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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Best New Artists of 2002

  • Andy Argyrakis, Russ Breimeier, and Mike Herman Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Best New Artists of 2002

2002 was an exciting year for new Christian music, and a good chunk of it came from several talented newcomers. Though we would have loved to include more, ten specific artists handily distinguished themselves from the rest with their impressive national debuts. Many have never released an album prior to 2002, though some have been recording for years independently and others have become their own artist after recording within other bands. Presenting ten new faces we hope will be making music for many years to come.

Click on the artist's image to read our original album review, and use the "Listen" and "Buy" links to visit

Paul Colman Trio

New Map of the World (Essential)

You might say that Paul Colman Trio (PC3) is Australia's answer to Delirious, in that they're a band that's made a strong impact on the mainstream culture of their homeland. PC3 is the most successful independent artist in Australia's history, which just goes to show how that country (like the UK) is more willing to integrate Christian artists into popular culture. This would make coming to America something of a letdown for some, because of the challenge of being lumped in with the Christian subculture. But it actually fits in with the mentality of PC3, who views America as a larger ministry field. You don't have to speak with Paul for very long before discovering this guy has a humble servant's heart.

As for the music, New Map of the World features some of the most radio-friendly pop-rock we've heard in a long time. This is confirmed by their three hit singles (to date), including their debut smash "Turn," which spent ten weeks at #1. Granted, some of the music is a little simplistic and bland, but bland in a good way (like Mike + the Mechanics or Matchbox Twenty). We call such music "guilty pleasures." But if you listen closer you'll find a lot more to digest than pop confections with oversimplified lyrics. This is a seeker-friendly band with poetic and reverent lyrics that can challenge the mind and appeal to a wide audience. Tracks such as "Selfish Song" and "Sun-Stars-Moon" show remarkable depth, and the insight displayed in "The Killing Tree" is enough to earn Paul some kind of songwriting award. The talented musicians of the Paul Colman Trio are off to a great start; we're confident and elated that they'll be a major force in Christian music for years to come.


The Fault Is History (Word/Warner)

After initially seeing them at GMA and then hearing about their numerous slots on prominent mainstream tours, it was easy to latch onto Souljahz's cross-section of styles and credibility stemming from their impact on the culture at large. On their debut, The Fault is History, the Washington siblings have no trouble creating first-rate neo-soul in the company of such artists as Macy Gray, Craig David, and Glenn Lewis one moment, followed by the funky fusion of Sly and the Family Stone or George Clinton the next. As if that isn't enough genre-bending, Souljahz continues to mix up their sound with plenty of hip-hop, rap, and flavorful Latin-styled sequencing. The musical mix-up seems to be a hit, since their single "All Around the World" hit #1 on the charts.

Other charming elements for the group include their dueling male and female vocal parts, along with a mix of satirical, serious, and social themes. Though the siblings' ages span from the teenage to the young-adult spectrum, they cover many issues and problems from a Christian perspective with lyrical maturity and a vocal dexterity well beyond their years. Like God's Property or Mary Mary, Souljahz should have no problem finding duel residency on the gospel and mainstream urban charts, and thanks to the radio immediacy of several of the tracks on The Fault Is History, they should have no problem staying there for much of the next year. They're easily one of the best things to happen to Christian R&B/hip-hop in years. The true test for Souljahz's longevity will their willingness to stay on the road, followed by their ability to return to the drawing board a second time and dream up an even more ambitious melting pot with the aid of production whiz Tonex for their sophomore release. That may seem like a tall order considering how impressive this debut is, but considering the talent involved, Souljahz seems more than up to the task.

Andy Hunter°

Exodus (Sparrow)

It's safe to say that Christian music primarily serves two purposes: to glorify God and to express the Good News of the Gospel through the unique vision of the artist. British DJ Andy Hunter° excels at both. Though the club scene has long been a growing phenomenon, it's still relatively underground in America, but in the UK it's absolutely huge. Many of the newly formed youth churches in England reflect the culture they live in by worshipping God with the popular music of the area. Just as Delirious and Matt Redman have become artists synonymous with the modern rock praise-and-worship movement, Andy Hunter° embodies the spirit of the young mix-masters who are bringing the club sound to the Church.

Additionally, and more importantly, Andy is helping to bring the church to the clubs, shining the Light of Jesus in some of the darkest places in the UK. A good number of DJs are only responsible for small elements of their craft. Andy handles it all – the sampling, programming, producing, and performing … even some of the vocalizing. The result is extremely well-made techno/trance, and it's rapidly earned him a lot of respect as an artist; some of his music is already being used in movies and television shows here in America. On top of that, people instantly notice that Andy's music isn't as dark as similar mainstream artists. Those who see him at a performance find he's approachable, not egotistical like so many other DJs. And yes, if a personal connection develops, he readily shares his faith with those who will listen. This is a new artist making a difference in the world around him, using his talents to build relationships for Christ and to worship him; there are lessons here for all of us to learn.

Shane Barnard & Shane Everett

Psalms (Inpop)

Sharing the same first name only cements the complementary relationship between Mr. Barnard and Mr. Everett on their collaborative national debut Psalms. The duo lifts up a sea of harmonies over an acoustic-based sound, ranging from gentle and simplistic to rocking and complex. The album centers on the Shanes' adaptation of the Psalms, extending off the sacred texts with practicality, originality, and artistic liberty. Sure, it would have been easy to quote the texts verbatim across generic background music, but Barnard and Everett break down such seemingly lazy connotations by throwing in a mix of vocal flexibility along with instrumental variation and orchestration. Although the disc has many folk undertones, it would be more accurate to describe the Shanes as Caedmon's Call meets Dave Matthews Band. Like that pair of eclectic outfits, the guys creatively match each tune's mood with a appropriate musical supplementation, always incorporating custom-made guitar flourishes and drum fills while occasionally teetering on an alternative edge.

As much as we love this disc, it's surprising it hasn't received more attention on Christian radio. There are at least five tracks on Psalms that would make great radio singles, and since the project already has been received quite strongly from fans in live settings, there's no doubt their built-in audience would be up to making airplay requests. Perhaps some are initially turned off by this project's Scripture adaptation as opposed to more narrative-styled songwriting, but even so, the record is so original in calling attention to God's Word that it should instead be considered both multi-format friendly and artistically palatable. Regardless of their level of chart action, Barnard and Everett are in the process of blooming into a pair of seasoned players, performers, and eloquent purveyors of praise.


Awakening (Spring Hill)

As a key founding member of '80s band Whiteheart, Mark "Gersh" Gersmehl isn't exactly a new artist. On the other hand, you'd never know he was in that band by listening to his first solo album, Awakening. A far cry from his days with the pop-metal group nearly 20 years ago, Gersh has embraced more of a sophisticated pop sound that's reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, Sting, Charlie Peacock, and David Gray. Consider how many times solo artists have gone their own way from their days with a band, only to sound like a variation of their old sound. It's impressive that Gersh doesn't reflect upon or exploit his classic sound with his new writing, and even more impressive that he does it so well.

The sound of Awakening is contemporary and smart, not the least bit dated, but it's also very palatable for listeners both young and old. Credit Gersh's smart songwriting for this. Other artists easily could have achieved this particular sound while dumbing down the lyrics with dull clichés. Likewise, Gersh could have made this album a little more intellectual and edgy, but it might have been too highbrow for some. Instead, Awakening is an intentionally smart inspirational album that conveys a spiritual journey, leading the listener from longing to brokenness, concluding with comfort and worship. Gersh was a respected musical veteran long before Awakening, but this album significantly increases his credibility as a valued Christian artist and songwriter. We can hardly wait for his next project.

Denison Marrs

Then Is the New Now (Floodgate / Warner)

Whatever you do, don't overlook Denison Marrs, another act on our list that has unfortunately received minimal radio airplay and media coverage. We can't understand why; quite frankly, the band's Floodgate debut, Then is the New Now, has become a permanent fixture in our CD players! Hopefully, these former indie staples will get the support they deserve via their new label deal (along with its subsequent distribution through the Warner Brothers system), because the disc is top-notch. Not one to merely rip off what other rock bands are doing, Denison Marrs instead creates their own rock-driven niche from their range of influences. The project is destined to fit the tastes of Jimmy Eat Word, The Cure, and Smashing Pumpkins fans, who all will instantly gravitate towards lead singer Eric Collins' distinctly powerful vocals.

Lyrically, the band has a realistic approach to their faith rather than a spiritual slant rooted in lofty idealism. Such honest sensibilities allow the group to be taken a lot more seriously in terms of their artistry, and hopefully non-believers will be reeled in due to the members' tactful and accessible examples of faith. Whether speaking of living each day to its fullest on "What Life Has," analyzing day-to-day relationships on "The Real Ones," considering what it would have been like to walk alongside Jesus on "Keeping It Cool," or covering the '80s dance-floor standard "Send Me An Angel," Denison Marrs is the epitome of what's good in this "new now."

Jeremy Camp

Stay (BEC)

Most people are praising Jeremy Camp for his strong faith, which is commendable, but let's take it a step further and apply it to his work as an artist. By now you're probably familiar with Jeremy's story, how he took a leap of faith in marrying a girl with ovarian cancer, only to lose her to the disease shortly after their honeymoon. He could have lost his faith in God altogether, or he could have used his music to air his pain. However, unlike the similarly themed "Fly" by Jars of Clay, you won't find details pertaining to Jeremy's loss in his music. Instead, these are songs inspired by his personal grief, his strong faith, and the submission of his will to God's. The songs' words are Jeremy's personal expressions, but they're generalized for anyone to relate to. You'll be inspired by these songs whether you've lost a loved one, failed an exam, suffered persecution for your faith, or need spiritual renewal. These simplistic words could be viewed as an artistic shortcoming, but they also serve to make Jeremy's music more relevant to a wider audience.

The music couldn't be any more relevant today either. The sound smacks of Creed and Matchbox Twenty influences, a popular sound these days, and Jeremy performs it well. On stage, the guy's got confidence, presence, and attention-grabbing music. The question is, how long does Jeremy hope to last as a recording artist? If he's in it for the long haul, he'll need to consider that this particular rock sound is quickly becoming a cliché. Focusing on the present, Stay is a strong and encouraging rock debut. It wouldn't surprise us in the least if Jeremy Camp's success quickly snowballs.

Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus

Welcome to the Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus (Vertical / Integrity)

With groups such as The Strokes, The Vines, The White Stripes, The Hives, The Elms, and The Supertones dipping back to the past to rekindle the magic of classic guitar rock, it's nice to see a group with a focus on worship joining the ranks. Citing such influences as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, and Pink Floyd, The Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus is proving that retro rock can be cool and that focusing your life on Christ is even cooler. The group's interactive and passionate live shows in both church and club settings have consistently proven their music is impacting the masses. Their live show is more than just a concert but rather a "worship experience," with their national debut, Welcome to the Rock and Roll Worship Circus, serving as the soundtrack to that soul-penetrating revival.

The album is one of this year's best examples of taking an "outside of the box" approach to worship, and the group clearly offers something that youth can sink their teeth into outside of the clichéd and contrived sound praise music unfortunately has been reduced to. In fact, we wouldn't mind seeing the group rock even a bit more, increasing their intensity level another notch or two to lend more credibility to their style and to more effectively communicate their message. In doing so, The Rock and Roll Worship Circus not only will be a force to be reckoned with in the Christian community, but they'll also be a trailblazing band with a vertical focus outside of those confines.


Play for the Gallery (Crowne)

This is another artist you probably haven't heard of, due to nonexistent radioplay and media coverage. That's surprising considering how much promotion Jonfulton received at GMA 2002, and unfortunate considering how excellent his solo debut is. This is an artist approaching Christian music from outside the subculture, and we're not just saying that because he's from Seattle. His songwriting style is quite different than the majority of today's Christian artists as he addresses the realities of living out his faith day to day among nonbelievers. "Heavens to Betsy" champions humble servanthood, and "Don't Throw It Away" is a plea to cling to the Christian upbringing that many people fall away from as adults. Songs such as these aren't written with basic Christian rhetoric; they're approached with poetry and everyday language. It's an extremely seeker-sensitive album.

Admittedly, Jonfulton's slacker alternative pop sound (reminiscent of Beck, Pete Yorn, Lenny Kravitz, and Kevin Max) won't appeal to everyone – it's simply "too weird" for the masses. At least it's different and interesting, impressively produced by Michael Omartian, David Byerly, Rick Elias, Tony Palacios, and Kevan Cyka. Drum machines pound and electric guitars ring with Jonfulton's seemingly nonchalant delivery topping it off. The resulting album, Play for the Gallery, is a breath of fresh air – a rocking good time with unique sound, voice, writing, and vision. We're hopeful that Jonfulton's best days are yet to come, and that he'll get the chance to introduce faith through music to a whole new audience in the years to come.

Daily Planet

Hero (Reunion)

We affectionately like to call this band "the downhere of this year." Remember how we championed that multi-talented Canadian quartet last year? Well, Daily Planet is unmistakably one of 2002's best new groups, thanks to their hodgepodge of sounds, competent lyrical composition, and contagiously funny personalities. For starters, Daily Planet's debut, Hero, is overflowing with all sorts of musical styles, from a cross-section of classic and modern rock to elements of funk and soul, moments of brilliant balladry, and even some impressive solo musicianship. Indeed, the guys are skilled at creating melodic pop masterpieces that only shine brighter because of their solid songwriting.

At times the group points towards the eternal, other times discusses the day to day, and all the while maintains a healthy balance between seeker sensitivity and an unshakable spiritual foundation. Even more so than hearing Daily Planet on your stereo, seeing them in concert truly brings such exciting elements to life. Group leader Jesse Butterworth is a dynamic front man and each of the players is skilled in terms of their individual instrumental craftsmanship. Whether watching them on stage or meeting the guys in person, you'll take an instant liking to their humorous and playful personas, but you'll also know their hearts are in the right place. The group certainly has come a long way since their early round of touring with pop/rock trio Jake, and they'll only build up their fan base once they land a support stop on a major tour, which is hopefully not too far around the corner. If scoring a number-one single before their record even hit the streets is any forecast of Daily Planet's future, chances are they'll be around for quite some time to come. Now if only they'd put that fantastic '80s medley they incorporate into their concerts on a CD, then they'd really be cooking. "Eye of the Tiger" anyone?

Interested in seeing other Best New Christian Artist alumni? View our picks from 2001 and 2000