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Faith-Based Music: Critics' Picks 2009

  • Staff
  • Updated Jan 21, 2010
Faith-Based Music:  Critics' Picks 2009

Our choices for the best faith-based albums of 2009 ...


1. Leeland, Love Is On The Move (Essential)
A picture of social justice was never painted more eloquently.

2. Steven Curtis Chapman, Beauty Will Rise (Sparrow)
You'll cry buckets upon first listen. Beautifully raw; gut-wrenchingly honest; Chapman's best yet.

3. Britt Nicole, The Lost Get Found (Sparrow)
A surprisingly mature sophomore effort that will delight even those naysayers without a penchant for pop with Britt's thoughtful lyrics and catchy hooks.

4. NEEDTOBREATHE, The Outsiders (Atlantic/Word)
They may be outsiders, but this record solidifies their position as INSANE musicians. We're lucky to have them in our circle.

5. Fee, Hope Rising (INO)
This one took me by surprise—great songwriting, strong hooks perfect for corporate worship.

6. David Crowder Band, Church Music (sixstepsrecords)
They even cover a Flyleaf song! Is there ANYTHING Crowder & Co. won't try?

7. Switchfoot, Hello Hurricane (Atlantic/lowercase people/Credential)
The songs are as catchy as they are thought provoking. Say hello to the re-emerging sounds of the Beautiful Letdown era.

8. Phil Wickham, Heaven and Earth (INO)
If this is the direction modern "worship" is headed, count me in.

9. Christy Nockels, Life Light Up (sixstepsrecords)
Nockels proves her voice is still her best asset and one of Christian music's greatest gifts.

10. BarlowGirl, Love and War (Fervent)
The piano intro on "Beautiful Ending" has haunted me for months. The album is a beautiful new direction both musically and lyrically for the more grown-up Barlows.


1. Switchfoot, Hello Hurricane (Atlantic/lowercase people/Credential)
A return to the socially conscious tones of The Beautiful Letdown that's once again loaded with crossover appeal.

2. Skillet, Awake (Atlantic/Ardent/INO)
Yet another blockbuster that debuted at No. 2 on the entire Billboard charts. For Panheads and newcomers alike, it's a sing-a-long from start to finish!

3. Sara Groves, Fireflies and Songs (INO)
This is her most honest and heartfelt singer/songwriter record to date. She continues to expose her soul and not be afraid to express personal vulnerabilities and fragilities.

4. Relient K, Forget and Not Slow Down (Mono Vs. Stereo)
Catchy, infectious and a crossover hit waiting to happen. This release also marks the band's Christian market debut on its own label.

5. Derek Webb, Stockholm Syndrome (INO)
Instead of a stripped down affair, Webb pulls off an album of fully produced variety that includes old-school soul, jazz and his most diversity to date.

6. Jars of Clay, The Long Fall Back To Earth (Gray Matters/Essential)
A mixture of acoustic rock, straight-up pop, hints of dance and a remarkably relevant lyrical base puts these original crossover luminaries back on track.
7. Manic Drive, Blue (Whiplash Records/Bema Media)
These guys are literally dcTalk for the next generation, switching between modern rock, soul and even progressive worship on occasion.

Monstrous rock anthems, enormous power ballads and vocals that are absolutely sublime (and reminiscent of the late great Jeff Buckley).

9. BeBe & CeCe Winans, Still (Malaco)
They're back and picking up right where they left off! Smooth grooves, pitch perfect harmonies and a message to simultaneously encourage the church and the world.

10. Mat Kearney, City of Black & White (Aware/Columbia/Inpop)
The hits keep coming, and this disc even scored the singer/songwriter an opening slot on tour with Keane. Add in sophisticated songwriting and porch pop infectiousness, and Kearney's poised to follow in the footsteps of John Mayer's soulful side.


1. Jars of Clay, The Long Fall Back To Earth (Gray Matters/Essential)
The best get better with stronger pop sensibilities than ever before.

2. David Crowder Band, Church Music (sixstepsrecords)
Crowder continues to defy genre boundaries.

3. Philip LaRue, Let the Road Pave Itself (BEC)
Honest songwriter effort proves itself to be surprise of the year.

4. Falling Up, Fangs (BEC)
Concept album raises Oregon act to new levels.

5. Steven Curtis Chapman, Beauty Will Rise (Sparrow)
Chapman saves his best for last with this career highlight.

6. MuteMath, Armistice (Warner Bros.)
The long-awaited second effort is better than advertised.

7. Thrice, Beggars (Vagrant)
Dustin Kensrue & Co. continue to create some of rock's most inventive moments.

8. Jason Gray, Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue (Centricity)
Most unheralded songwriter in the entire industry shines again.

9. Tal & Acacia, Wake Me (Essential)
Dynamic quirk-pop effort that delivers year's strongest debut.

10. Derek Webb, Stockholm Syndrome (INO)
Relentlessly explores sonic and lyrical turns like none other.


1. Sara Groves, Fireflies & Songs (INO)
With so much emotion in a single phrase, Groves' latest catalogs more impeccable heartache hymns in yet another installment of her personal discography. For the good days, and the bad, Groves is a best bet.
2. Switchfoot, Hello Hurricane (Atlantic/lowercase people/Credential)
I've never been a big fan of Switchfoot. Honestly. But this record, lyrically and musically, packs more punch per track than most rock records dare. It's official: these guys are around for good.

3. Sara Watkins, Sara Watkins (Nonesuch)
Former Nickel Creek-er Watkins' plaintive originals make perfect dance partners for her impeccable cover selections on a record that captures the essence of folk.

4. Steven Curtis Chapman, Beauty Will Rise (Sparrow)
Never at the top of my list, this is not a sympathy card. Chapman has laid his heart on the line, and we listeners are all the better for it. Thank you, Steven.

5. Skillet, Awake (Atlantic/Ardent/INO)
With major label pop accessibility, hardcore tendencies, schmaltzy tunes and penetrating heavy hitters, I can't help but love these guys. Awake was the record Skillet was born to make.

6. Jason Crabb, Jason Crabb (Spring Hill)
Every note this guy sings has a teardrop. With such a moving set of pipes and an equally stirring set list, everyone should introduce themselves to this country gem.

7. Lanae Hale, Back & Forth (Centricity)
Creative production. Unique voice. Stellar songs. Loads of talent. The best new artist debut of the year by far.

8. Derek Webb, Stockholm Syndrome (INO)
This was the record to love or hate. But wading through its thick production and Webb's meaty lyrics was more eye opening (and fun!) than I had assumed.

9. BeBe & CeCe, Still (Malaco)
C'mon y'all. Considering two gospel greats reunite after 15 years, I was tempted to put this record at No. 1.

10. Phil Wickham, Heaven & Earth (INO)
To quote my own review: "If Heaven & Earth is indicative of the music of heaven, then I can't wait to die." Sums it up, don't you think?

To read reviews of these albums, visit


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**This feature first published on January 21, 2010.