These past few years have featured the emergence of the female vocalist in music, and 2014 was no exception. Half of my top 10 albums of 2014 feature the female vocalists Ellie Holcomb, Lindsay McCaul, Ginny Owens, Moriah Peters and Jessa Anderson.
NEEDTOBREATHE had one of the top albums of 2014.
This seems to have been the year of the sophomore album as well, as my list includes the sophomore offerings from Lindsay McCaul, Moriah Peters, Jessa Anderson and for KING & COUNTRY. There is also one new band that made a debut album with immediate impact, Unspoken, who is my nominee for Best New Artist of 2014. Veteran artists NEEDTOBREATHE, Tenth Avenue North and Jason Gray each released their best albums yet in my opinion, and they round out my Top 10. I’ve purposely left off worship releases since I have already posted a separate list of my top albums in that area.
This was overall another great year for Christian music, and for female artists and sophomore releases in particular, this may have been one of the best years ever. Don’t miss out on any of these great albums, along with the 10 honorable mentions, rounding out my top 20 albums of 2014. I’d love to read any feedback on albums I might have missed and whether there are any surprises on this list.
1. Rivers in the Wasteland by NEEDTOBREATHE
No matter your situation, this band has songs that can really bring healing and reflect the cry of your heart, such as their Dove Award-winning songs “Washed by the Water,” “Lay ‘Em Down,” “Something Beautiful,” “Slumber” and “Keep Your Eyes Open.” The band consistently makes songs that remind us to get to that place where we are in humble submission to God, not playing it safe, but taking a chance and asking for God to be real in our lives.
Rivers in the Wasteland is the best album I’ve heard this year. The album includes a solid mix of Southern-rock-tinged music with inspirational lyrics. Although every song is absolutely amazing, don’t miss the standout songs “Wasteland,” “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” “Difference Maker,” “Rise Again,” “The Heart,” “Multiplied” and “More Heart, Less Attack.” The very relatable and transparent words of these eleven stellar tracks use poetic descriptions and biblical language throughout, resulting in NEEDTOBREATHE’s best album to date.
2. Unspoken by Unspoken
If you want to experience an uplifting, soul-stirring, “gourmet” worshipful album, look no further than Unspoken. “You can silence the voices, but you can’t stop the song. When the Spirit’s moving, His will, will be done. You can bury the workman but the work will go on” is the refrain of the Mark 13:31 inspired sing-along anthem “Bury the Workman.”
With this excellent album, Unspoken is offering a great example of how you can write and sing lyrics that are unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reach the lost with transparent confessions of faith. I love these confessional and biblical lyrics throughout the album, and Mattson’s emotive vocals cause me to hang on every word such as: “So let the ashes fall wherever they land / Come back from wherever you’ve been / To the foot of the cross / To the feet of Jesus / Where you are is never too late, so bad, so much that you can’t change / At the foot of the cross you can change who you are.”
In my opinion, Unspoken is the best new band to hit the Christian music scene since Sidewalk Prophets. The album is chock full of potential radio singles, and every song is completely captivating. If you’ve been desperately waiting for a fresh filling of Christ-focused catchy songs about relying completely on God’s grace, then don’t miss out on this incredible album.
3. As Sure As the Sun by Ellie Holcomb
As expressed in Luke 7:47 (NKJV): “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Ellie loves a lot, and that is evident throughout this stellar “gourmet” offering. “As Sure As the Sun,” “Marvelous Light,” “The Broken Beautiful,” “Night Song,” “Love Never Fails,” “Love Broke Through,” “The Valley” and “I Want to Be Free” are all stand-out tracks filled with overwhelming biblical truth, and they are companions in my personal prayer and worship time. Ellie has captivating and catchy songs filled with inspirational lyrics, bringing sincerity and relatable themes that get deeper with each listen. As Sure As the Sun is truly a great album and a moving and prayerful worship experience.
4. One More Step by Lindsay McCaul
Lindsay McCaul writes and sings captivating and catchy songs filled with inspirational lyrics. This is a great new collection of heartfelt, inspirational songs about the journey of life we are all on as pilgrims, keeping our eyes on the prize of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Musically, the album features a great mix of confessional ballads and singer-songwriter pop music. The stirring vocals, prayerful lyrics and musical arrangements are breathtaking. This is a Spirit-filled and emotional listening experience.
“Empty Handed,” “A Little,” “Jesus Be,” “One More Step,” “With the Brokenhearted,” “The In Between,” “Mess Like Me” and “Love Won’t Give Up” are all stand-out tracks filled with overwhelming biblical truth. Every song is a great reminder for followers of Jesus wrestling with doubts and trying to live out their faith. If you are looking for the inspirational album of the year in the style of Blessings by Laura Story, then look no further than One More Step.
5. I Know a Secret by Ginny Owens
This is a Spirit-filled and emotional listening experience filled with profound lyrical truth. All fourteen songs are catchy, worshipful and biblically inspired. Ginny expresses her prayers to God, allowing listeners to eavesdrop on her vertical offerings and captivating ballads, one of Ginny’s strengths. Ginny is an anointed songwriter, and she has a profound way of bringing me closer to God with her poignant words, tender singing and inspirational truths. I get welled up singing along with several of the emotion-laden songs, especially “I Will Praise You,” “Made for More,” “In This Darkness” and “Don’t Waste Your Life.”
Ginny has consistently been one of my all-time favorite female singer-songwriters, from her debut album Without Condition and stand-out song “If You Want Me To,” and I’ve been yearning for more “gourmet” songs like these since Without Condition. Don’t hesitate to pick up this great return from one of CCM’s top female artists. I Know a Secret is Ginny’s best album of her incredible career.
6. Brave by Moriah Peters
Moriah Peters has the gift of encouragement, and every single song on Brave lifts me up. She has an infectious and upbeat musical style, layering her strong and distinguished vocals over the top of one hooky melody after another. Moriah has really emerged as one of the top female vocalists in Christian music, and she is a great role model for girls. She has delivered the ideal album to minister to anyone struggling with fear and self-doubt.
Every song is a great showcase of Moriah’s excellent singing voice, and you can practically hear her smile as she delivers one infectious song after another. The layered and well produced musical arrangements on this album perfectly accentuate Moriah’s powerful and passionate songs. Don’t miss out on one of the most inspirational albums of the year. You won’t be able to help but dance and sing along with the stand-out songs “Brave,” “Oh Fear,” “You Carry Me,” “Stand Strong,” “Don’t Want to Live for Me,” “Born to be Free” and “Give Me Jesus.” If you liked I Choose Jesus, you’ll love Brave.
7. Whole by Jessa Anderson
If you are looking for the words to express your feelings to God, these songs are a wonderful companion. These are the most honest, raw and moving songs I’ve heard in a while. If you like the indie-pop style “gourmet” singer-songwriters Kate Voegele, Ingrid Michaelson, and Audrey Assad, you need to check out Jessa Anderson. This entire album is loaded with relatable lyrics, incredible singing and prayerful themes about what it means to be a child of God. Musically, the album features a great mix of confessional ballads and singer-songwriter pop music. Give Whole a few deep listens and you’ll love it. I hang on every single word and the stirring vocals, vulnerable lyrics and musical arrangements are breath-taking. Jessa has written and sung an exceptional set of songs that deal with the identity struggle we all face of knowing that as children of God we are made in His image and made “whole” by His love.
8. Cathedrals by Tenth Avenue North
After three successful albums and numerous hit songs, Tenth Avenue North released Cathedrals on November 10. The latest from the band is a collection of songs exploring the nature of community and what it means to be a safe place for each other. The band was struck by John Donne’s memorable quote “no man is an island.” Tenth Avenue North encourages us to realize God’s spirit doesn’t dwell in buildings. He dwells in us, because “we are His cathedrals.” I love the nod in the opening stanza of hit single “No Man is an Island” to the last album, “The Struggle makes us new.” This idea of community and making us new, how we as Christians are “Cathedrals” or temples of the Holy Spirit, are the key takeaway messages of this album, the best of Tenth Avenue North’s award-winning career.
9. Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong. by for KING & COUNTRY
One of the most anticipated new releases of the year was this talented band’s sophomore album. These singers of the hit songs “The Proof of Your Love,” “Middle of Your Heart,” “Busted Heart,” “Hope is What We Crave” and “Baby Boy” are Luke and Joel Smallbone, the younger brothers of Rebecca St. James. This new album was preceded by the release of the infectious anthem “Fix My Eyes,” which has been an energizing song for the church.
I’ve had the opportunity to worship with the band in person with the song a couple of times, and it is a wonderful way to remind us to “fix my eyes on You” by singing along with the “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and Psalm 121 inspired song. Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong., musically and lyrically, is certainly one of the most engaging albums of the year. There is nothing cliché or false in anything this group does. If you are looking for a band with songs that stir your soul like Arcade Fire, Switchfoot and NEEDTOBREATHE, then you’ll absolutely want to check out this new album by for KING & COUNTRY.
10. Love Will Have the Final Word by Jason Gray
Love Will Have the Final Word is an emotional listening experience. All eleven songs are catchy, personal and biblically focused. If you liked A Way to See in the Dark then you absolutely must have this album. With each album I hear maturation in the subject matter, with lyrical depth and musical layers that have made Jason among my favorite male artists along with voices like Bebo Norman, Shaun Groves and Josh Wilson.
If you like a singer-songwriter who lays their heart on their sleeve and sings about the truth of what it means to walk with God and work out their salvation with fear and trembling, then don’t miss out on one of Christian music’s most treasured artists. I get welled up singing along with several of the emotion-laden songs, especially “Not Right Now,” “Love will Have the Final Word,” “Begin Again,” “I Don’t Know How” and “If You Want to Love Someone.” If you are looking for the top male singer-songwriter album of the year, look no further than this stellar offering.
11. Between the Stars by Flyleaf
12. OXYGEN: INHALE by Thousand Foot Krutch
13. Fading West by Switchfoot
14. Thrive by Casting Crowns
15. Welcome to the New by MercyMe
16. If We’re Honest by Francesca Battistelli
17. Here’s to the Ones by Rhett Walker Band
18. About A Mile by About A Mile
19. Anchor by Colton Dixon
20. LoveCollide by LoveCollide
RT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.