Best New Artists of 2006
- Compiled by Andy Argyrakis, Christa Banister, Russ Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Jan
Another year has come and gone, bringing with it a long list of new Christian artists vying for the public's attention. Like the contestants on American Idol, some are bound to remain obscure, while others seem to have what it takes to connect with audiences for the long haul. Listed alphabetically, here are twelve talented bands and solo artists who made their national debut in 2006 that we hope to see continue for many years to come.
Uncommon Days (Centricity Records)
For a while, it looked like this national debut from Circleslide would never release. We're glad it finally did, though we all agree that the band doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel with their songwriting, which often treads into familiar worship-rock territory—think By the Tree or Ten Shekel Shirt. But Circleslide compensates with an appealingly polished modern rock sound, the soaring vocal of Gabe Martinez, anthemic choruses ("Get Up"), and some occasionally progressive arrangements ("Meteor"). No, they don't really resemble The Choir, the '80s alternative rock band from which they derive their name. But given time, Circleslide could well pick up where bands like PFR and Paul Colman Trio left off, continuing with vertically focused pop/rock that's undeniably catchy.
DecembeRadio (Slanted Records)
If Third Day had continued in the direction of their harder-edged Conspiracy No. 5 from 1997, they might have ended up with something similar to this powerhouse national debut from DecembeRadio. With so many of today's bands trying to develop a fresh rock sound based on grunge, emo, punk, and hardcore, it's nice to finally find one firmly rooted in the classic Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes, not to mention the pop-metal of Foreigner, Kansas, and Petra. In doing so, DecembeRadio provides something old-yet-new for today's oft neglected 30-to-40-something males raised on this stuff. The retro approach may prevent them from becoming superstars, but it's still impressive enough to earn them a Grammy nomination already, and strong enough to keep them afloat with a devoted following.
A Burn or a Shiver (Credential Recordings)
A natural inclusion since A Burn or a Shiver made our list for the Best Albums of 2006. There are plenty of sound-alike comparisons here—Lovedrug, Denison Marrs, House of Heroes, and Sleeping at Last to name a few. But as far as post-emo and indie rock goes, Edison Glass is way ahead of the pack, improving upon what's worked well for others in the last five years. They're progressive and powerful, yet still melodic, plus it's nice to hear a band that's intentional and artful with their Christian beliefs rather than vague and general. Edison Glass is more proof that faith and creativity can co-exist comfortably in modern rock. We're all too curious to hear what's next from these guys.
Business Up Front / Party in the Back (Gotee Records)
Say this much for Family Force 5. Their debut is surely the wildest trip of the year, and they've come up with a sound of their own ("crunk rock" indeed). A little bit Beastie Boys, a little bit Linkin Park, with some Duran Duran and dc Talk thrown in because they can—it's irresistibly fun stuff. Though energetic, raucous, and over-the-top (their concerts are wacky to say the least), the sound doesn't make your ears bleed or bore you with the usual conventions. These guys are all about fun, and it comes across loud and clear. We only wish the lyrics offered some cleverly written faith expressions along the lines of Relient K, newsboys, and All Star United. When that happens, it'll make the fact that they have a foot in both Christian and mainstream markets all the more meaningful.
The Book of David: Vol. 1 The Transition (GospoCentric/Zomba)
There are plenty in gospel and R&B who will make a passing reference in their songs to some healing or hurt that God helped them through. And then you find an artist like Dave Hollister, who practically redefines "testimonial" by putting recent life struggles on full display with his first album. Here we don't just find mention of his divorce—we also get the court appearance, the shameful aftermath, and the healing grace that comes only from God. A former member of '90s R&B powerhouse Blackstreet, Hollister succeeds in making an album that's anything but typical gospel/R&B. An openly honest and emotional road to redemption that's relatable to saints and sinners alike, Hollister's debut is quite possibly the best thing to happen to the genre since the music of Toné x and Kirk Franklin. Please tell us there's a Volume 2.
Sound of Melodies (Essential Records)
The buzz band of the year, and despite some over-hype, much of it is justified. There's a more than ample supply of Brit pop/rock imitators in Christian music inspired by the likes of Coldplay, Keane, and the Doves. But to find one that tackles the sound with this much aplomb, and with their first album, and with a singer/songwriter still in his teens, well, that does make Leeland rather special and hard to ignore, doesn't it? Adding fuel to the fire is the earnest passion and majesty with which Leeland Mooring and company render worshipful anthems for a new generation ("Tears of the Saints," the title track, "Come to the Table"). There's definitely room for improvement, but considering how young they are and the potential they demonstrate, that future promises to be all the more exciting.
Tales from the Badlands (Gotee Records)
Lately it seems like most R&B and hip-hop artists have succumbed to stale formulas and posturing. So what a pleasure it is to discover Liquid (aka Victor Oquendo), a singer/songwriter/producer who relies on genuine musicianship and heartfelt lyricism to create an eclectic-yet-cohesive effort that's additionally steeped in jazz, pop, Latin, funk, and soul. Part Barry White, part Roots, it all comes together surprisingly well as he paints a poignant and diverse picture of hometown life growing up in the streets of Philadelphia, warts and all. The message? Inner-city neighborhoods are not beyond redemption, nor are gangs and drugs enough to personally separate us from the grace of Jesus Christ. Tales from the Badlands might just challenge your perceptions of the ghettos and the music associated with them. We're also betting that Liquid still has plenty more stories to tell.
Blue on Blue (One Son Records/Nettwerk)
The voice is nothing new, but the artist is. After fronting the now-defunct Sixpence None the Richer since the early '90s, Leigh Nash goes solo with songs of her own. Turns out she's pretty good at it too—as if there were any doubt. Less artsy than her work with Sixpence, Blue on Blue is a sweet album of love songs to Nash's husband and son, more in step with the folk-pop of Sarah McLachlan and the country undertones of Patsy Cline. Though the songwriting just barely scratches the surface when it comes to spirituality, Nash uses her faith as a springboard from which to write about the complexities of relationships and the strength of unconditional love. With melodies that haunt the mind long after, not to mention that lovely lilting voice, Nash needn't be blue about this first chapter in her newfound solo career.
Daylight (Lava/Atlantic/Sparrow Records)
Another much hyped band from 2006, but NeedToBreathe has rightfully earned itself a devoted following for their dynamic live show, thanks to the charisma of lead singer Bear Rinehart and the skillful interplay among the band members. They also have broad generational reach with an accessible pop/rock sound that's reminiscent of Daily Planet, The Afters, and a less rootsy Counting Crows. Though some of the songs can get monotonous as Daylight progresses, most of them grow on the ear with time; they seem to have a good grasp on hook-filled songcraft. But what's especially admirable about this South Carolina band is their commitment to both Christian and mainstream markets, remaining grounded in their faith while making it relevant to the world around them.
You Are Good (Spin 360)
A pleasant surprise for the year, Matt Papa is quickly establishing himself as a bright new talent in the modern worship genre, rising in the ranks of high school youth groups, college campuses, and church events before becoming an independent artist and now making his national debut. That's even more impressive considering that he's only been leading worship the last 8 years—since the age of 14. Papa writes melodies as memorable as the best in today's worship, showing remarkable range that acknowledges the traditional alongside the modern. It's all very catchy, but more importantly, practical to the average contemporary congregation. If you appreciate Chris Tomlin, David Crowder Band, and Jason Morant, there's no reason you wouldn't enjoy Matt Papa just as much.
Phil Wickham (Simple/INO Records)
Simple Records (started by Bart Millard and producer Pete Kipley) is two for two with new artists after introducing The Afters in 2005. This time, it's Phil Wickham, and our reaction was unanimous: "Whoa, what a voice." Somewhere between a croon and a wail, the 22-year-old sounds like a cross between Rufus Wainwright and Bono. That marvelous tenor is particularly striking in a worshipful context, capable of elevating even the most simplistic material into something far more grandiose. Similar in style to Leeland, not to mention other Brit-pop faves, Wickham's self-titled debut has tons of atmosphere and is, at times, genuinely soul-stirring—a sort of musical prayer journal to God. Did we mention he plays most of the instruments on the album too?
Introducing Ayiesha Woods (Gotee Records)
Simply put, Ayiesha Woods is this year's freshest breath of air. At last, a new female talent with strong songwriting chops that go beyond predictable pop/rock by comfortably bridging it with R&B, jazz, dancehall reggae, and neo-soul. With a silky and soulful rasp, plus some piano skills that bring Alicia Keys to mind, Woods is probably most similar to India.Arie and Nicole C. Mullen, but even more diverse—she can't be neatly "boxed in," and that's exactly why we love her. The album is never boring and often fun, which makes the songs about God and his Word that much more meaningful and memorable. Offering a little something for everyone, and doing it all very well, this debut is not one to be missed.