Because I’ve waited so long, the list is pretty long. A whole slew of great albums have hit the scene since early 2014, and I’d like to bring your attention to the ones that are pretty special! In no particular order…
Zach Sprowls, Everlasting Arms, May 2014
A peppy twist on “O for a Thousand Tongues” and a meaningful retune of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” make this a wonderful hymn collection, plus some original material. Zach is a thoughtful, intentional worship leader whom I respect, and this album is a means for him to raise money to support the adoption process. So buy ten albums for $100 each, would you?
Wen Reagan, Love & Lightning, Winter & Warm, May 2014
This is Wen’s several-year labor of love. A nice anthology of PROFOUND new hymns and beautiful retuned old ones, with some killer, surprising musical settings–grungy, bluesy, folky. Check out all 16 tracks, every one of which is worth the price of admission.
Elevation Worship, Only King Forever, January 2014
I am not exaggerating when I say that I think this is the best mainstream worship album so far this year…beating out Passion, Hillsong, and the other usual suspects. It is musically moving, and it has some amazing, accessible lyric-writing (one great zinger: “as law gave way to liberty / and freedom for humanity / in a grace so glorious”). I’m blown away by the gospel centrality of the record. Coral Ridge regularly sings “Grace So Glorious,” “Last Word,” and their tweak of “Blessed Assurance.” “Only King Forever” is a wonderful opening / call to worship song as well. Great album, top to bottom.
Jeremy Casella, Death in Reverse, May 2014
This album is deep and artistic; it is not for the faint of heart. Jeremy shows his commitment to the high craft of songwriting, taking his cues from many of the greats. To point out one song in particular would feel like doing a disservice to the entire record. You can tell that Casella has been drinking from the wells of hymnody for many years, because his songs are stacked on layers and sub-layers of linguistic and conceptual allusion. Amazing.
Matthew Smith, Hiding Place, March 2014
Indelible Grace front man continues to faithfully mine old hymns, emerging from the deeps to surface with yet more gems that we didn’t know existed. The track, “Hiding Place,” is one of those gems. It wrecks me every time I hear it. Follow the song, and check out how its musical progression tracks with the text. Marvelous. I love the simplicity of the album’s selections, too…a lot of focus on the simple, beautiful love of God.
Robbie Seay, Psalms, vol. 2, May 2014
Robbie has come down with the old case of psalmophilia. It’s a beautiful disease that infects worship leaders and songwriters who awaken to the reality that many of the great worship-revivals in the church centered around recovery of the biblical Psalms. This EP is filled with some of the more accessible psalm-settings I’ve encountered. Singable psalms! You can’t go wrong.
Andrew Ehrenzeller, Children of Promise, April 2014
Andrew is an artist affiliated with Jesus Culture and a local worship leader down here in Ft. Lauderdale. I love this album. Its infectious, Peter Gabriel-esque vibe alongside its insistant, earnest lyric writing leaves me quenched! “Meet You There,” for some reason, keeps standing out. It won’t be the album’s most popular song, but it is for me. I am gripped by the Father-Son-church movement of the chorus.
Chad Robison, Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort, July 2014
Chad is one of my go-to subs when I am not at Coral Ridge on a Sunday. I trust him because he knows Coral Ridge and leads worship with a very similar set of instincts. It’s no surprise, then, that I’m thrilled with his hymn-laced album. Everyone should check out what he’s done with Marva Dawn’s hymn, “Come Away From Rush and Hurry,” and then steal it for your church. It’s a God-ward, musical record!
Soma Music, Turn Your Eyes, July 2014
A playful, raw, indie rock hymns record. It’s rough around the edges, but I think that’s part of its charms. It’s fresh to hear old hymns accompanied by unusual (for hymns) arrangements and instrumentation. I love the fuzz-sliding on “The Love of God.”
This is no offense, but are there any good albums by 1) women, and 2) non-whites?
No offense taken. If you know of any that I should be listening to, please let me know! Audrey Assad's Fortunate Fall is excellent, but that's 2013.
Hey Zac, you should check out this EP from Jon Owens. He released two EPs this year, but this one, "The Fall," is powerful. Some amazing, beautiful and hopeful music out of a place of heartbreak and sorrow.
Thanks for the recommendation, Caroline!