One of the most successful artists in the world of contemporary Christian music, Chris Tomlin has had ten number one Christian radio singles, and two of his albums have gone gold and one has gone platinum. Several of his praise & worship songs, like his first hit, “How Great Is Our God,” have become contemporary praise & worship standards. This set collects his key tracks, as well as new recordings of three of his classics, including an interesting new version of “How Great Is Our God” featuring guest appearances from several international worship leaders who sing parts of the song in their native languages.
Steve Leggett, Rovi
Giving the Hillsong collective a run for its money, the worship team known as Passion rocks hard and brings the grandeur on White Flag, an album recorded live at Passion 2012, the Christian Conference held at the Georgia World Congress Center. Names like Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, and Christy Nockels all contribute songs and performances, and with 42,000 students in the audience, the response is massive, making this sound just as big as any U2 or Wembley gig you'd care to mention. Check out Tomlin's classic rock-inspired "The Only One" or Kristian Stanfill's alt-rock opener "Not Ashamed" for sheer power, or check Tomlin's collaboration with Matt Redman, "Lay Me Down," for a more traditional CCM highlight.
David Jeffries, Rovi
Inspired by Evangelical publisher Zondervan's best-selling Bible, The Story, Randy Frazee's book The Heart of the Story, and Max Lucado's book God's Story Your Story, Provident Music Inspired by: The Story features 18 original songs from Dove Award-winning musicians/composers Nichole Nordeman and Bernie Herms, all of which tell the tale of the bible from Creation to the Second Coming. Spanning two-discs, and featuring some of contemporary Christian music’s biggest names, including Amy Grant, Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jeremy Camp, and many more, the package also includes a companion DVD that features multimedia footage pertaining to each of the pieces.
James Christopher Monger, Rovi
With Worship Central's Spirit Break Out recently becoming the first-ever worship album to reach the U.K. charts and Delirious? scoring a Facebook campaign-assisted Top Five single, British contemporary Christian rock is arguably in the rudest health it's ever been. Hoping to capitalize on its growing popularity is Northern Irish 15-piece Rend Collective Experiment, who are already making waves in the U.S. after touring with the likes of Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio. Recorded in several churches and various members' homes (hence its title), their second album, Homemade Worship by Handmade People, could well be the record that truly transcends the scene's core audience. Indeed, it's a spiritual album that doesn't necessarily have to be for spiritual people, thanks to a warm, rich, and inviting acoustic sound which easily holds its own alongside the emphatic boogie rock of Kings of Leon ("Praise Like Fireworks"), the foot-stomping nu-folk of Mumford & Sons ("Build Your Kingdom Here"), and the life-affirming indie epics of Snow Patrol ("Second Chance"). However, the follow-up to 2010's Organic Family Hymnal is by no means just an attempt to replicate the sounds of various "Q Magazine" cover stars. "You Are My Vision" bravely transforms the traditional hymn into an authentic slice of harmony-laden bluegrass, "True Intimacy" showcases a rare female lead vocal on a gorgeous glockenspiel-led number which could have come from the modern Lilith Fair stable, while "The Cost" is a rousing hillbilly anthem packed with anthemic chants, handclap rhythms, and Sigur Rós-esque choral melodies. The ballads are just as enchanting, from the string-soaked atmospherics of "Desert Soul" to the heart-warming jangly acoustics of "Keep Me Near" to the brass-tinged melancholy of "Alabaster," a far more suitable finale than the rather pedestrian "Shining Star." Whether you choose to listen to it as a celebratory worship experience or just a conventional pop/rock album, Homemade Worship by Handmade People works on both levels.
Jon O'Brien, Rovi
There's little gray room when it comes to recording a Christian rock album. You either keep things sacred by aiming your songs directly at a churchgoing audience, or you move over to secular territory and ditch the "Christian" tag altogether. Needtobreathe, like Switchfoot and grunge-era Jars of Clay, are one of the only bands with a foothold on both sides of the sacred/secular divide, and The Reckoning takes the best from both camps. On one hand, these 14 tracks are full of Bible allusions and parable-like lyrics. Even the title itself, which hints at Judgment Day, has a Christian bent. At the same time, the band's music -- a mix of heartland rock & roll and chest-thumping, rafter-reaching uplift -- is more indebted to rock than anything else, and The Reckoning builds upon the raw, rootsy sound that The Outsiders helped introduce, with the banjo often taking as much airtime as the electric guitar. Bear Rinehart sings like Will Hoge, growling his melodies in a husky baritone and hitting the high notes like they're punching bags. Whenever his bandmates join in, they stack their harmonies three voices deep. Some of the louder songs are almost too passionate for their own good -- there's a fine line between a heartfelt epic and over-sentimental stadium schlock -- but the guys err on the side of caution, stripping songs like "A Place Only You Can Go" down to their bare essentials and avoiding most of the pitfalls that plague people who make "big" music. That's what that The Reckoning is, though -- "big" music -- and Needtobreathe have the balls and brawn to pull it off well.
Andrew Leahey, Rovi
Maturity has not softened the alt-folk-rock creativity of Caedmon's Call, it's only given them new subjects to write about. The group emerged from a three-year hiatus with their landmark 16th studio album, Raising Up the Dead. Their inspiration has evolved from youthful relationship musings to the trappings of parenthood and settling down. The Texas-based hipsters won many of their listeners while in college, hitting the Christian pop scene in the mid-'90s with their distinctive blend of indie and acoustic faith-based folk-pop. Amid a revolving lineup and experiments in and out of worship music during the next decade, the band's craft speaks for itself and continues their reputation for having one of the most credible songwriting collectives anywhere. This time, each member of the band co-wrote at least one track, though Danielle Young's contributions tend to overshadow the rest. The wife of fellow vocalist Cliff Young, Young sings lead and shares co-writing credits on six of the 12 tracks. Raising Up the Dead combines the best elements of 10,000 Maniacs, Wallflowers, and Sarah McLachlan to venture well beyond the group's coffeehouse vibe. One of the album's most endearing qualities is that it showcases how well they challenge themselves to expand their genre's boundaries. Between the distinctive songwriting styles and sharing of lead vocal duties from track to track, Raising Up the Dead offers something new with each listen. Not every group can say the years have been as kind as they have been to Caedmon's Call on this album. It's a hallmark, an adventure, and a breath of fresh air all rolled into one.
Jared Johnson, Rovi
Matt Redman's deliberate and earnest approach to crafting meaningful worship music has made him a contemporary Christian favorite for over 15 years. His eighth album, 10,000 Reasons, strays little from the winning formula of anthems that are big enough to capture your heart yet simple enough to stick in your head. What endears the U.K. native once again is his utter command of lyrics, instruments, and emotions to create an ongoing worship experience. The album was recorded live for an audience of thousands of worship leaders during LIFT: A Worship Leader Collective in Atlanta, Georgia. By this point in his career, Redman had to dig deep to distinguish this record from the rest of his catalog. For the most part, he makes up for any lack of inventiveness with what he deems the "fire that burns inside," a line that rings out on opening track "We Are the Free." Redman is one of a handful of contemporary Christian artists in whom fans value consistency just as much, if not more, than pure artistry. His fans, along with those of Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Hillsong United, and others, want to know what they can expect from these artists. That is why Redman, who bases all of his songs on scriptural themes, can continue to make hit collections again and again.
Jared Johnson, Rovi