Thursday, January 5, 2012

Some of the Great Albums That Snuck Out in 2011

Listed below are certainly not an exhaustive list of the albums that came out in 2011.  They are though some of the ones that I have enjoyed the most.   
What about you?
Do you own of these?
Have you heard of any of them?
I want to encourage you to check them out when you have a moment.
What albums would you add to this list?

In the two years since Abandon’s Forefront Records debut Searchlights, the San Antonio-based band scored a Dove nomination, throngs of critical acclaim and tours alongside Fireflight, Building 429, Remedy Drive, Teen Mania’s Acquire the Fire, plus a plethora of major faith-based festivals. Amongst all the activity, the modern rockers crafted its sophomore CD Control, which finds the five-some taking the next natural evolutionary musical step, while also turning inward for their greatest lyrical depth to date.
The thirteen tracks that comprise Control are oozing with examples of the group’s instant reliability and heart on sleeve vulnerability, despite all the interactions with success and fame since first starting as an indie act in 2005.

As the idea of Control continued popping up in the songwriting sessions, it was only natural for Abandon to follow suit with the album’s moniker. However, it’s more than merely a quick catch phrase that summarizes the thematic thread throughout the project, but also a chance for audiences to consider a handful of very pertinent rhetorical questions. “‘Are you in control or is God in control?’” the singer encourages fans to ponder. “We basically want people to come away with an answer to ‘who’s controlling your life?’ We’re not really looking for a quick answer, but more to challenge your perspective and to provoke thought and motivation. It’s brave to question where you’re at and search out your heart.”

Between members’ constantly developing faith, the project’s adventurous sonic ambition, and perhaps most importantly, everyone’s individual resignation of Control, Abandon is poised for its most active and effective season thus far.

“There are times when ‘death,’ both actual and metaphorical, becomes more vivid and more personally relevant to us. The glorious gospel truth provides hope by announcing that no one has been able to prevent death or vanquish it completely, except the Lord Jesus Christ through His cross and resurrection.”

It’s been almost three years since his last project and having weathered a tumultuous past year and half, THE AMBASSADOR has emerged with a rich living testimony and is pressing forward with the most anticipated release of his career. Once focusing primarily on “conversion” and a call to commitment, THE AMBASSADOR is now living as a recipient of refinement and an extender of truth, who emphasizes in his writing that the Lord will keep and revitalize, through grace, those trust in Him—even beyond the time of their conversion.

His fourth solo offering, STOP THE FUNERAL, marks his first release at his new label home, Xist Music, who has entered into a groundbreaking joint venture with 220 Entertainment and Universal Music Christian Group. The CD is masterfully produced and lyrically enthralling with THE AMBASSADOR’s signature unadulterated messages of God’s resolute standards, this time with an emphasis on grace and truth, shared through testimonials of his struggles and failures.

“I experienced a season of ‘death’ death of dreams, relationships, ministry momentum, a good name, etc. I became more appreciative for the good news that Jesus Christ can stop the funeral. He can neutralize sin, and its consequences, eradicate death of all kinds, and usher in life. A funeral is necessary once it is clear that there is no hope and no chance of living, and sometimes people prematurely make ‘funeral arrangements.’ When I felt my funeral being planned, I cried out to the Lord of life and liberty and He raised me up, restored me on multiple levels, and now is sending me forth to proclaim the Excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

That “light” brought the beauty of restoration and a fresh infusion of joy, gratitude and invigorating ideas that birthed STOP THE FUNERAL. With a starkly authentic voice, a vulnerable heart and a ready pen, THE AMBASSADOR teamed up with brilliant producer Sean Simmonds who also vocally assists on the track “Get With Us”—to bring his vision and journey to life musically.

The halt in the “funeral procession,” starts with the CD’s first single the boom bap throbbing bass-built track “A-M,” where THE AMBASSADOR proclaims that he’s alive and still “reppin’ the “I AM.” He brings to life STOP THE FUNERAL’s creative versatility through diverse collaborations with new and old friends including everyone from the phenomenal Mali Music on the old school funk groove “Trust In You,” to the remarkable vocals of BET “Sunday’s Best” darling Jessica Reedy on the soulful and soothing “Crumbs” to the coupling of old time friends, multiple GMA Dove winner KJ52 and Urban Contemporary songstress Michelle Bonilla on the edgy worship anthem “Your Love.” The experience continues with Australian pop sensation Charmaine’s angelic musings on the infections breakout single “Up Down” who also appears with BEC Recordings newcomer Ryan Stevenson on the bouncy feel good “Nothing Like Us.” The addictive “Favor,” featuring the electrifying Canton Jones, communicates the crux of the album’s theme God’s faithfulness to rescue us from ourselves, in spite of ourselves or anyone else. And THE AMBASSADOR would not neglect one of his staples the cypha. Closing out the journey is “The Reunion Cypha” full of esteemed lyricists God’s servant, J.A.Z., shai linne, C-Lite, The Cross Movement original member, Cruz Cordero and DJ Wade-O of

This new project symbolizes the reset and amplification of a music ministry that demonstrated signs of weakness and waning. STOP THE FUNERAL is THE AMBASSADOR’s escape from a personal and premature “fade to black.” It represents newness of life, not death, but prosperity and triumph…that is the gospel!

Josh Garrels
From ChristianityToday - Freak-folk singer-songwriter Josh Garrels spent more than a year crafting his seventh album, and he calls the process "the most rigorous mental and spiritual struggle I've known as an artist." Perhaps it was the extra fire that helped refine the project—Love & War & The Sea In-Between (Small Voice Records) 5 stars—to a brilliant, 18-song collection that grapples with and celebrates, well, love and war and all the gritty tension of a spirit forging its way through the shadowy intricacies of humanity.
Poignant masterpieces are nothing new from Garrels, and this isn't drastically different from his two previous records. But stylistic variety is a hallmark, and Garrels builds an even more lushly layered melting pot of styles and backing instrumentation. "White Owl" features jazz flourishes. Instrumental "The March" is driven by an accordion's tango cadence, while "Sailor's Waltz" conjures Eastern European immigrant or gypsy strings. "Rise" blends Americana staples with a flute and percussion that sound Native American. And "The Resistance" throbs with a trip-hop pulse.

Garrels' rich vocals unite his broad-ranging work, and the insightful depth of his lyricism anchors it. The guy's got soul that can flex like Ben Harper and Ray LaMontagne ("Million Miles") or mellow like Jack Johnson ("Bread and Wine"). His falsetto on tracks such as "White Owl" and "Ulysses" can send shivers similarly induced by Jonsi of Sigur Rós. Plus, he can lay down a smooth rap with spoken word eloquence ("The Resistance").

Lyrically, Love & War is prophetic, incisive, achingly human, and longingly spiritual. Garrels and isn't afraid to question life's murky mysteries: "Tempted and tried, I wondered why / The good man died, the bad man thrives / And Jesus cries because he loves 'em both" ("Farther Along"). He calls out unjust human institutions: "I was born into a system constructed for failure / It's a sinking ship manned by drunken sailors" ("The Resistance"). And he liberally draws nature metaphors and celebrates friendship, beauty, grace, and love both human and heavenly. It's hope and redemption that ultimately win the day in these epics.

In keeping with his true indie spirit, Garrels is giving away free Love & War & The Sea In-Between, along with any income it generates. "We were so provided for during the making of this album, by both God and men, that it seems appropriate to give away as freely as we received," he explains. That leaves no excuse to miss this gorgeous collection that will surely stand up as one of the year's best.

The Isaacs
The family band with heavenly harmonies is back with Why Cant We?, a rousing thirteen-song set of country and bluegrass flavored originals. Includes "Four Men Walkin' Around," "I Still Trust You," "That Is Why I Sing," and more.

Mat Kearney
Dove Award Winner, Mat Kearney, returns with his fourth studio album Young Love, revisiting the heavy grooves, spoken word, and singable choruses fans came to love from sophomore-release, Nothing Left To Lose. After becoming a licensed cab driver in hometown, Nashville, Tennessee, Kearney found lyrical inspiration for Young Love through the conversations he had with passengers. Young Love was recorded in Nashville with Kearney’s long time producers Robert Marvin, and Jason Lehning. "Down Down" will be the first single released to Christian CHR/AC radio, while "Hey Mama" can currently be heard on mainstream rock radio.

Kearney has sold over 600,000 units since his 2004 debut, Bullet, and has had music appear in a myriad of film and television shows. Songs from Bullet and Nothing Left To Lose, can be heard on shows including: Friday Night Lights, Bones, 30 Rock, Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, and featured in films like Soul Surfer, and Ramona & Beezus. Over the years Kearney has shared the stage with John Mayer, The Fray, Jason Mraz, Train, Keane, Ingrid Michaelson, and most recently, Owl City.
Rachael Lampa
One of the most recognized voices in Christian music! Award-winning artist Rachel Lampa's highly anticipated "next" album will satisfy faithful fans and new listeners alike. Her collection of deep and mature reflections on All We Need includes the hit radio single "Remedy," "Elevate," "Savior's Face," "Run to You," "One and Only," "Uncharted Territory," "Feet," and the title track.

John Mark McMillan
Singer-songwriter John Mark McMillan follows his critically-acclaimed album "The Medicine" with "Economy," a new 10-track album of spiritually-minded rock songs. Hailed by critics and fans alike, McMillan is the writer of the popular worship song "How He Loves."
A preacher’s kid from North Carolina, John is part storyteller, part poet. Drawing on the religious imagery of his upbringing, he crafts spiritually-minded, emotionally-packed songs set against a background of indie rock with a decidedly Folk/Americana bent.
Check out an interview that I did with John Mark here

Leigh Nash
Former Sixpence None the Richer vocalist Leigh Nash offers an exceptional set of classic hymns, re-written with fresh new melodies and modern arrangements. Hymns and Sacred Songs includes "Blessed Redeemer," "Be Still My Soul," "Power of The Cross," and more.

After two years of non-stop touring, NeedToBreathe has poured their full efforts into creating The Reckoning – an album centered on the songwriting talents of Bear and Bo Rinehart. Inspired by the dynamic they had developed on the road, the band was determined to capture their on-stage energy and exhilarating live performances, along with their experimental recording ideas.
“We wanted to make a record where we pretty much tried everything. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create something that would define us.”
The Reckoning marks the fourth album from Needtobreathe in five years, all released on Atlantic Records.
"We've put our hearts and souls into this record, along with a lot of blood, sweat and tears. We believe it's the strongest collection of songs we've ever created."

Sovereign Grace
“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”

These words, spoken by an angel to the women at Jesus’s tomb, changed history forever. Christ’s resurrection was more than a display of raw supernatural power. It was the single event that assures us that his payment for our sins has been accepted. God’s wrath is satisfied. Death is defeated. The powers of darkness are overcome. Sin’s dominion has been broken. And the life of the age to come has dawned.

The songs on the Risen album celebrate these realities, experienced and enjoyed by all who place their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. 

Laura Story
Authentic, and powerful in it’s purity, Blessings is a rich follow up to “Great God Who Saves,” Laura’s 2009 Dove Award winning Inspiration Album of the Year.
Blessings testifies to Laura’s journey – personally and musically – while lyrically maintaining roots grafted deep in her genuine affection for worship. With a voice that is a beautiful wash of warmth, comfort and ease, Laura effortlessly moves you through the celebration of resting in God’s provision and faithfulness – His blessings.

"Vice Verses is a record of tension and release. It’s an attempt to describe the polarity of the human experience. The sunlight and shadow. The highs and lows, laughter and pain, hope and fear, doubts and belief," says lead singer/guitarist Jon Foreman. "Vice Verses is soul music – attempting to get to the heart of the human experience: Living in the tension and turning it into song."

It’s that very uneasiness – an unwillingness to choose the treadmill over the triathlon – that fuels the band’s forays into new musical territory and Jon Foreman’s unflinchingly honest lyrics. Songs like "Afterlife" and "The War Inside" take the harder-edged approach of their previous release, Hello Hurricane a step further, creating what Billboard has called "powerful, anthemic rockers…like an amalgamation of U2’s ‘Achtung Baby,’ Linkin Park." Overall, Vice Verses is a more eclectic collection than its predecessor with quiet gems like "Souvenirs" and the title track next to the infectious "The Original," reminiscent of Foo Fighters, and the biting, largely spoken-word "Selling the News." The rousing lead single "Dark Horses" makes abundantly clear, we were designed to transcend, to stand up against the darkness.

Working with producer Neal Avron (Weezer, Linkin Park) and executive producer Mike Elizondo (Eminem, 50 Cent, Pink, Maroon 5 and Fiona Apple), the band recorded most of Vice Verses in their San Diego, CA home studio.
"The art comes from the awkward ache. The knot in my stomach usually teaches me more than comfort ever could. The sculptor’s chisel carves away at the block to bring something new into being. In the same way, we hammer away at the world we're given to bring something new into being. We re-appropriate the past and present to create the future – breath by breath." 

The Story - Various
Music Inspired By The Story is an unparalleled project from the best-known artists in Christian music. The songs on THE STORY take timeless biblical stories and provide a completely new context into how God's story of love and redemption intersects with our story of brokenness and failures resulting in a new story of hope and rescue. The 2 CD set feature 18 all-new songs written by multiple Dove Award-Winners Nichole Nordeman & Bernie Herms, produced by Brown Bannister & Bernie Herms, and a stellar line-up of artists across all major labels who combined have sold over 75 million albums. Artists include:
Matthew West
Leigh Nash
Mark Hall (Casting Crowns)
Brandon Heath
Bart Millard (MercyMe)
Michael Tait (Newsboys)
Chris Tomlin
Francesca Battistelli
Mac Powell (Third Day)
Steven Curtis Chapman
Natalie Grant
Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay)
Jeremy Camp
Michael W. Smith
Amy Grant
and others

Heather Williams
Heather Williams walked through the desert of abuse, homelessness, poverty, and the loss of a child before she drank deeply from the oasis of faith. In her debut release, she tells her story of redemption in soaring vocals and sonic melodies. This Time Around includes "Hallelujah," "God Is Still God," "Breathe Again," "Holes," "Beautiful Thing," and the title track.