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The Best Christian Albums of 2004

  • Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
The Best Christian Albums of 2004

Welcome to our fifth annual list of the Best Christian Albums of the year. Six editors and writers associated with Christian Music Today and Christianity Today International teamed up to nominate close to 50 Christian albums and select the 12 best. Each of our top 12 picks were voted in by at least half the panel for their originality, eclecticism, musical growth, talent, and/or message. Check out the ones that sound like they would appeal to you, and see if you don't agree.

#12
Universal United House of Prayer
Buddy Miller

New West

Alt country/folk is an often under-appreciated genre that typically champions first-rate songwriting and skilled musicianship over commercial viability. And this veteran is an oft overlooked, though widely regarded, guitarist and artist. With the popularity of the genre slowly on the rise, here's hoping Buddy Miller earns more credibility and success with this timely, relevant and deservedly acclaimed effort—his most overtly spiritual CD yet and, in part, a heartfelt response to worldwide strife and the passing of Miller's brother-in-law, with gutsy and vulnerable lyrics that point to God as our one true hope and salvation.
Click here for the original review.

#11
All Things New
Steven Curtis Chapman

Sparrow/EMI

Who says old(er) dogs can't learn new tricks? After 15 years of success, it would be easy for Steven Curtis Chapman to rely solely on what's worked for him before. To some extent he does that here, but how refreshing to also hear him try new things, like adapting his style to contemporaries such as Five for Fighting and Coldplay, and collaborating with musicians outside of the usual Nashville music community. His songwriting is as thoughtful and heartfelt as ever, and he's revitalizing his sound with age. All Things New may not be the milestone that some of Chapman's past recordings were, but it once again establishes the artist as one of the best in Christian music … and still getting better.
Click here for the original review

#10
James Clay
James Clay

Inpop

What an amazing testimony this 22-year-old has! James Clay certainly isn't the first Christian artist to have one, but he's surprisingly one of the few to actually apply it to his songwriting. And he also does well applying his own clever perspective to familiar subjects like evangelism ("Wicker Park"), prayer ("On Your Knees"), and temptation ("Wicked Woman"). But the real revelation is his varied approach to rock, at different times stylistically resembling Counting Crows, Blues Traveler, Eric Clapton, and Todd Agnew without merely copying them. The production is just right too, balancing a quality sound with appropriate grit. The best part? This is only Clay's first album, and hopefully not his last.
Click here for the original review.

#9
Rachael Lampa
Rachael Lampa

Word/Warner

Well, well, look who's all grown up. Rachael Lampa takes a huge artistic leap with her fourth album and shows us all that she's not just a pretty voice, though she still puts it to good use with newfound musical diversity. This is a rich and eclectic pop album that successfully blends and bounces between rock, R&B, ska, soul, and dance, yet it all remains remarkably cohesive. Lampa also co-wrote the songs more this time, revealing more of herself with more mature lyricism that's catchy, thoughtful, and accessible. It's been more than four years since she first hit the scene, but this is such a musical evolution, it could well be considered Lampa's true debut.
Click here for the original review.

#8
Fernando Ortega
Fernando Ortega

Curb/Warner

Much as we've always loved the music of Fernando Ortega, his mellow approach to hymns and AC pop was becoming a bit old hat. Thanks to newfound creative freedom with Curb Records, he's made an overdue stretch beyond the lulling dynamics of his past albums and finds an elegant, sometimes darker alt folk sound in the same spirit as Daniel Lanois and Los Lobos. Deftly intertwining the sacred with the secular, the songwriting on this self-titled album is more metaphorical, intelligent, and personal, but still quiet, heartfelt, and inspirational. Like Steven Curtis Chapman and Rachael Lampa this year, Ortega shows significant growth without resorting to a radical departure.
Click here for the original review.

#7
Fight the Tide
Sanctus Real

Sparrow/EMI

Why can't more modern rock bands be this good, especially in Christian music? Sanctus Real gave off some energetic sparks on 2002's Say It Loud, but their follow-up is sonically superior. Thanks to producer Tedd T., the band is louder, punchier, more aggressive, and more slammin' while remaining as melodic and catchy as ever. Chris Rohman offers some playfully acrobatic guitar riffs, and Matt Hammitt has got to be one of the best rock vocalists around today. The lyrics strike a nice balance of real and straightforward—neither too cheesy nor too vague. It's clear that Sanctus Real aspires to clearly communicate their faith walk while aspiring to become one of the premier rock bands of their time. They're one step closer on both counts.
Click here for the original review.

#6
So Natural
Salvador

Word/Warner

Despite changes in their lineup with every album, Salvador has remained a consistently great jam band. But ever since their debut in 2000, fans have been waiting for an album that adequately raises the bar on their songwriting while showcasing their instrumental prowess. The appropriately titled So Natural finally gets it done—this is the real Salvador. Charismatic front man Nic Gonzalez again surrounds himself with able musicians that also seek to glorify the Lord with excellence. The songs are vertically focused without succumbing to watered-down worship music. They prove it possible to be reverent and entertaining. Also, while they do a great cover of Los Lonely Boys' hit "Heaven," they deserve much more recognition for their original material.
Click here for the original review.

#5
Share the Well
Caedmon's Call

Essential

Anyone who thought that Caedmon's Call had no hope to carry on without Derek Webb needs to think again. This album ranks with their best, finding them at an exciting new phase in their career. More than just inspired by mission trips to Brazil, Ecuador, and India, Caedmon's goes the extra mile with a hands-on approach that blends their acoustic folk pop style with the world music (and musicians) of the three countries. Comparisons to Paul Simon's legendary Graceland are inevitable, but not unwarranted. It works together so well without sounding overly forced or altered, we wouldn't mind hearing more like this in the future. More importantly, this is one of the best missions-focused recordings ever, causing Christians to think more globally. Is there a more important album this year?
Click here for the original review.

#4
Welcome to Diverse City
tobyMac

Forefront/EMI

In a word, fun—a straight-up par-tay complete with silly rhymes, shout-along choruses, funkafied grooves, a disco ball, and a whole lot of confetti. As suggested by the title, tobyMac brings an eclectic mix of hip-hop, rock, pop, vintage '70s funk, R&B, and soul, doing it with creativity and credibility—all while reflecting tobyMac's passion to bridge together cultures and race under Christ. He already appeals to a wide cross section of fans—young and old, black and white, rock and rap. And not that we don't want to see it happen, but the eventual reunion of dc Talk grows increasingly irrelevant with quality solo work like this. Okay, okay, it might also be that we just want more of tobyMac's ever so cute rapping son, young master Tru-Dog.
Click here for the original review.

#3
mmHmm
Relient K

Gotee

Although many fans are disappointed that Relient K has shed much of its goofball image, there's just no ignoring that this band gets better with every album. We've always enjoyed this band, but now we respect them. The songs are still fun, but the themes are more mature and spiritual than ever, smartly delivering themes of grace and relationship reconciliation. The musicianship is tighter than ever, and while the band embraces a more aggressive rock sound on mmHmm, their addition of piano in the mix allows for dramatic shifts in mood that help embellish the music instead of define it. In other words, it flat out rocks. Unlike the majority of power punk bands today, Relient K is leading the way, not following. Expect them to break even bigger in 2005.
Click here for the original review.

#2
I See Things Upside Down
Derek Webb

INO

There will always be a place for straightforward, inspirational Christian music. More impressive are the artists that don't just affirm our faith, but challenge us to consider what we believe and how we can strengthen ourselves as Christians. That's the strength of Derek Webb, who now joins the ranks of convicting songwriters like Keith Green, Mark Heard, Steve Taylor, and Rich Mullins. With songs like "I Repent," "What Is Not Love," and "T-Shirts," he doesn't just peel back layers of the heart with candid insight; he breaks it wide open to expose our shortcomings. Not content to simply repeat the acoustic pop stylings of his former band Caedmon's Call, Webb branches out into an alternative pop sound that's fairly outside the box. Big commercial success or not, Webb has truly arrived with another album of incredible songwriting depth.
Click here for the original review.

#1
The Other Side of Something
Sara Groves

INO

Since her national debut, Sara Groves has made our annual list with both 2001's Conversations and 2002's All Right Here, finishing with the No. 2 album in both instances. This time she lands the top spot, and the fact that she's placed highly three albums in a row is testament to what a consistently fantastic songwriter she really is. Groves speaks her heart without holding back, and thus writes what we all feel and relate to. "Roll to the Middle" is but one example, a tender and moving portrait of marital contrition. And here again is an artist stretching her sound without straying, settling on a good balance of folk and progressive AC pop that's a little less mellow than previous efforts. The fusion jazz of "Boxer" is one of the year's most originally conceived tracks. Groves is the rare Christian artist able to successfully juggle all that she can be—introspective, creative, worshipful, secular, intelligent, and approachable.
Click here for the original review.

The Ones That Got AwayOur six panelists each choose one CD they wish made the final list.

Andy Argyrakis
Freelance writer and critic, Christian Music Today

Volume & DensityDuvall

Asian Man Records


Duvall lead vocalist Josh Caterer was once best known as the front man for The Smoking Popes, a '90s mainstream band signed to Capitol Records that toured with Morrissey and Jawbreaker. But just as things started to take off with critics and audiences, Caterer discovered something deeper than rock 'n' roll-Christian faith. After becoming born again, he formed this new band, which picks up in the lush experimental pop/rock tradition of that former group, but with deep Christian convictions. Aside from spiritually edifying tracks like "All in Your Hands" and "Jesus Never Leaves Me," there's a fun cover of Spandau Ballet's "True," plus plenty of free-flowing harmonies and jangly guitar joy worth exploring!
Click here for the original review.


Russ Breimeier
Online Associate Editor, Christian Music Today

How to Dismantle an Atomic BombU2

Interscope

Despite his declarations of faith and tremendous work for African AIDS and debt relief, U2 frontman Bono remains an enigma to many Christians who aren't sure what to make of his spiritual beliefs and public behavior. Which is why, after discussion, it was decided not to review U2's latest CD as a "Christian" album, or to consider it for our Best Christian Albums list. But this much is certain: We unanimously agreed that Atomic Bomb, U2's 11th studio project, is one of the best albums we've heard this year, not to mention one of the band's best ever. With songs like the anthemic "All Because of You," the contemplative "One Step Closer," and the prayerful "Yahweh," this is U2's most consistent, energetic, hopeful, and spiritual album to date—which is really saying something considering all of their benchmark recordings in the last 25 years. It's got legs to carry it all the way through 2005 and beyond.
Click here for the original review.

Andree Farias
Freelance writer and critic, Christian Music Today

Divine InvitationSomething Like Silas

Sparrow/EMI

If one recording rose above the glut of worship releases this year in terms of musicianship, originality, and lyrical freshness, it's Divine Invitation, Something Like Silas' national debut. This is not your typical Sunday worship set, however, as the San Diego natives mix ethereal atmospherics, rollicking guitar solos, and shimmering layers of sound atop words that are meditative and introspective, without being moody or shoe-gazing. Think of a heavenly marriage between Sigur Rós and The Violet Burning, and you'll get the general idea. The songs may not all be congregational, but then again, the best moments of worship don't necessarily come in the thick of a church crowd; sometimes all you need is an album like this and a heart yearning for solace with God.
Click here for the original review.

Michael Herman
Promotional Director and Contributing Writer, ChristianityToday.com

House of a Thousand DreamsAllan Hall

Curb/Warner


With his solo debut, Allan Hall literally emerges from the shadows of Selah siblings Nicol Sponberg and Todd Smith. A gifted pianist, tenor, songwriter, and producer, House is Hall's chance to revisit his first loves of mountain and bluegrass music. By keeping the instrumentation to a minimum, one of the best-kept secrets in Nashville comes out—Hall's voice. He wrote his own harmonies, and this country crooner even sang them himself in order to build beautiful peaks of sonic southern soul, shedding beams of light into the valleys of somber topical moments sprinkled throughout this gem of an album.
Click here for the original review.


Todd Hertz
Associate Editor, Campus Life

StapleStaple

Flicker Records


2004 was a big year for Christian hard rock albums. The best of them—and my favorite Christian album of the year—is Staple's debut. First off, the CD rocks. A unique combo of metal-tinged rock and scream-and-thrash punk makes Staple a gripping, energized album that matches any hardcore album, Christian or not. Staple uses its daring and edgy sound to power passionate, intelligent lyrics. For example, "Deathtrap Daisy" handles lust in the most real, honest and descriptive way I've heard. (Read the lyrics here.) This is an album of tight musicianship, real truth, and raw emotion. Oh, and it rocks hard.
Click here for the original review.

Mark Moring
Online Managing Editor, Christian Music Today

Under the GazeCarolyn Arends

2B Records

I'd put this, the latest project from multiple Juno and Dove award-winner Carolyn Arends, right up there with the best singer/songwriter stuff we've heard this year—from Sara Groves and Derek Webb, our top two albums of 2004. Arends' best album since 1999's marvelous This Much I Understand—and possibly her best ever—Under the Gaze explores just what the title suggests: God sees everything, the secular and the sacred. The sure-to-endure highlights on this gem include the carpe diem-themed "This Is the Moment," a playful glimpse of Aslan (and God) in "Not a Tame Lion," the run-the-race encouragement of "Great Cloud of Witnesses," the insightful look at worship's many styles and faces in "Any Given Sunday," and the anthemic, heavenly-chorus-esque sing-a-long "Getting Ready for Glory." This can't-miss disc is a thoughtfully penned, beautifully scored work of art, beginning to end.
Click here for the original review.

Agree or disagree with our winners? Click here to view our annual Reader's Choice Awards, and see what the masses picked as their favorite albums and artists.

Want a blast from the past? View our previous best-of lists from 2003, 2002, 2001. and 2000.


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