The year 2020 was a reminder that truly soul-enriching and meaningful music is not a luxury, but a necessity.  Music has been something to stabilize us and remind us of what is true and good, even during dark days.  Maybe you were busy with quarantining, Zoom calls, learning how to cook, homeschooling your kids for the first time, binging Netflix, and working remotely… and maybe you didn’t have time to keep track of all the terrifically well-crafted music that arrived over this last year. That’s okay.  We love helping to point you to the best stuff… and in this case, it’s the cream of the crop from 2020.  We specifically are looking for music that is excellent – in terms of songwriting, production, execution, and the depth of spirituality.  Here’s what our UTR Panel of Critics collectively voted on as The Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2020.

[Albums qualify if the music comes from a Christ-following artist, over 50% of the album’s songs were new to 2020, and was released between 12/1/19 and 12/1/20.]

1.  City of Doubt – Tina Boonstra

Compared to some of the names in this list, Tina is an underdog. But her emotionally vibrant and lyrically deep album turned the heads of nearly all of our critics.  One panelist shared, “This EP speaks unflinchingly about the faulty brokenness and insufficiency of the human condition while simultaneously reminding us of the overwhelming sufficiency and goodness of God.”  A second said, “This album made me smile more than any other in 2020.” Another quipped, “I don’t like pop music. This album is definitely pop. I love it. This is concerning. And very fun.” We are thrilled to say that the #1 gourmet album of 2020 is City of Doubt.   [SPOTIFY LINK]

2.  Out of Body – Needtobreathe

“One of the catchiest, most energetic, and emotionally engaging albums I’ve heard this year,” was one of our panelists’ description of Out of Body.  It’s always a big deal when Needtobreathe releases a new project. Yet it was still a surprise to receive arguably their career-best album to date.  A well-produced record… expected. This level of spiritual vulnerability was a wonderful shock. One UTR critic loved this album because it “showed vulnerability and originality.” Another described it as “a broad-ranged, Spirit-filled, anthemic, foot-stomping great time from start to finish.”   [SPOTIFY LINK]

3.  Tandem – Waterdeep

Don & Lori Chaffer have been making music as Waterdeep for about 25 years, and yet like fine wine their creative genius seems to get better with age.  This is the highest rank they have received in our 12-year history of doing these Top 11 lists.  One of our panelists said “This album proves Waterdeep has a bottomless well of cleverness.” Another shared, “Tandem manages to celebrate this couple’s differences in a way that seems more cohesive and complimentary than previous efforts over the past 25 years.”  Even another described the album as “cohesive, anchored, and consistent.”   [SPOTIFY LINK]

4.  Carrollton – Carrollton

A UTR Critic stated, “This album was on repeat for me more than any other this year – deeply spiritual with driving hooks.”  After releasing one full-length album and two EPs with Centricity Music, this 4-piece band is once again releasing music independently, and they turn in hands-down their career-best work on this May 2020 project.  One panelist describes it as “a rollicking, rowdy album with down-home goodness and obvious Southern roots. It’s filled with heartfelt and joyful lyrics, and this album moved me from foot-stomping rejoicing to melancholy devotion.”  [SPOTIFY LINK]

5.  Leave What’s Lost Behind – Colony House

Only weeks before they entered the studio in early 2019, frontman Caleb Chapman told the band that he was scrapping all the songs they had planned to record. He said their new songs were missing heart, and their focused and quick recalibration resulted in the passionate and anthemic album Leave What’s Lost Behind. One of our critics described the release as “soaring melodies and pounding rhythms.” Another said, “Above all, these songs have a sense of hope and inspiration.” And yet another calls it “full of energy and soul.” This January 2020 release would be a bright light in a dark year.  [SPOTIFY LINK]

6.  Patterns in the Static – The Classic Crime

One of the gifts that poets and musicians give us are words to help us express emotion, especially when we are trying to make sense of it all. The latest effort from The Classic Crime is full of vulnerable, thoughful lyrics paired with an intense rock sound about living life in the age of consequence.  One UTR critic stated, “Patterns in the Static impressively blends electronic elements with crunchy guitars.” And another said, “With great lyrics and truly original musical variety, this is an album that invites you to feel, reminisce, smile, and enjoy music and celebrate life.”  [SPOTIFY LINK]

7.  Someday I’ll Make It All Up To You – Tyson Motsenbocker

Several on our panel had a similar sentiment about this album… the songs seem to sneak up on you.  Likely it’s the subtle, simple familiar soundscape that allows the listener to cozy up to some brilliantly-penned storytelling.  One UTR critic shared, “I was overwhelmed by this album’s honesty and immediacy. Tyson’s sober-eyed ability to see through the shadows and pain to something shimmering beneath kept me coming back over and over.” Another panelist described these songs as “poignant and self-reflective.”  [SPOTIFY LINK]

8.  More Alive, Vol. 1 – Melanie Penn

She didn’t set out to write or record a full album, but as 2020 left most of us speechless, the year inspired Melanie to more fervently write songs of hope.  These are some of the most worshipful songs she has ever released, but these are not just quippy congregational jingles – these songs poignantly talk about suffering, discouragement, and loneliness, and ultimately point us to our hope in Christ.  One panelist called this release “redemptive and moving.” Another said it is “without a trace of cliche.” Another shared, “This is precisely the album we needed at this time.”   [SPOTIFY LINK]

9.  Pacific – Christa Wells

We have loved being transported by Christa’s amazing songwriting for years.  Her previous two full-length albums, 2013’s Feed Your Soul and 2018’s Velveteen, both made that year’s Top 11 List at UTR.  And in September 2020, she delivers a new project that wows us once again.  One panelist remarked, “Pacific is soul-revealing, beautifully truthful music inspired by real life.” Another described the album as “songwriting sophistication, intimate vocal delivery, and rich performance style… one of the best adult pop albums of the last several years.”   [SPOTIFY LINK]

10.  Love Coma – Love Coma

In the mid-90s, Love Coma seemed to be gearing up for a breakout in the alternative rock scene just as their record label went bankrupt and the band had to fold up shop.  Now, after a 24 year hiatus, the new “label” is a crowdsourcing community, and Love Coma is back with a power-packed record. One UTR critic calls this self-titled release, “Guitar-driven, luscious, wiry, and possessed with determined hopefulness.” Another quipped, “What a reunion! This is easily their career best effort. The energy on this record is blistering.”   [SPOTIFY LINK]

11.  Peopled With Dreams – John Mark McMillan

This February 2020 release takes the poetic and allegorical lyrics of McMillan into a new stratosphere with an amazing synth-rock soundscape. One of our panelists shared, “My favorite McMillan album yet, this work explores the much needed and timely concept of enchantment. Heaven meets earth in a smashing roundhouse kick to the face… musically speaking.” Another stated, “While McMillan’s previous album was about doubts and untangling, this one shows his faith more assured and a call for us to trust God deeply. It’s bold… and so very catchy!”   [SPOTIFY LINK]

There you have it!  Our critics’ picks of the Top 11 albums of 2020.  While this list only has room for 11, there were over 30 other albums cited by our panel. The first six are our Honorable Mentions, but the rest are listed in no particular order.

  • Twenty Four – Jonathan Ogden
  • Meadow – Jillian Edwards
  • Keeper of Days – Jon Guerra
  • Patient Kingdom – Sandra McCracken
  • Let The Ground Rest – Chris Renzema
  • Lead On, Kindly Light – Bill Mallonee
  • Live – Common Hymnal
  • Peace to All Who Enter Here – Josh Garrels
  • Songs From the Bottom – Copperlily
  • Open Heart – Phil Madeira
  • The Path Becomes a Ghost – A Boy & His Kite
  • Wake Low – Wake Low
  • Here For Jesus – Nashville Life Music
  • The Ascension – Sufjan Stevens
  • Wilder Years – John Tibbs
  • Snakes & Saints – Treva Blomquist
  • Straight Bars and Guns – Roemer
  • Life & Good | Death & Evil – Michael Hughes Watson
  • Swan Dive – Off Road Minivan
  • Heat of Summer – Summerooms
  • Brand New – Matthew West
  • Swamp Gas Messiahs – Glenn Kaiser
  • The Story’s Still Alive – Graham Jones
  • Justice Songs – The Porter’s Gate
  • Curse of the Faithful – Justin McRoberts
  • People – Jonathan McReynolds
  • Suite No.2: World Keeps Spinning – The Brilliance
  • Earth Has No Sorrow – Eric Peters
  • See You Tomorrow – The Innocence Mission
  • Daughter Zion’s Woe – Cardiphonia Music
  • The Book of Mali – Mali Music
  • The Man I Thought I’d Never Be – Anthony Quails
  • Meditations – Cory Wong & Jon Batiste
  • Moment – Micah | Michelle
  • Fractioned Heart – Gable Price & Friends

If you’d like listen to the Top 11 Gourmet Albums audio countdown, check out Episode 55 of the Gourmet Music Podcast (coming 1/15/21).

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 Kindle Fire – comment by 2/10/21.
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?