Friday, December 9, 2016

Best Of 2016: Albums

When compiling this list of my favorite albums of 2016, what struck me was that none of these amazing artists are played on the radio. Despite being some of the most talented and gifted singer/songwriters their work does not fit within the format of modern radio stations. It's a shame because each of these artists have crafted what are not only some of the best records of this past year but ones that will last because of their depth, quality of songwriting and the artistry that they brought to these amazing works.

How many artists do you know that take their inspiration from spiritual heroes like C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Saint Patrick, John Newton, Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Saint Therese, and Martin Luther? All Sons & Daughters did that with their latest album Poets & Saints. They visited the places where each of these heroes lived and studied their lives and faith. From that came the songs for this amazing album. The songs are deep, introspective, prayerful and beautiful. Some of my favorites off this album are "I Surrender," "Rest in You" and "You Hold It All Together." By going deep into the history of the Church, they came away with some of the most moving and gorgeous worship songs.

All Sons & Daughters' official website:

Sandra McCracken's Psalms was easily one of my favorite albums from last year and her latest, God's Highway, makes this year's list. McCracken is a gifted songwriter who has become a modern day hymn-writer. The songs on this album, like her best, offer an honesty, depth and hope that reveal the craftsman she is. With a voice reminiscent of Emmylou Harris, McCracken's voice offers raw emotion as she sings of not only her struggles, but also her hope in God. From the title track "God's Highway" she sings, "Fear not, keep on, watch and pray; walk in the light of God's highway." As with her last album, she mines the richness of the Psalms, as well as in the New Testament. This is very honest and personal worship music that our air waves could definitely use more of. 

Sandra McCracken's official website:

Paul Simon comes from a generation that gave us some of the most talented songwriters we will ever know (from Lennon & McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen). Simon has created some of the most memorable music ever recorded from his Simon & Garfunkel days to his solo career (filled with highlights like his monumental album Graceland). With Stranger to Stranger, he has recorded another of his best albums. This one is filled with the bittersweetness that mark his best works as his songs speak of people trying to find hope in disappointment and overcoming regret and nostalgia. In terms of the music, it is his most experimental with its use of homemade instruments like the zoomoozophone. His lyrics are filled with wit, wisdom, and alienation. 

Paul Simon's official website:

I was fortunate enough to see Leonard Cohen on his very last tour when he came to Asheville. No one explores politics, religion, isolation, sex, and relationships like him. On You Want It Darker, he creates his last great masterpiece. This album is a rumination on the passage of time and of mortality. The title track "You Want It Darker" begins:

If you are the dealer
I'm out of the game
If you are the healer
I'm broken and lame

At certain points, the chorus drops out and he growls, "Hineni, Hineni. I'm ready, my Lord" (a Hebrew cry of devotion). This album, like his others, is filled with biblical imagery even as he sings about religions that preach love but sow hate and conflict. There is his usual dark wit and an eye that captures both the bleakness of life as well as the redemptive beauty. Cohen is a psalmist and poet who includes the secular, the spiritual and the sensual. This is one of his lyrically most complex albums and it lets us know just what we will miss with his passing. It's rich, bleak and brilliant.

Leonard Cohen's official website:

Michael Gungor took on a monumental task when he decided to release three albums in one year, but that's what he's done with Gungor's trilogy One Wild Life. He describes it as "starting with birth and ending with death - so it goes through a physical life." It breaks down into Body, Soul and Spirit. As with all of Gungor's albums, he pushes the limits of what is defined as "Christian music," especially in relating to what he calls the "dignity and beauty of physicality." All three of these records are like our faith: challenging and, ultimately, hopeful. 

Gungor's official website:

No one records music like Regina Spektor. She is unique and talented in both her lyrics, the sound of her voice, and the instrumentation (all of which are strengthened by her training in classical music). She is a storyteller who gives glimpses into the uniqueness and strangeness of life. She can go from songs that resemble fairy tales to ballads to catchy pop songs. It begins with the upbeat "Bleeding Heart" about heartache that builds to a shout-out full of energy. This album seems more personal than some of her previous records and it shows her strengths as a gifted storyteller.

Regina Spektor's official website:

Carrie Newcomer is a profound poet whose voice soothes while her lyrics broaden ones theology. She is an expert at capturing the miraculous in the mundane. There is a balance between simplicity and complexity on each song in terms of the instrumentation and the lyrics. All of the songs are enriched by Newcomer's Quaker faith with its emphasis on peace, solitude and simplicity. They remind us that God is with us in the quotidian mystery of our lives. 

Carrie Newcomer's official website:

While the Avett Brothers are one of my favorite bands, their last album True Sadness sounded too over-produced. It did, however, have a song that is not only one of their best, but is now one of my favorites. "No Hard Feelings" reflects on mortality, the afterlife, and on the measure of a man's life.

The Avett Brothers' official website:

These were my favorite albums from this year, what were yours?

Please message and let me know.

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