Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2019

2020-01-14T19:56:54+00:00

We are passionate about guiding people to the most meaningful music being made today.  We will also admit that unless you follow every indie artists’ Facebook pages, it’s becoming more difficult to stay on top of all the new releases.  We help you find the cream of the crop, and the place to start is THIS list – one of our most favorite traditions.  This list is a collective representation of a Critics’ Panel with an eclectic representation of a wide swath of faith-based music.  This list shows the wide variety of spiritual music that stands as a cut above – including pop, gospel, hip-hop, rock, folk, & bluegrass. Maybe this list will remind you of a project that WOWed you, or maybe it will help you discover something of high quality that you missed this last year.  It is our honor to present The Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2019.

[Albums qualify for consideration if the artist is a Christ-follower, over 50% of the songs are new to 2019, and the public release date was between 12/1/18 and 12/1/19.]

1.  Native Tongue – Switchfoot

For a well-established recording artist, it’s a difficult task to give us the essence that brings us back time and again while also taking us to new places that still somehow feel 100% authentic.  Switchfoot manages to do just that on their 11th studio release. One UTR critic raves that this is “arguably the band’s strongest release to date.” Another describes it as “musical experimentation meets relentless optimism.” One panelist stated, “We all expect Switchfoot to deliver perfect albums at this point, but it’s still nice that they do.”  Switchfoot’s Native Tongue is the #1 Gourmet Album of 2019!

2.  Who Are You Now – Madison Cunningham

“Sharp songwriting and a laid-back electric-guitar-meets-folk style combine in this smart coming-of-age record from a rising star,” glowed one of our panelists.  This native Californian’s full-length debut is brimming with honest and vulnerable lyrics set to intricate guitar work with complex time signatures, along with vocals that have been called “acrobatic,” “soulful,” and “silvery.”  One UTR critic said, “There is no one better at overall song crafting – from writing to the finished product. You may just get chills listening to this nearly perfect offering.” And what? She’s only 22-years-old? Not fair.

3.  The Search – NF

Music has the power to help people process life and point them toward spiritual, emotional, and mental health.  The latest from Michigan rapper NF takes this straight on in one of the most vulnerable and poignant albums in all of music, any genre — including lyrics like: “That’s why I’m checkin’ my vitals/ They keep on workin’, but I know/ Breathin’ don’t mean you’re alive so/ I bag up all of my trash and walk out on my tightrope.” One UTR panelist proclaimed, “Honest. Raw. Revealing. The Search is a glimpse into the inner thoughts and struggles of someone who strives to follow after God while dealing with the brokenness around him and within.”

4.  Iron Lung – Martin Smith

“It’s not often,” stated one panelist, “a man getting on in years takes the time or has the vulnerability to look at his life in terms of a helpless child and our reliance on God even for our breath.”  This former lead-singer of Delirious continues to be a passionate voice seeking Christ’s renewal in our lives, but also steps out of the band’s shadow with more personable songwriting than ever.  One UTR critic shared, “Iron Lung is emotions at full volume – from lament over our universal brokenness to exaltation at the goodness and glory of God.”  Another said, “This record has no filler tracks – it gets deeper with each listen.”

5.  Autumn & Eve – Cindy Morgan

Using imagery from Old Testament stories, this achingly-beautiful set of songs speak to modern struggles and disappointments, and executed with musical emotion that only a rare artist (like Cindy Morgan) can pull off with authenticity.  A panelist from UTR said, “This truly soul-bearing performance on this poignant and touching album will help to heal your soul.”  A different one shared, “Cindy’s voice is crystal clear, the music is artistic, the lyrics are thoughtful and challenge listeners to think seriously about the serious things in life.”  This EP is worth a 26-minute pause on your life to fully soak in each song.

6.  We Will Remember – Christopher Williams

This album serves as a companion to Jaco Hamman’s book The Millennial Narrative, which looks at how the themes in the book of Joel (e.g. tragedy, lament, community, worship) can draw us into communion with God.  Our critic was correct in saying, “We Will Remember should be considered alongside some of the great contemplative worship projects by Michael Card, Rich Mullins, or John Michael Talbot. This kind of work comes along so rarely.”  Another panelist reflected, “Elements of mourning and celebration are masterfully woven together. The harmonies will sweep over you like cool water on a hot day.”

7.  Spirit – Jeremy Casella

If you don’t ever experience hardship, heartache, tragedy, or pain, you might not need this album. For the rest of us, this release can be an agent of healing balm as Casella reflects on the strength and faithfulness of God carried him through some difficult seasons.  One panelist said, “The long-awaited new record from Jeremy Casella brings a stripped-down approach to his heartfelt, honest songwriting.”  Another added, “Reflective, intimate, prayerful, and Keaggy-esque in sound and style, Spirit is a beautiful acoustic pop/folk effort from every angle, justifying all the careful effort Casella puts into his craft.”

8.  Love is a Garden – Zach Winters

This album was created during a season when Zach, his wife, & children moved to southern Mexico for a year (in part, so his kids could learn Spanish, which they did). In a beautiful way, the warmth of the climate and Mexican community translated into this beautiful collection of songs.  A UTR critic described, “The incredible closely stacked harmonies, production, and songwriting on this album are truly exceptional and quite clever.” Another shared, “You’d love getting preached to in music if it always sounded like Zach Winter’s acoustic-soft-rock reminder to wake up giving thanks for the people in your life.”

9.  The Kingdom Sessions – Russ Mohr

Simply put, this is a gospel music masterpiece.  Under the vision and leadership of St. Louis based songwriter Russ Mohr, 12 writers, 70 musicians, 17 engineers, and 3 producers contributed to this flavor-rich soul-filling creation.  One of our critics shared, “Do not miss this funky, soulful, and jazzy gospel gem that legitimately blends the best qualities of Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Andrae Crouch, and even a dash of Lenny Kravitz. It’s the rare gospel album that manages to be Spirit-filled, eclectic, and fun.”  Another panelist added, “This record boasts an impressive array of artists with a variety of sounds mixed just right.”

10.  Finch in the Pantry – The Arcadian Wild

“This modern-bluegrass trio finds their voice on a stellar collection of songs about making music, growing up, and self-discovery,” one of our panelists mentioned.  There is no sophomore slump for The Arcadian Wild, who give us songs built on the theme of slowing down and gaining perspective. The intricate Americana music and tight harmonies paired with thoughtful lyrics will help the listener focus on the important things in life.  One critic said, “Progressive bluegrass virtuosity and wonderfully crafted songs make Finch in the Pantry truly compelling and unique.”

11.  Parallels + Meridians – Jess Ray

The album has a mix of songs for and about people (“parallels”) and songs for and about God (“meridians”). With a laid-back indie-pop sound, memorable choruses, and a variety of themes, you won’t be surprised to find this album on repeat.  One UTR critic said, “This entire album is loaded with relatable lyrics, incredible singing, and prayerful themes about what it means to be a child of God.” Another panelist stated, “As we have come to expect, Jess Ray delivers brilliant songwriting and finely-tuned production qualities… a strong mix of personal and theological offerings.”

There you have it!  Our critics’ picks of the Top 11 albums of 2019.  While this list only has room for 11, there were over two-dozen other albums cited by our panel. The first five are our Honorable Mentions, but the rest are listed in no particular order.

  • Wilder Woods – Wilder Woods
  • Long Live Love – Kirk Franklin
  • Lovers, Thieves, Fools, + Pretenders – Chris Taylor
  • Trail of Tears – Jesse Jack Murray
  • People – Hillsong United
  • Fear – Citizens
  • One Night Only – Arthur Alligood
  • Pilot of My Own Life  – LOVKN
  • Monument – Wild Harbors
  • Chrysaline – Josh Garrels
  • Out of Body – Apollo LTD
  • Illumination – Phil Keaggy & Rex Paul
  • Dragons – Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
  • Comes & Goes – Allie Paige
  • Hallowell – Hallowell
  • Songs We Wrote on Tuesday – Ripp + Rice
  • Mercy – Teniella Neda
  • House on a Hill – Amanda Lindsey Cook
  • When We Were in Love – Mike Mains & The Branches
  • Pep Talks – Judah & The Lion
  • Front Porch – Joy Williams
  • Mission House – Mission House
  • Fountain to Fountain – Brettan Cox
  • For What It’s Worth – J Lind
  • Breakdown on 20th Ave South – Buddy & Julie Miller
  • (I Am) Origami, Pt. 3 – John Van Deusen

If you’d like listen to the Top 11 Gourmet Albums audio countdown, check out Episode 39 of the Gourmet Music Podcast (coming 1/16/20).

We LOVE getting your feedback. In fact, lists like these are mostly good discussion starters. Answer either or both of these below and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a rare/collectible vinyl LP (winner chooses from a list we provide) – comment by 2/14/20.
a) What is your overall reaction to the Top 11 list?  What do you agree with? Which albums, in your opinion, are missing?
b) Are there any albums that you’ll try out (or give a second chance) based on this list?

21 Comments

  1. Agnes January 14, 2020 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    I always find myself waiting for this list. Every single year. I know that somehow it will surprise me and show me new pieces of music I did not yet encounter. Thank you guys.

    Much love to you all

  2. Kevin January 14, 2020 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Looks like a great list!

  3. greg milinovich January 14, 2020 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    love this. thanks for doing it. i totally agree with the Switchfoot, Jess Ray, and NF selections, and i look forward to checking out some of the others, particularly those in genres i’m not always particularly attuned to. i’m definitely about to go check out the Russ Mohr and Cindy Morgan albums.

  4. Steve January 14, 2020 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    I love the Arcadian Wild selection amongst others, but I had the opportunity to see them live and up close in Dallas this year and say hello to the guys in the band. They are the real deal, and their music is similar to Punch Brothers, but with a different worldview underneath. One of my highlight albums of the year for sure.

    As far as the honorable mentions, Judah and the Lion, was the most incredible I listened to. Probably the concert highlight of the year for me.

    • Larry January 15, 2020 at 7:21 pm - Reply

      I agree about the comparison to the Punch Brothers! And that is no small compliment. Being a fan of the progressive bluegrass style this was a great find for me this year!

  5. Mike Lanser January 14, 2020 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Excited to see a few selections in the top 11 that are on my “Albums I really need to get around to listening to” list. Looks like Zach Winters is one I need to get to sooner rather than later.

    Meanwhile, Switchfoot was definitely one of my favorites of the year, and I’m glad to see Josh Garrels and J Lind on the honorable mentions list, among others.

  6. Keith Wiederwax January 14, 2020 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Lot’s of new music for me to listen to on this list. I agree with Jeremy Casella’s Spirit. How Wild Harbor’s “Monument” didn’t make the list, I don’t understand. The others I don’t know must be REALLY good. I look forward to listening to Madison Cunningham, especially.

  7. Curtis Cecil January 14, 2020 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    Some amazing albums. All of them are in my own playlists except for Russ Mohr. That was a great new addition for my listening!

  8. Ben McGehee January 14, 2020 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Most of my favorites for the year were on the Honorable Mention list: Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Judah and the Lion, Joy Williams, and Mission House. Of the Top 11, my favorite was Jess Ray. The one 2019 album I loved that wasn’t on this list was Heath McNease: Be Clean Again.

  9. Brett M January 14, 2020 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    I look forward to digging into the stuff I’m not familiar with. Just curious… last year (and I think the year before, too) the list of all vote-getters was a lot longer. Fewer voters? Or did you scale back the ballot? Or was there just more consensus? Keep up the great work!

    • utrmedia January 14, 2020 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      Good Q Brett. We changed the voting process this year. In all previous years, we only had ONE ROUND of voting, and the panelists had to do their best to keep up on all the releases out there and make an educated vote…. which is one reason why the voting was more varied. This year we moved to a TWO ROUND system… similar to the Emmys or Grammys. The panelists turned in their top picks from the entire pool. Then we narrowed the list down to 38 finalists, and we asked the critics to make sure they familiarized themselves with any of the 38 they hadn’t heard. Then we all voted again off of that final nomination list. Overall the panelists said this new system is WAY BETTER and allows them to make a more educated vote. It also created a lot of exciting action for the final Top 11 as the voting was a close call for many slots.

      • Brett M January 14, 2020 at 8:51 pm - Reply

        That was a good idea. I’m glad all the voters felt like it led to more useful results.

  10. Pamela Saunders January 14, 2020 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    My reactions are oooh Switchfoot! How did I miss that? Where are the links? 😀

    I also liked looking for the ones that I was already familiar with (not even half of them so lots of new ones to discover)

    My budget is virtually nonexistent so I have to rely on websites/freebies but I am very grateful for those.

    • Nathan Gorham Freeman January 15, 2020 at 2:45 pm - Reply

      Most streaming services have a free option that comes with not too intrusive ads. Deezer and spotify come to mind. Also, YouTube has most music available, but usually more ads there.

      • Pamela Saunders January 17, 2020 at 5:42 am - Reply

        Thank you, yes I am aware of those, just would have liked some links from this page to sample the songs rather than having to search for them.

  11. Rod January 15, 2020 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Great and interesting list as usual. Just a couple of comments. I was very sad not to see Nathan Partain’s “The Beauty to Come” mentioned anywhere. That is an amazing album. Although it was written for Christmas, I will keep it in my circulation year round. Then there is the honorable mention for Hillsong United. Hillsong United in no way is “Under the Radar”. It is rather mainstream, to say the least. To be sure, it is a good album, but on my listens it seemed similar to all their others. However, that said, I am so thankful for UTR!

  12. Michael Schmaldienst January 17, 2020 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Great list again! Every year in January, I put together a spotify playlist with as many of these as I can and then just leave that puppy on Shuffle. Don’t tell, but I may put the most recent Gray Havens album and Andrew Peterson’s BtLoG in there too just for giggles.

  13. Amelie Gray January 17, 2020 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    I Love the list, don’t get me wrong, but why do you have zero black artists in this list?

    • utrmedia January 17, 2020 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      Great question. If you look at our podcasts and playlists, you know that UTR is very intentional about including POC in our music mix. But this list was completely in the hands of our voting Critics’ Panel… so it wasn’t really a “choice” that was made by us. The Russ Mohr project has MANY POC that recorded on that record (including Liz Vice, Sho Baraka, Courtney Orlando, & more). Also, we were happy that Kirk Franklin’s latest made our Honorable Mentions list. We are very pro-diversity! [Side topic, even though it doesn’t reflect racial diversity, we were quite happy with the diversity of ‘sound’ represented on just the Top 11 alone — including rock, bluegrass, pop, folk, gospel, worship, and hip-hop.]

      • Amelie Gray January 19, 2020 at 3:09 am - Reply

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. 🙂

  14. […] most well-crafted music being made today.  This year, their efforts resulted in our list of the Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2019.  They also helped us develop a list of the Top Gourmet Songs of 2019 (coming 1/27/20).  We took […]

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