dove Award-winning vocalist has again stirred me. Produced by Kirk Franklin and Myron Butler, the album features the hit single, “Take Me to The King” written by Franklin. My favorite, “All To Thee,” reminds me of the classic hymn, “I Surrender All.” This new album just draws you in to praise. In 58 minutes, Best Days will make you worship, weep and celebrate your faith. - lakesha gadson
After the unexpected crossover success of the 2002 single “I Can Only Imagine” (which led the album Almost There selling more than 2 million copies), MercyMe became one of the most popular bands in Christian music. Their latest release, The Hurt & The Healer, is both a product of and victim of that success. The album contains 10 catchy, well-written songs—each could have potential for radio play. But, unfortunately, the album also comes across a little over-produced (do we really need more auto-tuning?) and too polished. All of the songs sound great, but lack the raw feel that made some of their earlier work so relatable. Along with the upbeat album opener “You Know Better” and the title track, the record’s highlight is the soulful “Take the Time”, which features guest vocals from NEEDTOBREATHE’s Bear Rineheart. - todd jennings
Listening to music in the background - while working, while driving, while cleaning the house, has become a favorite habit. Kutless' new album, Believer, was delightfully unaccommodating. It is hard to be productive when you are continually pausing to listen to the lyrics of a song. Expect this album to be one that will cause you to pull over to the side of the road because the lyrics have so gripped your heart that you are unable to concentrate. - lisa webber
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Heart by Audrey Assad
When I first heard Audrey Assad perform at a music showcase in 2010, I was immediately struck by two things … the depth of her lyrics and the honesty of her sound. Her subsequent album, The House You’re Building, further solidified my thinking with hits such as “For the Love of You” and the title track. Fast forward by two years to her latest release Heart. Here you will find the same piano-driven style and lyrical depth, but with an added sense of maturity. Expertly blending folk with pop, Assad stands out on tracks such as “Sparrow”, a modern-day interpretation of “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, and “No Turning Back”, a contemporary spin on “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”. Producer Marshall Altman returns to further enhance Assad’s unique style. This is quite evident on Heart’s opening track “Blessed are the Ones” and “Won Me Over”. Without a doubt, with Heart, Assad has cemented her place on the Christian pop landscape. - chris carpenter
Album Highlights: “Blessed are the Ones”, “Sparrow”
I remember watching a news report of one of the early prayer gatherings in Washington, D.C., known as The Call. The reporter was interviewing Michael W. Smith, who wasn’t there to perform or to speak. He had brought his family to The Call to pray for America – and just to worship God. That was right around the time that his first live worship album was released. - craig von buseck
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One of the things that sets certain singers apart from others is the distinctiveness of their voice. They are just unique. That was the thought I had while listening to Kari Jobe’s new album, Where I Find You. Jobe has been one of the best-selling artists in Christian music since her self-titled debut album released in 2009 – and her distinctive voice, along with her sincere and worshipful lyrics, may be the reason. - craig von buseck
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Diamond by Jaci Velasquez
CCM and Latin Pop singer Jaci Velasquez recently returned to the recording studio after a hiatus from music to produce her new album, Diamond. With sincere lyrics and a clear message, Jaci releases a truth-focused encouragement to fans about God’s unwavering love. Sonically, the album doesn’t push the boundaries, offering exactly what you might expect. Starting on the slower side, the record does pick up momentum with engaging rhythms halfway through. Jaci includes a Spanish-language song ("Con El Viento A Mi Favor") as a tribute to her heritage, adding a very personal touch to the record. - hannah goodwyn
God's Not Dead is the best Michael Tait-fronted newsboys album to date. The former dc Talk-er, who took over for Peter Furler back in 2009, helps make this new worship album one that inspires listeners to praise our very much alive, Almighty God. Notable vocals from Kevin Max, Tait's former bandmate, and radio-friendly rhythms on “God’s Not Dead (Like a Lion)” and “I Am Second” will have you recalling dc Talk's classic tunes. Matched well, as always, the Tait and Max collaborations are probably the closest to a dc Talk reunion we're going to get. The album features originals (“The King is Coming”, “Here We Stand”) and remakes of familiar worship songs (“Revelation Song”, “Your Love Never Fails”). A in staple Christian music, newsboys retains its status as a worthy CCM favorite with this new project.- hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: “The King is Coming", "God's Not Dead (Like a Lion)", and "I Am Second"
Leeland's The Great Awakening, without reserve and with great creative clarity, will stir spirits to awaken out of spiritual slumber. Once again, the band's lyrical prowess and fiery passion for God's presence challenges the body of Christ to shine its light to the world. Each song, in its signature way, takes you on a journey, searching the heart while seeking a deeper understanding of God. This is especially evident in "All Over the Earth"; you can sense the band's authentic response as God's presence descended. The spontaneous praise on this track is reminiscent of worship leader Jason Upton and legendary songwriter Michael W. Smith. This anthem emanates the awe and majesty of our holy and powerful God. The spontaneity of worship is definitely an added bonus. The Great Awakening remains true to Leeland's musical talent and leanings toward profound lyrics of great spiritual resolve. Unlike their past CDs, this one is Leeland's coming-of-age story, one that will ignite the passion of the listener to be a part of God's "great awakening". - jae rae
On the surface, Anthem Lights might look like a group that’s trying to bring back the boy band craze of the ‘90s, but their debut album reveals their real heart of worship. Their sound has a hint of a boy-band feel, but the essence of the foursome is a group passionate about releasing authentic worship, wrapped in relevant symphonic sounds, with catchy pop hooks. It’s apparent that their sound is serious about bringing a living Christ to the world. String and rhythmic progressive hooks make “Circles” a catchy track poised to climb the charts. Its music arrangement is current, wrapped in honest, clever singable hooks, impressive vocals, and transparent lyrics about the process of growing closer to God. If it’s possible to have a pop/rock/country flavor added to a passionate authentic worship song, “Can’t Get Over You” pulls off the mix well, making it a definite highlight on the record. If this promising debut is any indication, Anthem Lights’ refreshing sound will benefit Christian music for many years come. - jae rae
Album Highlights: “Circles”, “Stranger”, “Can’t Get Over You”
Fusing equal parts rock, folk, and some blues scattered in the mix, Matt Maher has crafted a gem on his third release, The Love in Between. Anchored by the radio hit, “Turn Around”, Maher builds upon his success as a praise and worship artist, but with a slightly harder edge. Songs such as “Rise Up”, “Woke Up in America”, and “Write Your Love on My Heart” should open up a new audience for the Newfoundland native. The only song that doesn’t really resonate is the ballad “My Only Love”. However, it should be noted this track is a love song Maher wrote for his new wife so it is likely included for highly personal reasons. The Love in Between definitely shows significant growth over previous releases, a bold statement considering the success of 2009’s Alive Again (“Hold Us Together”). - chris carpenter
Album Highlights: “Turn Around”, “Write Your Love on My Heart”
Imagine what Mary, a teenager, must have been thinking when she came to grips with the reality that the Messiah was actually growing on the inside of her. Can you imagine the wonder? Can you imagine the fear? Can you imagine the uncertainty for the future? Singer/songwriter Nichole Nordeman delved into her own soul to try to understand what was going on in the soul of this young Jewish girl 2,000 years ago. The lyrics she penned from this exploration are truly remarkable; along with orchestration of Bernie Herms, she wrote "Be Born in Me" for their newly released project titled Music Inspired By The Story. - craig von buseck
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Right out the gate and without resistance, a rich and bolder Building 429 emerges into view with their latest release Listen to the Sound. Without question, this album releases the sounds of a band that emanates the maturity of “life experience” with God. Profound singable anthem tracks resonate nearly back to back with a lyrical insight that only comes from enduring trials walking out ones faith in Christ over time. The CD’s self-titled track “Listen to the Sound” brings a hopeful bold pop/rock anthem that is catchy and profound. This joyful anthem illuminates the painful transition from the old in life to the beauty of God’s new beginnings. You’ll find yourself bobbing your head to this one while singing its revelatory hopeful hooks. “One Foot”, an upbeat rhythmic rock tune, takes you on a lyrical journey exploring the truth of discovering hope and encouragement in following the path “less taken”. The entire album is a completed work. Listeners without fail will engage with Building 429’s tracks while enjoying profound lyrical transparency wrapped in the sounds of musical excellence. - jae rae
I still remember the first time I heard the song "Shout to the Lord" from the 1996 Hillsong album of the same name. I was immediately gripped with both the beauty of the vocals and the singable melody lines. Darlene Zschech and the Hillsong team helped to revolutionize the world of Praise and Worship music, and it all started with that one song. Fast forward 20 years to Zschech's latest worship album, You are Love, and prepare to be blessed by the same spirit of worship and excellence in music. Her lyrics are deeper than the average CCLI offering and there is a purity in her songs to the Lord that continue to draw me into an attitude of worship. Listen for her collaborations with Israel Houghton on several songs ("I Will Wait" and "Saving Me"), which add energy to her list of standard slow tunes. - rebekah wilson
Album Highlights: "You are Love", "It Is You", "Under Grace"
The pop rocking quartet MIKESCHAIR returns with their sophomore album, A Beautiful Life. The band made a big splash a couple years back with their hit single "Let the Waters Rise". This new album features more of the same, not much variety, but some tracks that will please listeners looking for songs of hope. These songs are a mixture of poppy, upbeat numbers, such as the title track and more soothing tunes of reflection such as "Someone Worth Dying For." You might find yourself singing along to "Pieces", which has a great message like everything MIKESCHAIR does. Fans of The Museum should also give this album a listen. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but A Beautiful Life is a nice album. - clay morgan
After three indie releases, Ashes Remain have now recorded What I've Become, their major label debut. And it's great. The Baltimore rockers move seamlessly between driving rock and ballads with strings, piano, and more in between. They practically channel Skillet for "On My Own" and Thousand Foot Krutch fans will really dig "End of Me" among others. Fans of Jeremy Camp and Daughtry will also get down with this album, especially "Everything Good". These songs consistently remind us that there's always hope for the broken. By the time "Change My Life" played, I knew this one could get comfortable in my CD player for a while. Ashes Remain will become a favorite of many fans seeking a message of hope that rocks. - clay morgan
Royal Tailor has made a strong showing this summer, particularly on iTunes. "Hold Me Together" is getting a lot of radio play. "Make a Move" is catchy and even has a video to prove it. You may detect some Maroon 5 influence, but Black & White will appeal to all fans of that pop/hip hop blend. The group's sound is eclectic enough that the title track is reminiscent of the British band Jamiroquai, a testament to their ability to lay down some R&B funk. You may even catch an occasional gospel vibe. Lyrics are loaded with meaning, a message that runs in the face of mainstream music, and Royal Tailor is conscious of the need to offer a positive voice in this culture. - clay morgan
I picture myself listening to Aaron Shust's newest album, This Is What We Believe, in the car by myself on an afternoon joy ride, mostly as background music. His worshipful lyrics draw you in quickly and have a feel-good effect that really help you see his love for the Lord, and multiple tracks on this album would fit in nicely with Contemporary Christian radio's cookie-cutter sound. Though the music is heartfelt, I found it overly simple and easily forgettable. I kept waiting for the quality to kick in, but was mostly disappointed. - chris kelce
Ginny's newest album, Get In, I'm Driving, has me on a love/hate roller coaster. Lyrically, this is a home run! Ginny is a genius songsmith, and her writing skills are on full display from the haunting honesty of "Rain" and "The Song" to the beautiful picture of "Joined At the Heart". However, from start to finish the album has a genre identity crisis. Multiple tracks are obviously influenced by her love of soul music, but they come off as near misses vocally, only qualifying as soul in name alone. That being said, her willingness to not be so obtuse as to assume that Christian musicians can only talk about God in their music is appreciated. Her anti-love song "Better Off" is smile-inducing, and "Better That Way" would make a great addition to a movie soundtrack. Overall, it's a good listen and worth having if you're a die-hard Ginny Owens fan. - chris kelce
The human voice is the most captivating instrument ever created. This fact has never been more apparent than with the debut album by Committed, the six man group that won Season 2 of NBC’s hit a capella singing competition show, The Sing Off. This self-titled album will give you goose bumps. - jae rae
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It’s been more than 12 years since Burlap to Cashmere released their breakout record, Anybody Out There?, but their Greek folk-inspired pop has only matured. The group’s new self-titled album contains only a few of the foot-stomping anthems that made them famous (the album’s first single “Nehemiah (Build a Wall)” is a high-tempo highlight), and instead opts for softer ballads and whispery reflections. Hints of James Taylor and Cat Stevens can be heard in breezy tracks such as “Hey Man” and “Closer to the Edge”. “Live in a Van” is another highlight from the album with a sunny-day, windows-down chorus and Americana guitar-picking that is instantly memorable. Overall, Burlap to Cashmere’s comeback album seems more influenced by America folk than the Mediterranean rhythms of albums past; but it still delivers the unique sound that made Burlap to Cashmere a ‘90s favorite. - jesse carey
re:creation by Steven Curtis Chapman
With an influence of the tragic loss of Chapman's young daughter, Steven Curtis sings songs of what matters most in life on his latest album. In his new CD, re:creation, Steven Curtis Chapman recreates many of his past hits by giving them a new sound. They are the songs that you expect with a sound that you might not. His new tracks all have a chord of picking up the pieces in your life and recreating your purpose. Chapman sings of a new hope and of finding the missing pieces of your life in Christ. - lisa webber
Album Highlights: "Meant to Be", "Long Way Home"
The fifth major studio release from Canadian rock group, downhere, On the Altar of Love shows off the vocal talent of co-founders Marc Martel and Jason Germain. It is the 10-year industry veterans' range and strength in vocals that is truly the stand-out of this record. "Let Me Discover You", the album's first single, is a faith-filled, sweeping piano-introduced track, but this and a few others are the only memorable songs. "Living the Dream" is without a doubt catchy, but it comes across familiar, like songs from pop singer Jon McLaughlin's OK Now album. Redemption came in the next track with the best of the album, "Seek". It's got a Brit rock vibe, a little bit of a U2 sound to it, with some banjos in the background. More of this, please! - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "Seek" and "The Altar of Love"
From out of the background as a choreographer of TobyMac’s Diverse City emerges an artist that leads front and center with a new sound and a fresh outlook on God, life, love, and purpose. Deshon Bullock, better known as Shonlock, blends influences from soul, pop, and urban rock into a captivating sound that resonates truth with just the right measure of attitude and boldness. - jae rae
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I didn't really want to like this album. I used to be really into Redman's music back in the '90s. but have felt that in recent years, he just kind of blended into this homogenous, 'Christianese' sound. His new album, 10,000 Reasons, has helped to soften my opinion a bit, though. Several of these songs have a renewed energy, such as "We Are the Free" and "We Could Change the World," and will give his fans a slightly different flavor than his usual acoustic-driven hits. Get ready to hear the album-only track "Endless Hallelujah" as a corporate worship song, along with the first released single "Never Once." You can expect a bit of musical monotony, but all in all, this is a solid release with some great tracks. - rebekah wilson
Remember "Fireflies" - the catchy song that dominated the airwaves last year? Well, the synthpop singer/songwriter behind that tune is set to make another music wave with his new album, All Things Bright and Beautiful. Aptly named, Owl City's refreshing record is filled with summery, bright tunes that create beautiful imagery and are backed by great dance beats. It showcases a familiar sound, one you could easily pick out of a summer radio lineup. Adam Young (the talented guy behind Owl City) proves his lyrical prowess with fun and funny songs that are far from superficial. In fact, his optimism and faith shine right through, making this new project one you’ll want to add to your collection. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "Honey and the Bee", "Galaxies”, "Alligator Sky"
Written from her own personal trials, Laura Story sings of finding hope in Christ and a life dedicated to God in a style similar to Chris Tomlin (a CCM artist for whom she wrote "Indescribable") on her new record, Blessings. Trials will come, but songs such as the title track remind us that God is faithful and our hope can be found in Him. Story's lyrics remind us to look for blessings in raindrops. "Blessings" has more of a meditative worship feel to it while the rest of the album is more contemporary. Regardless of the style, these songs of praise and surrender to God will encourage you to fall in love with Him all over again. - lisa webber
Album Highlights: "Blessings" and "Faithful God"
Closer by Shawn McDonald
Sparrow recording artist Shawn McDonald is known for simple guitar licks and a heart that yearns for God. On his first album in three years, the yearning is the same, but he’s laying aside his acoustic roots and going for more soulful pop. The bass lines are deeper, the beats are rhythmic, and McDonald plays more with his vocal range on songs “Control” and “The Space Between Us”. But fear not, “Rise” and “Don’t Give Up” echo his early days of Simply Nothing. Closer draws on how tragedy pulls saints and sinners alike closer to Christ. Above all, listeners will be encouraged that hard times are inevitable but God’s grace is everlasting. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “Control” and “Don’t Give Up”
See You by Josh Wilson
Best known for "Before The Morning" from his sophomore album, Life Is Not a Snapshot, singer/songwriter Josh Wilson is back with new music. A few vocals on the new record, See You, are reminiscent of CCM newcomer, American Idol alum Jason Castro. That said, Wilson, who already has two, tried-and-true projects on the market, does fairly well on this new record. Slow to start, the album picks up pace with "Know By Now", a pop track that matches well with Josh's vocals. Other pop-ish favorites on this record include, "Shine On Us" and "Always, Only You" (a love song Wilson wrote for his wife, Becca). First track, "Sing It", is on the slow side, but standouts as a possible fan favorite. On the whole, See You is a worthy album, though it does lack a bit of the uniqueness CCM radio needs. - hannah goodwyn
And If Our God Is For Us... solidifies Chris Tomlin's high standing in the best of what modern Christian worship music has to offer. "Our God" starts the album off with a orchestra-backed praise anthem declaring the our Heavenly Father's power and mercy. The record marches on will other worshipful songs (some better than others) that will no doubt be sung in churches across the nation soon. In And If Our God Is For Us..., Tomlin gives believers songs that capture a true worshiper's awe of "Our God". - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "Our God" and "No Chains on Me"
Move by Third Day
I have long felt that Third Day would be best suited making records that fuse American roots music with the blues. Mac Powell’s voice lends itself perfectly for such fare as his vocals are a unique blend of soul and grit, two essentials for this type of music. With their eleventh studio release, Move (October 19th), Third Day has done just that... - chris carpenter
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Today by 33Miles
Not really anything innovative or mind-blowing here; just good old soft rock you can find on your local radio station. The key to this album, though, is sitting right in the title, Today. 33Miles presents the motivational and powerful message that God wants action, making the most of your life and not waiting for tomorrow to come. The title track will hit home with those who have been letting life pass them by; saying, ultimately, it’s all about doing God’s work while we have the chance. The question left is: what are your plans for today? - ashley smith
Album Highlights: “Today”, “Worth the Wait”, and “Where I Wanna Go”
An ingenious idea made into an incredible testament to God's power in individual lives, Matthew West's new album, The Story of Your Life, captures the heart and soul of his fans as he belts out Christ-focused anthems in answer to the stories they submitted by the thousands. Giving his listeners a chance to say something, West responds to pride, abuse, divorce, adoption, and more in original songs such as the radio single "My Own Little World" and the title track "The Story of Your Life". Careful to keep the integrity of their immensely personal stories, West's soulful vocals and thoughtful lyrics speak volumes to the trials we all face and the hope we have in Christ. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "The Story of Your Life", "To Me", "Broken Girl", and "The Healing Has Begun"
If ever there was a sound balance between the classic and the revolutionary, this is it. The Collective, more like a quirky group of young adults with a curiosity for Christ, has produced a compilation of songs appealing to more than one generation. Their refreshing spin on popular hymns incorporates instruments across the spectrum, from soothing guitar strums to a full horn section. There’s truly a place for every taste here. - ashley smith
Album Highlights: “Faithful”, “God Is Near”, and “Thine Be the Glory”
Real Life by Lincoln Brewster
On his latest album, Real Life, worship leader and singer/songwriter Lincoln Brewster shows what sets him apart in the praise and worship genre. Unlike many of albums from other popular worship artist, Brewster’s latest favors polished studio recording instead of a live concert setting, and the decision proves a good one as listeners can appreciate Brewster’s electric guitar chops, his band’s tight musicianship and interesting arrangements. Songs such as “So Good” take a relatively generic hook and—with the help of a blistering Stratocaster riff—turn it into rocking anthem. “Best Days”, “Reaching for You”, “I Belong to You” and “Shout for Joy” display what Brewster does best: melodic, guitar-driven rock songs that would fit just as well on a windows-down summer drive as a Sunday morning service. The acoustic “Made For More” and “Love By You” (the latter features a soulfully whining slide guitar gently dueling with a low-soaring e-bow throughout the verses) show Brewster’s soft side. The albums only low-point is, unfortunately, the album’s title track, which forgoes spiritual declaration for a top-40 formula that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the record. - jesse carey
Reminiscent of the City on a Hill project from a decade ago, Jars of Clay’s latest release The Shelter, is a collaborative effort that brings many of today’s contemporary Christian music’s top names together to record songs about the importance of community. Third Day’s Mac Powell, TobyMac, Brandon Heath, Tenth Avenue North’s Mike Donehey, and Amy Grant are just a few of the artists to lend support to Jars of Clay’s vision... - chris carpenter
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CAUTION: If Urban Contemporary isn’t your thing, run far, far away. But if you like to nod your head to hot beats, killer hooks, and captivating lyrics… look no further! This breakout band makes a huge entrance on the release of their third album, which is packed with infectious fresh music quickly climbing the charts. Blending together the grooves of hip-hop and pop, these are the types of songs your iPod plays all day on repeat. So whether you’re a fanatic or new to The Crew, Outta Space Love is sure to send you into orbit! - ashley smith
Album Highlights: “Walking on the Stars”, “Live it Up”, and “Breakdown”
Ocean by Bebo Norman
Bebo Norman's hits "I Will Lift My Eyes" and "Great Light of the World" once dominated CCM radio, and it's my guess that a few tracks from his new release, Ocean, will follow suit. "Everything I Hoped You'd Be" and "God of My Everything" already sound like radio hits. Bebo's favorite on the record, "The Middle", is an unplugged gem and the sway-inducing harmonies of "Remember Us" are great. And "Here Goes", which Bebo penned with friend and fellow singer/songwriter Brandon Heath, is an examination of faith vs. fear based on talks the two have had on the subject. The album's got a personal feel to it that just pulls you into a musical conversation, one where Bebo is pouring out his soul, all while encouraging yours. Going deeper than a feel-good album, Ocean beckons you into the depths of God's love. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "The Middle", "Remember Us", and "Sing Over Me"
Wonder by Michael W. Smith
Often people find salvation through Jesus Christ at a low point in life. We cry out in desperation for a Savior, and we find comfort in the Holy Spirit. We learn the truth of God's Word and begin applying it to our lives. In time, the crisis passes, and often the passion of our first love for Jesus begins to wane. We tend to forget how much we need a Savior. In his new album, Wonder, Michael W. Smith reminds us of this desperate need for Jesus and His amazing grace... - craig von buseck
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Caedmon’s Call is a band of alternative folk veterans on the fringe of CCM thanks to their controversy-causing songwriter Derek Webb. Raising Up the Dead signals they are kicking up dust again. On this album, their acoustic jam band style underscores a series of stories, many of which provide a message of hope for all who are down on their luck – especially poignant during this recession. For example, “Streets of Gold” tells of a man laid off and working his way back to Houston with the hope of better days ahead. “Miss You” and the haunting “God’s Hometown” cryptically chronicle women finding their needs met and unmet in relationships. The record makes you dig for meaning as only Webb can offer. While I still cling to the India-inspired Share the Well as their best work, Raising Up the Dead proves that Caedmon’s Call is always relevant without compromising their mission to take listeners a little bit higher. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “Streets of Gold” and “God’s Hometown”
Inspired by the Max Lucado book with the same name, Outlive Your Life features selections that encourage you to reach out and make something happen. Not every song is a hit, but there are definitely a few. “My Inheritance” by Travis Cottrell is a strong standout, with its powerful delivery and functionality in a congregational setting. Alli Rogers' “Tanzania” also makes a great impact with its attention to lyrics and soul-stirring melody. The record would be a decent addition to your CD collection; you may not absolutely love it, but you will find some favorites. After all, you can’t go but so wrong when your mission is to stimulate change. - ashley smith
Album Highlights: "Tanzania" and "My Inheritance"
There’s good news for Natalie Grant fans: Apparently, she's got a "sister". Kerrie Robert’s self-titled debut is reminiscent of Grant's work and kicks off with “No Matter What”, an upbeat pop-anthem of unconditional trust in God. Roberts then slows down for most of the album, exploring Christ’s unfathomable love (“Beautiful to Me” and “Savior To Me”) and encouraging us to “keep breathing and believing”. Roberts wakes up listeners in the rocking “Outcast”, declaring her determination to stand for her beliefs—and perhaps not to get lost in the female vocalist crowd. The album is a nice start for Roberts’ career, but she’ll have to get creative to make it last. - bethany duval
Album Highlights: “No Matter What”, “This Love Doesn’t Run”, and “Outcast”
Her first original album in seven years, The Edge of the Divine gives CCM listeners a glimpse into the life and sound of the legendary Sandi Patty. The 39-time Dove Award winner has pipes, and that's evident on this new project. "All to Bring You Glory", "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", and "We Shall Behold Him" are pure Sandi Patty -- with an orchestra backing her powerful vocals. But the first few tracks may not be what fans might expect from the songstress. In fact, "Faith Dancing" and "Times Like These" are reminiscent of Point of Grace. All in all, it's a solid release from a force in Christian music. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "Makes Me Wanna Pray" and "Times Like These"
Backed by his live band and wife Adie (formerly of Benjamin Gate), Jeremy Camp releases his sixth studio album – a worship project – this week. A return to “praise” music, the Grammy-nominated artist worships our God with genuine passion on We Cry Out. Though lyrical and musical genius isn’t heard on this album, as the songs understandably feature some of the same messages as memorable worship tunes of the past, you will hear sincere, unabashed worship, rooted in rock-solid faith. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: “The Way”, “Jesus Saves”
The Prototype definitely lives up to its name. Prototype means “original” and Sean Slaughter displays why he is truly a standout in a genre full of copycats. Top-notch lyricism and production from PL Sweets combine to create Slaughter's best work to date. His fans expect anthems on each of his projects and Sgt. Slaughter doesn't disappoint with the army-cadence-influenced track “Who We Are”, as well as, the “windows down” feel of “I'm Gone” featuring KJ-52. The final track “Itsa Reynolds” triumphantly wraps up an album that could easily play in your car or iPod for weeks.
- brick o. matic
Album Highlights: “Who We Are”, “Lemee Go”, and “Itsa Reynolds”
Fronted by Shiny Toy Guns' founding-member Stephen Petree, the band that is his namesake incorporates the same electronic/indie rock fusion that made Guns a Hot Topic favorite. Part new wave throw-back and part new school dance rock—with a dose of punk rock attitude—Petree is as comfortable with a keytar as he is with a Stratocaster. Fans of Family Force Five and Mute Math will dig their pop sensibility that lacks the irony (and pretense) of some mainstream indie counterparts. The album’s title track even recalls late-‘70s glam rock glory with soaring falsettos, blistering riffs, and a dramatic stadium anthem build. The only low point of the album is a cheesy cover of the early ‘90s hit “Right Here, Right Now”. The band makes up for it though with some smart pop-gems, such as “It’s Always Been You” and “Stars Tipped Over”. Overall, Weakness Makes You Beautiful is a fun foray into pop-rock power. - jesse carey
If there’s one thing Superchick does well, it’s Reinvention. Similar to their previous remix album, Regeneration, the teen-rock-pop band twists and turns their catalog into a brand new repertoire. Some remixes are a vast improvement on the original (i.e., the rebel rock anthem “Cross the Line”). Some stand side by side as a curiously different companion (i.e., taking the already dark “Hey Hey” and creating the near sinister “Vampires vs. Cheerleaders Mix”). This is Superchick doing what they do best, being innovative and dancing dangerously close to the edge of perfection. Reinvention will be equally as loved as Beauty From Pain and Regeneration, while beckoning new fans to see that the hype behind Superchick is the real deal. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “Cross The Line” (Box Office Blockbuster Mix), “Pure” (Brand New Day Mix), and “Breathe” (Don’t You Die On Me Mix)
In the same vein of mainstream contemporaries like Sara Bareilles, newcomer Audrey Assad brings an adult contemporary sound with a hint of indie to the CCM world. There are moments when Assad may be the cure for common Christian radio, but mostly this album falls in line with too many Top 40 artists (for example, “Carry Me” could easily have been a Sara Groves song, as could “Known”). That said, Assad does right by singer/songwriter piano-driven pop. The album is fresh and light, and her voice is effortlessly full of melody. It may not add anything new to radio, but it certainly fits in nicely. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “For Love of You”, “Restless”, and “Show Me”
If you “blink,” you could possibly miss this album. I found myself having to listen to songs over and over because the music overpowered the message. REVIVE’s new CD infuses rock, drums, and staccato to present a sound similar to most bands. “My Hope,” and “Something Glorious” sound comparable to the tunes and voice of the band Switchfoot. However, if I had to choose a favorite, I’d choose the acoustic sound of “Welcome to Eternity”. It’s mellow and has a good message. Overall, this is a good CD if you need something playing in the background, but don’t expect much more. - terri simmons
Album Highlights: “Love Found Me” and “Welcome to Eternity”
Stories by Addison Road
On its INO Records debut, Addison Road leaps from indie band into the CCM pop scene and blends so well that it almost disappears. Stories offers 10 songs about a longing to be just a little more like Christ, all interwoven within youth- and radio-friendly Top 40 tunes. It’s a little watered down, but listeners will be touched nonetheless. Songs such as “This Little Light” and “Fight Another Day” are like a reflective Saturday road trip with friends. The tempo picks up to a fun pace on “My Story” and “Don’t Wait,” and lead singer Jenny Simmons’s voice is delightful throughout. This album isn’t ground-breaking, but for what it’s worth, you’ll find a song or two that will make you smile. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “My Story” and “Don’t Wait”
“Hold On” is not only the best track on this album, but it is a perfect depiction of what to expect from Rapture Ruckus. The minute you pop in the CD, you’ll find yourself on an energetic journey; a journey through rhythm and blues, synthesized beats, and heavy bass tones. Although the lyrics seemed buried behind the album's energy, I couldn’t stop nodding my head to the tunes of “All Things New” and “I Believe”. If you were a fan of Hip Hop in the '80s, then you’ll appreciate Rapture Ruckus’ old-school Beastie Boys vibe. - terri simmons
Album Highlights: “I Believe” and “Hold On”
Michelle Bonilla is bursting through the middle of the Christian R&B pack. While there’s plenty on this album that falls flat, Bonilla has a strong yet feminine voice (think Rihanna) that carries every song she gets into. You might find yourself skipping through the typical urban pop songs on this album, such as “Your Show” and “I Love You”, but don’t pigeon-hole Bonilla just yet. “Go Harder” is a rally anthem with a fun Latin beat that you can raise your hands and move your hips to. Then she throws a curveball with the rock-infused “Persevere”. The bright stars on this album show Bonilla’s potential to break out as a diverse artist who has plenty of offer. Hopefully, this is just the beginning. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “Go Harder” and “Persevere”
Ragamuffin Soul is a good album not because of it’s sound, but because of the lyrics. Great lyrics. “Your Name” is a powerful worship song and a personal favorite; definitely worthy of a spot on any iPod playlist. Aside from the lyrics, Ragamuffin Soul’s overall sound reminds me a lot of Hillsongs United. Musically, I didn’t hear anything different, new or refreshing. If this CD were solely acoustic, a cappella even, it’d be on the fast track to No. 1 status. Take a listen to “We Will Worship You,” and “No Words.” The lyrics won’t disappoint, but the music might. - terri simmons
Album Highlight: “Your Name”
The former NewSong singer lifts up new love songs to the King. Be Still My Soul is a mix of old hymns re-imagined and original music set to his gentle piano and soft, soothing voice. Listeners will be relaxed into worship with such familiar songs as “This Is My Story” (a variation of “Blessed Assurance) and “The Lord’s Prayer”, among others. O’Brien also pens his own hymns in “Contentment” and “Herein Is Love”. The simple beauty and depth of this album recalls artists like Michael Card. The quiet nature of this album may not be for everyone or for all moods, but if you’re in need of a soundtrack to your quiet time, Be Still My Soul is the one. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “Be Still My Soul” and “The Lord’s Prayer”
The bluesy, soulful sound of Jimmy Needham is irresistible on his new album, Nightlights. His energy and unique style brings a new, refreshing sound to the airwaves. Ending with a spoken word, Nightlights is all around good music with a strong godly message. If this CCM pop artist keeps this up -- as I'm sure he will, future releases will be even better than this one. So pop the CD in, roll your windows down, let the sunshine and cool breeze in -- and let the summer begin with Needham. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "Being Small" and "Yours to Take"
There is something romantic and magical about a married couple creating an album together; what’s more special is that it shares a message of love and Christ. Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler portray what matters most in their album, Wide Open Spaces. The songs carry good melodies and arrangements, and the harmonies are silky and flowing. Despite the positives found within this album, there is an almost constant distraction in Jeromy’s vocal technique; the nasal in his voice is overwhelming at times. This aside, the lyrics are warm and create a peaceful and serene atmosphere for its listeners. - monique derr
Album Highlights: "What It Feels Like" and "Stop the Bleeding"
The Generous Mr. Lovewell is apparently a fan of the electronic, because MercyMe takes a detour from their pop/rock roots to make this album heavy on the keyboard and synthesizer beats. Think newsboys with David Crowder Band shuffled in. The ‘80s new wave optimistic opening track “This Life” says it all when Bart Millard sings, “This is not my home… Simply not my style.” Very true. I found myself missing their hit songs “So Long Self” and “Here with Me” when I heard the electric “Free” and the cheerleading-squad-meets-Maroon5 sound of “Move”. This departure may be welcomed to some, but long-time fans will long for the glory days. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “Beautiful” and “This So Called Love”
Australian native Charmaine is no amateur when it comes to the music world. She has been touring since she was 16 and been on stages with Rebecca St. James, Jeremy Camp, and the newsboys. Touring the world has definitely given her music a diverse sound. Her latest release, Love Reality, is full of pop, synthesis and soulful beats. Charmaine’s songs make you wanna dance and her voice reminds me a lot of Katy Perry or Natasha Bedingfield. From “Run” to “Love Reality,” my personal favorite, the message is to not give up on love because love is on the way. - mary ruth goochee
Album Highlight: "Love Reality"
Letters to God (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Various Artists
Listening to the dual-disc soundtrack for Letters To God is like listening to the ocean on a warm day while watching the sunset behind a sky filled with a blend of every color of the rainbow. The tunes were thoughtful, melodic, beautiful, imaginative, and simple. “Hope Now” by Addison Road and “A Beautiful End” by J.R. Richards are sure to be quick favorites on Disc 1. Even melodic scores such as “Letters On The Alter” and ”Tyler’s Letters” are arresting enough to encourage every listener to fall in love with this soundtrack. Disc 2 carries the same theme of thoughtful and imaginative melodies. And the bonus track is a plus. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, buy this soundtrack, you won’t be disappointed. - terri simmons
Album Highlight: "Hope Now"
Stellar Kart's fourth studio album and first INO Records project, Everything Is Different Now, has definitely got a worshipful tone to it. Amongst the singable tracks on the CD are quite a few covers, including "You Never Let Go" (originally sung by Matt Redman), Norman Greenbaum's '60s hit, "Spirit In the Sky", and others. Though the album doesn't showcase any groundbreaking music, their pop/punk rythyms (similar to Hawk Nelson tunes) backed with spiritually strong lyrics make the first radio single, "We Shine", a spot-on assessment of the piety of the band and the quality of the record. - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "All My Heart", "Spirit In The Sky", "Rescue"
Having long forsaken her mainstream pop roots, Amy Grant is still strumming her guitar and figuring out the complexities of life. On her latest album, six songs are new, along with re-imagined versions of favorites. This is certainly for the lovers of Grant, although there is something to offer even marginal fans. I was mesmerized by the simple melody of “Overnight”, featuring Grant's daughter, Sarah Chapman. In it, she encourages those waiting on a miracle: “If it all just happened overnight / You would never learn to believe”. “Third World Woman” recalls a deep and soulful side, much like Ashley Cleveland. The “Imagine” medley, first made famous in part by MercyMe, is sweet and reminds me of early '80s Grant. Over all, there is a warmth and comfort to the familiar songs and her down-home guitar licks are seasoned with a hint of country. It won’t necessarily bring you anything you haven’t already heard from Grant, but it’s a nice addition to a reflective Saturday afternoon. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “Overnight” and “Somewhere Down the Road”
Ironically enough, the beginning of The End Is Not the End is the best part of the album. It catches your attention with “If” and pile-drives you with sheer strength on “Lose Control”. But, that’s about as good as it gets. Two tracks later, you forget that this is the same band who showed so much depth on its self-titled 2005 album that housed the modern indie rock gems “Serial Sleepers” and “Buckets for Bullet Wounds”. There are so many moments on The End that feel polished with pop. For the first few chords of the acoustic detour that is “By Your Side”, I thought I was listening to Third Day’s “I Have Always Loved You”. “Dangerous” sounded too much like an emo offering from Weezer. In a similar fashion, “Code Name: Raven” is good but recalls too much Panic! At the Disco and a ton of other bands we’ve heard before. Fans of House of Heroes will enjoy this album nevertheless, but I think critics were expecting more from a group that blew us away with their once originality. - jennifer e. jones
Album Highlights: “If” and “Lose Control”
Me In Motion’s (MIM) self-titled debut album sounds much like its name – fast and catchy. Formed in mid-2006, with a record deal by 2008, the band is well on its way to success in the Christian music world. Seth Mosely’s lead vocals head up the band, but his talent is also in the realm of producing and songwriting, which he not only does for MIM but Newsboys as well. With a sound similar to Hawk Nelson and Stellar Kart, the album offers advice on living in between birth and death (“Here in the Middle”), encouraging listeners to embrace so-called “losers” in life (“Losers”) and the grace God freely gives (“Tears”). Though lyrically simplistic and nothing new musically, this band is already making a name for itself. - amy nickerson
Album Highlights: “Leaving Here Someday”, “Losers”, and “Seek Justice, Love Mercy”
Grammy nominated All Star United is back with their sixth release, The Good Album. Rockers at their core, ASU lets the guitars wail on this new project that frontman Ian Eskelin calls "their best album yet". No argument there. Although it's not 5-spin worthy, The Good Album is a keeper. It's pop/rock all the way with upbeat anthems that Christian fans and new listeners can get behind. Loved it! - hannah goodwyn
Album Highlights: "The Blame" and "Dude... That's Freaking Awesome!"
Newworldson's sophomore self-titled release pops with a danceable exuberance reminiscent of Robert Randolf and the Family Band. The punchy rhythms strike from every direction like a heavyweight prizefighter knocking crowds onto the dance floor. Joel Parisien's lead vocals smoke the microphone on every song, while a rootsy blend of old school musicianship rips the heart out of each instrument and holds it up to prove to the world that Newworldson shares a united pulse. "This album rocks," is the biggest understatement of the year. Newworldson is a musical grandslam in the bottom of the ninth. - rob vischer
Album Highlights: "You Set the Rhythm," "In Your Arms," "Do You Believe in Love"
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5 Spins - Buy two copies (you'll wear out one within
4 Spins - Should be a favorite
3 Spins - Skip to the good tracks
2 Spins - May collect dust
1 Spin - Leave it in shrink-wrap
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