Best Albums & Songs of 2020 (So Far)

2020-07-19T17:29:20+00:00

We know how important high-quality faith-based music is to you… we can relate.  Yet, it’s so easy to miss the true gems that are released as albums, EPs, or singles.  Our team at UTR can’t even keep up.  So we’ve called in reinforcements.  The UTR Panel of Critics represent a variety of websites and publications as music critics, and each summer they convene to help us cite the best albums and songs of the first half of the year.  This impressive list showcases how 2020 has been another strong year for creative, faith-fueled music.  We hope this is at least a good starting point in finding the most meaningful music on the planet from the last 6 months.  Here’s our critics’ picks for The Best Albums & Songs of 2020 (so far).

[Titles are listed in no particular orderThe quotes in parenthesis is a pull quote from one of our critics.  Albums & songs qualified if the artist is a Believer in Christ, and was released between 12/1/19 and 6/15/20.]

BEST GOURMET ALBUMS OF 2020(A)

  • Peopled with Dreams – John Mark McMillan  (“A strange, playful, hopeful record full of surprises”)
  • Leave What’s Lost Behind  – Colony House (“Shows maturity both lyrically and musically”)
  • Operation Song: Friday Sessions – Cindy Morgan (“A songwriting giant on her A game”)
  • Tandem – Waterdeep (“Brilliant songs both musically and lyrically with quirky twists and turns”)
  • Robin Hood – Jan Krist (“Her songwriting and delivery excels, as always”)
  • Meadow – Jillian Edwards (“Spiritually & musically takes me to the moon each listen”)
  • Open Heart – Phil Madeira (“Soul music and word play mastery”)
  • Curse of the Faithful – Justin McRoberts (“Bold and relatable Christ-centered folk songwriting”)
  • Twenty Four – Jonathan Ogden (“Songwriting that affects me deeply”)
  • Disorder EP – Jason Gray (“Gray’s poignant songwriting is coupled with musical excellence”)
  • Peace to All Who Enter Here – Josh Garrels  (“Feels like a calm summer breeze”)
  • Someday I’ll Make It All Up To You – Tyson Motsenbocker (“Honesty, compassion, & hope”)
  • Let The Ground Rest – Chris Renzema (“Close your eyes and get swept away”)
  • Yellowhammer Hymns – Yellowhammer Hymns (“A stellar collection of original hymns”)
  • Searching for Us – Skye Peterson (“Vulnerable songwriting and heartfelt delivery”)
  • Wilder Years – John Tibbs (“A vulnerability and ability to connect emotionally in his songs”)
  • Glorious  – Jordan and Jessa (“Moving and reverent prayers and personal confessions”)
  • Live  – Common Hymnal (“The exact mix of worship and social justice songs needed today”)
  • Patterns in the Static – The Classic Crime (“Deeply emotional sensibilities”)
  • All Creatures – Rain For Roots (“Gospel-centered, kid-directed, parent-approved”)
  • The Man I Thought I’d Never Be – Anthony Quails (“Full of warmth and heart”)
  • People – Jonathan  McReynolds  (“Bridges the gap between gospel/R&B and pop”)
  • Straight Bars & Guns – Roemer (“A strong dose of art and truth”)
  • Doubter/Friend – Liv Douglas (“A soothing salve of comfort for a heart of doubt and struggle”)
  • Lead On, Kindly Light/This World & One More – Bill Mallonee (“Possibly a career pinnacle”)
  • Dreaming in Electric Blue – Dave Barnes (“Moves between tender, groovy, & retro”)
  • Carrollton – Carrollton (“This Americana-style rocking album explores all parts of your heart”)
  • Waiting Games – Trella (“Sophisticated indie pop with weighty lyrics”)
  • Travelers & Balconeers – Zambroa (“A tour of theology, church history, and experimental sound”)
  • Keeper of Days – Jon Guerra (“It’s subdued and contemplative, then sneaks up on you”)
  • Among the Pines  – Ryan Clair (“A wonderful acoustic driven thoughtful musical excursion”)
  • See You Tomorrow – The Innocence Mission (“A lovely, enchanting, and profound album”)
  • Two Ghosts – Wayne Everett (“Impossibly lovely songs that are poetic, charming, & airy”)
  • Not an Island – Pyramid Park (“Reminds you of the past, but maybe feels like it’s from the future”)
  • The Story’s Still Alive – Graham Jones (“I was amazed by the excellence of this release”)
  • Suite No.2: World Keeps Spinning  – The Brilliance (” Songs with a sense of hope & inspiration”)
  • The Foot of the Mountain – Stephen Gordon (“A refreshing and emotional collection of songs”)
  • Unfall – Chase Tremaine (“Intricate guitar driven, vocally superb music”)
  • Fractioned Heart – Gable Price and Friends (“Had me bouncing and singing… and thinking”)
  • Swan Dive – Off Road Minivan (“Passionate and thunderous emo rock”)
  • Heat of Summer – Summerooms (“Been playing on repeat and still can’t get enough”)
  • Brand New  – Matthew West (“Recalls the playful, personable writing of his earlier albums”)
  • What in the World – Michael McDermott (“It may be the album we really need right now”)
  • Tension  – Anchor & Braille (“A beautifully rendered project with pop sensibilities”)

BEST GOURMET SONGS OF 2020(A)

  • “Constellations” – Ellie Holcomb (“God at times seems so distant yet we are never alone”)
  • “Where I’m From” – Colony House (“The fantastic songwriting shines through”)
  • “God is Young” – John Mark McMillan (“Playful R&B with thought provoking insights”)
  • “I Can Do Better” – Christa Wells (“An honest, beautiful & confessional song”)
  • “People” – Jonathan McReynolds (“Provocative without politicizing or proselytizing”)
  • “He Will Redeem It All” – Melanie Penn (“Perfect reminder at this time”)
  • “Simon, Taylor, Denver, Cash” – The Promise is Hope (“My favorite from 2020A”)
  • “You Already” – JJ Heller (“Identifies with everyone living with anxiety”)
  • “Runaway” – John Tibbs (“You can hear both yearning & thankfulness”)
  • “After This” – Carolyn Arends (“Written about and performed for these days”)
  • “Good Morning” – Royce Lovett  (“Fresh urban reggae beats mix with motivating lyrics”)
  • “Remind Me You’re Here” – Jason Gray (“A gorgeous offering of praise”)
  • “Weak, Proudly” – Jillian Edwards (“An ode to those who have a spiritually empty gas tank”)
  • “Survival” – Needtobreathe (ft. Drew & Ellie Holcomb) (“A foot-stomping prayer”)
  • “Somebody Dies” – Candace Coker (“Exhibits her brilliant songwriting talent”)
  • “The Darkside of Grace” – Roemer (“Dark, honest, realistic, hopeful…”)
  • “Someday Soon” – Russ Mohr (“A poignant song of hope that harkens to Andrae Crouch”)
  • “God Gave Me Horses” – Leigh Nash (“A great picture of grace – whether it’s true or not!”)
  • “Trust in You” – Antoine Bradford (“A classic sound that takes you back”)
  • “Rainbow” – SHEL (“They hit a different gear on this track”)
  • “Pollyanna” – Carly Taich (“Playful melodies, strong vocals, true optimism”)
  • “Burn Again” – Ecclesia (“Genre bending arrangement meets scriptural lyrics”)
  • “On the Way Back Down” – Paul Demer (“Points us to be teachable at all times”)
  • “See the Day” – Liz Vice (“A sweet, soulful, and powerful call for justice”)
  • “Tightrope” – Jon Guerra (“Tight harmonies and thoughtful songwriting”)
  • “Be Still” – Loud Harp (“Serves as a heavy blanket, soothing comfort, needed hug”)
  • “What is the Rush?” – Tina Boonstra (“Moves me musically while resonating emotionally”)
  • “The Long Defeat” – Justin McRoberts (“Calls us to persevere with faith and hope”)
  • “Psalm 15” – Poor Bishop Hooper (“An outstanding psalm interpretation”)
  • “How Much Longer” – Common Hymnal/Ike Ndolo (“A powerful plea for justice”)
  • “Sorry” – Treva Blomquist (“Killer production on the topic of conflict resolution”)
  • “Unbroken Horses” – John Mark McMillan (“From the guts performance”)
  • “Sunday Morning” – Tyson Motsenbocker (“Investigates faith amidst big questions”)
  • “Find You” – Audrey Assad (“Captures mystery, ache, and longing for God”)
  • “Spring” – Thomas Austin & Jon Henry (“Stripped-down sound + poetic lyrics”)
  • “Before You God” – Andy Squyers (“Has a haunting yet gospel feel”)
  • “Still” – Allie Paige (“A dreamy reminder that we should take a moment to be still”)
  • “This I Know” – Carrollton (“Faith clearly expressed with a bluesy funk vibe”)
  • “You Free My Soul” – Kate Hurley & Edenheart (“Feel the palpable live passion”)
  • “There is No Virus on the Moon” – Andy Zipf (“Thank you for a place we can go”)
  • “I Cannot Outrun Your Grace” – Jordan and Jessa (“Engaging and soothing style”)
  • “The Road” –  6’10 (“This simple traveling song keeps calling back to me”)
  • “Your Nearness Is Our Good” – Micah Michelle (ft. Liz Vice) (“Old Gospel feel”)
  • “Lately” – David Keener (“Explores reticences and hesitations of the heart”)
  • “Pull Apart” – Summerooms (“Soothing melody and thoughtful lyrics”)
  • “Rise Up (Lazarus)” – CAIN (“Speaks truth into our weary soul”)
  • “The Man Who Needed Grace” – Matthew West (“Folk + bombastic modern pop”)
  • “Rise” – Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles (“Hope… Optimism… and 100% funk”)
  • “Holding On” – The Brilliance (“Finding hope in God in this turbulent time”)
  • “Christ Jesus” – John Mark McMillan (“Singable, memorable, but not trite”)
  • “Still” – Civilized Creature (“Lush synth-pop that calls us to rest in Him”)
  • “You Are The One” – John Mark Nelson (“Reminds me that people > things”)

COMMENT & WIN A TEE

Like any list of “critics’ picks,” it’s a fun topic to discuss.  What are the albums and songs that you are excited to try out?  Were there any selections on your list that we missed?  Share below.  [We’re going to select one random winner from all the submitted comments to receive UTR’s new limited-edition “Keys For Survival” tee.]

6 Comments

  1. Vince July 17, 2020 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    I remember hearing “Listen” on Christian radio thirty years ago (when it wasn’t the wasteland it is today) and buying the album and listening to it there and thinking that radio was crazy for cutting the 40 second intro; it made the song. The early 90’s had Cindy and Rich and few others who were excellent songwriters but also knew how to deliver what they’d written. Thirty years later, Cindy’s still bringing it. She’s an often overlooked treasure.

    In addition to her, Colony House’s album is excellent (they’ve gotten better with each release, SC-Squared should be proud), Gable Price and Friends was a great find (thanks!), Carrollton was good as always. I didn’t find that the rest distinguished themselves one way or the other, although I might feel differently about Madeira’s, Off-road Minivan’s, and Anchor & Braille’s after another couple of listens.

    • Thomas Harrison July 20, 2020 at 11:10 pm - Reply

      Wow…. what a list… now I need to figure out where to start… 😉

  2. Heidi M July 21, 2020 at 12:37 am - Reply

    Jon Guerra’s Keeper of Days album is incredible, and the guy behind it is a gem. He came to sing for my college’s chapel service and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house for the entire set. To say I was eager for an album is an understatement. I’m so thankful for these wonderfully-written, “devotional” songs intended for the everyday spiritual wrestlings and prayers. I’m so glad I got to meet him after that chapel service and tell him that his music was beautiful that day (and that one of his older tunes, “For the Songless Hearts” with his wife had pulled me through much. It’s a beautiful, aching piece). Can’t wait to see what he does next!

    I’ve not been a fan of John Mark McMillan’s music for a while. I never understood the “fuss” until this past year hearing so many recommendations of his Peopled With Dreams album. After multiple listens as I washed my clothes one afternoon in the dormitory laundry room, I was hooked. What followed was a podcast interview by “Can I Say That?” on faith and creativity with John as a guest. After listening to his story, I devoured his discography and developed a taste for his creatively written music and beautiful lyrics. I’m so thankful for this year’s new album and hope to see him live once concerts are a thing again!

  3. Josh July 21, 2020 at 2:39 am - Reply

    I’m more into rock so The Classic Crime and Off Road Minivan made my top 5. The other 3 are Emery “White Line Fever”, Dens “Taming Tongues” and Tigerwine “Nothing Is For You”. I’m also really enjoying Northlander “Forces of Light” that was released in December.

    I’m interested in checking out Gable Price & Friends and Jon Guerra as well as hearing more of Chris Renzema and Cindy Morgan.

    My favorite song so far this year was released 10 days after your cutoff (Needtobreathe “Who Am I”). I’m really looking forward to the full album release Aug 28!

  4. Vonda August 10, 2020 at 4:16 am - Reply

    I agree with many of your picks. I love Chris Renzema, Dave Barnes, Colony House and Jillian Edwards’ albums. I haven’t given the Jon Guerra album much time, but hope to listen more thoroughly.

    A few albums I enjoyed that were not on your list:
    1. CAIN (one of their songs made the list, but it wasn’t on the album list)
    2. Jill Andrews – Thirties (not sure if she is a Christian artist),
    3. Citizens – Joy of Being
    4. Steffany Gretzinger – forever amen

    Some favorite songs that were on your list: needtobreathe – survival, Jillian Edwards – weak, proudly. I discovered Allie Paige from your list! Then, I spent several hours listening to all of her songs on Spotify as I was working. I love the song Still❤️. It’s on repeat, for sure. I had heard of Kate Hurley, but only as a solo artist. I had never really followed her much. I listened to the song you recommended with the Edenheart collective & enjoyed their music. I will be giving them a more thorough listen.

    Other favorites not on your list:
    1. Mission House – Bet All I Have
    2. Christa Wells – Falling Up
    3. Elevation Worship with Cody & Kari – The Blessing (why didn’t this song make the list??)
    4. Citizens – light of your grace
    5. Judah & the lion – never give up on you
    6. ledger – my arms
    7. Jess Ray – grace & mercy
    8. Audrey Assad – Shiloh & The Middle
    9. Nathan Colberg – side by side
    10. Jill Andrews – Sorry Now
    11. Saint Espirit – Love is all we need
    12. West of Here – Edge of the earth
    13. Skye Peterson – Guessing Game
    14. Chris Renzema – springtime
    15. JMM – The road, the rocks, the reeds
    16. Steffany Gretzinger – remember

  5. Vonda August 10, 2020 at 4:19 am - Reply

    I also enjoyed the new Rebecca St James single – The Battle is the Lord’s

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