We geek out over the most meaningful music being made today, which is why this is our favorite tradition at UTR. We once again gathered the feedback of our illustrious panel of critics to scour every corner of faith-inspired music to find the best of the best releases of the year. Any random blogger can share his or her individual “best albums” list, but our list is a collective polling of music critics with a wide variety of tastes – so this is a true community effort. We invite YOU to join the discussion below as well (with a prize drawing too). We are excited and thrilled to present to you The Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2022.
[Albums qualify if by an artist who is a Christian, has over 50% new material, and is released publicly between 12/1/21 and 11/30/22.]
1. The Joy of Music – Ben Rector
Pop music is notorious for having catchy hooks, but often not saying anything of substance. Ben Rector breaks the mold with his career-best work, full of catchy hooks and also heart and depth. One UTR panelist said “A whimsical and fun coming-of-age release.” Another shared, “Every song had meaning and depth with nostalgia and reflection that somehow pulls you forward.” The Joy of Music is the #1 best gourmet album of the year! [SPOTIFY LINK]
2. Revealer – Madison Cunningham
An amazing album in every measurable way, but Revealer is enhanced even more by the fact that Madison Cunningham played nearly every part of this record – keys, cello, many of the drums, backing vocals, and of course some guitar wizardry. One of our critics wrote, “Every song is stunning and her guitar work is magical.” Another critic said that Madison is “moving from strength to strength, and Revealer was one of the best albums in any genre, any market, of the last ten years.” [SPOTIFY LINK]
3. How To Make a Paper Airplane – Andy Zipf
“Both haunting and acutely honest,” stated one UTR panelist, “this delivery moved me to think and feel deeply. Something I need more of but rarely put myself in the position to do.” Music veteran Andy Zipf delivers personal songs with tenderness and emotions. Another panelist said, “The brilliant, whimsical, poignant
4. Pariah – Aryn Michelle
This May 2022 release, subtitled “Songs of biblical outcasts,” is packed with expertly-produced melodies and a deep dive lyrically. It was one of the year’s biggest surprises and firmly puts this on-the-rise artist on our radar. One of our critics described the album as “a variety of music styles and really insightful lyrics with great vocals throughout.” Another revealed, “I was completely enthralled by this compelling musical
5. Halcyon Days – Chagall Guevara
This highly talented band, fronted by Steve Taylor, finally released their sophomore album… only 31 years after their ill-fated debut. As one of our panelists puts it: “They have not lost a step and in fact, may have gained some. This album has biting commentary and scorching cutting-edge music.” Another shared, “Any wannabe rock star should study what this veteran band just accomplished – radical art indeed!” [SPOTIFY LINK]
6. The Consequence Of Being Alive – Gable Price & Friends
First, this is one of the stickiest album titles of the year – love it. Next, this band keeps getting better and better and is now a leading voice in the faith-centric rock scene. One critic described this November release as “catchy, heartfelt, snarky, hilarious, honest, and poetic.” A different panelist declared, “This rockin’ album is FULL of energy and after the first couple listens, you may easily find yourself singing along.” [SPOTIFY LINK]
7. More Alive, Vol. 2 – Melanie Penn
While the world slowed down after COVID arrived in 2020, Melanie Penn went on a songwriting tear – intentionally focusing on spreading encouragement, hope, and rest. These 10 new original songs are like a healing balm for the soul. One of our critics shared, “Every song is a great showcase of Melanie’s excellent voice, and you can practically hear her smile as she delivers one infectious song after another. A powerful and passionate album.” [SPOTIFY LINK]
8. My Jesus – Anne Wilson
Take a listen to this on-the-rise talent and you’ll quickly understand why she received the 2022 Dove Award for New Artist of the Year. Here’s how one panelist described this April 2022 release: “A surprisingly strong debut with mature songcraft and a confident pop-country sound.” Another shared, “This album is loaded with positive, grace-filled, and upbeat messages of hope.” Quite possibly the best country album to come out of CCM, ever! [SPOTIFY LINK]
9. Marathon Daze – John Van Deusen
This 15-track album is the 4th installment of JVD’s “I Am Oragami” series, and you won’t be surprised to find these songs (and gutsy, honest lyrics) soaking into your skin, in the best way. One UTR critic described this June 2022 release as “an excruciatingly honest journey with music to match.” Another stated, “These songs are vulnerable, prophetic, honest, and almost Psalm-like – a profound listening experience.” [SPOTIFY LINK]
10. This Beautiful Mystery – Terry Scott Taylor
“A captivating masterpiece from a master at the pinnacle of his creativity,” stated one of our panelists. Terry Scott Taylor already has decades of artistry through Daniel Amos, Lost Dogs, Swirling Eddies, and solo projects. Still, he blessed us with this 22-track double album. Another critic said, “This release has clever lyricism and diverse musical stylings – from California country rock to folk and alternative. He’s as on point as he’s ever been.” [SPOTIFY LINK]
11. Born Again – Jess Ray
We cannot overstate how important and valuable this album is. It is not afraid to ask tough questions, share bleedingly honest prayers, and share a yearning hope and a glaze of discontent, all while trying desperately to cling to a faith that won’t dissolve. One UTR critic praised, “Once again Jess delivers challenging, thoughtful, and exceptional music.” Another shared, “Some glorious artistic risk-taking, lyrically and sonically.” [SPOTIFY LINK]
There you have it! Our critics’ picks of the Top 11 albums of 2022. Obviously, there are a LOT of incredibly fantastic albums that came out last year (part of the dilemma of pairing it down to just a top 11). We want to give a nod to over 30 additional albums that were cited by our panel as some of the best of the year. The first six listed are our Honorable Mentions, but the rest are listed in no particular order.
- Seven – Brooke Ligertwood
- The Work, Vol. 2 – Elias Dummer
- Brighter Days – Blessing Offor
- Bellsburg – Various Artists
- Little High Little Low – The Royal Foundry
- We The Kingdom – We The Kingdom
- Milk Teeth – Tyson Motsenbocker
- A Thousand Shores – Citizens
- Deeper Into Love – Jill Phillips
- Enough Already – Brandon Heath
- There Will Be Surprises – Drew Miller
- From the Valley to the Golden Shore – The Wood Drake Sessions
- Clarity – DOE
- The Devil & The Light – Adam Watts
- Revival – Judah & The Lion
- Midwestern Trees – Giants & Pilgrims
- The Field – Kristene DiMarco
- Sure – Ash & Eric
- All The Wrecked Light – Hannah Hubin
- What Are We Waiting For – For King & Country
- Wrestling – Warbler
- We Out There – Common Hymnal
- Faint – Colorvault
- Sorrow’s Got A Hold On Me – Paul Zach
- Climate Vigil – The Porter’s Gate
- AP, Vol.1 – Allie Paige
- There’s A Rainbow Somewhere – Various Artists
- State of the Union – Amanda Cook
- Dark Side of the Ocean – Rusty Shipp
- Benjamin William Hastings – Benjamin William Hastings
- Beulah – Garden Friend
- Mystery Canticles – Rachel Wilhelm
- Flutterama – Half-Handed Cloud
- Into the Wild – Dan Bremnes
- Night Reminder – BJ Fischer
- Known – Brian Morykon
If you’d like listen to the Top 11 Gourmet Albums audio countdown, check out Episode 84 of the Gourmet Music Podcast (coming 1/19/23).
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 2/9/23.
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?
I agree with a lot of these (I especially loved Ben Rector’s album). I really, really liked a few that didn’t make your list or your honorable mentions: King’s Kaleidoscope – “Baptized Imagination”, Brandon Lake – “Help!”, and Stars Go Dim – “Grace In The Wilderness.” I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to TobyMac. Toby is as mainstream/above the radar as it gets, but I think he might have made the best album of his career (as a solo artist or with DC Talk) with “Life After Death”… I don’t know if he’ll top that.
Great additions. I agree that TobyMac’s album is pretty amazing, definitely A+. For me (Dave) it was mostly just a matter of limitations. Each critic had to limit to their own Top 11 list… it does mean sometimes really great albums aren’t cited, but not out of disrespect. They might have made a critic’s Top 15 list, but just missed their personal Top 11. All 4 albums you mentioned deserve this recognition – thanks!
Still reading through, but check those Spotify links and the “Move” Alive title of Melanie Penn’s album 😉 Lookimg forward to listening to these all (some again, some for the first time!).
Nice how I corrected your spelling mistake and had one of my own 🙂
Thanks, it takes a village!!
Halcyon Days was not on my radar, but love Steve Taylor and will listen through this one a couple of times if the lyrics are anything like his usual! And thanks for getting The Beautiful Mystery on my radar. Very Ziggy Stardust vibe to his vocal approach 🙂
I have been a fan of Ben Rector for years. The Joy of Music has been in near constant rotation this past year… And now into this year.
The main list, and the supplemental lists, are really solid. Jess Ray in particular is a stellar new find for me.
Wow! Great list! What a wonderful year for music. So many great albums. My personal #1 and #2 did not make either of your lists: BJ Fisher “A Night Remembrance” and Doe “Clarity”. However, Many of my favorites for the year are on the list! I have not been able to get into the Ben Rector album (and I’ve been a fan since 2010) but I will keep trying.
To my ears JVD and Madison Cunningham are/were the runaway albums of the year in 2022. I enjoyed the Ben Rector and Gable Price albums as well. Great year for music!
This was a great list! I hadn’t tuned in to Gable Price in the past, but now I can’t get one of his songs out of my head (actually from the music video list) and Aryn Michelle sounds great too! I’ve heard a little Ben Rector before, but I might need to go check his music out a little more thoroughly. I was in on the CG Kickstarter and definitely loving that album
Does Half Alive count as mainstream? I don’t think I’ve seen them on any of your lists, but their music is definitely gourmet, and they came out with an EP and an album this year. Conditions of a Punk is definitely worth a listen.
Nice! Gonna take a deeper dive with Half Alive. We look at the faith of the artist… not how “Christiany” the music is.
UTR Media has opened up a whole world of Christian music that I never knew existed! It was when I got on the mailing list for Bellsburg that my adventure with you began. Love the lists and the comments about them. Gotta go! I have 41 albums to listen to…
This list feels like seeing a comet: bright, and you know it’s somehow ancient (great retro influences), yet it’s also a new and novel omen that more awesome gourmet music will come. I don’t know anything to not to agree with; it’s all riveting. I suppose I would add from my list of top albums Travelers Rest by The Foreign Landers, a bluegrass/“new grass” duo in my hometown.
I will definitely be trying out How to Make a Paper Airplane from Andy Zipf and Madison Cunningham’s Revealer.
I brushed through both Jess Ray and Ben Rector’s albums; I’ll definitely go back and give them another try! I don’t know Gable Price and Friends but your description has me intrigued and I’ll be listening soon. Revival by Judah and the Lion is further down on your list, but I’d rank it much higher. That one has cut me in just the right ways since it’s release.
I was kind of surprised that Bells burg didn’t make it onto the top 11, but was glad to hear it was an honerable mention!
I loved this list and plan to check out Ben, Aryn, & Gable Price. Anne Wilson was a surprise discovery for me completely independent of any recommendation, and her album soars. I loved Madison’s prior album, so looking forward to checking out her newer one. The only thing I would’ve changed was All the Wrecked Light should’ve made the top 11.
a) Over half of the top 11 were new to me! I was fairly familiar with the Ben Rector, Jess Ray, and Anne Wilson albums, and I agree with them making the cut. My #1 pick would have been the ‘Revival’ album by Judah and the Lion; happy to see them on the additional albums cited list. I also would have had ‘Home Called Heaven’ by Lovkn in my top 11.
b) I’ve started listening to each of the ones I wasn’t aware of before. ‘Revealer’ and ‘…Paper Airplane’ are both great, but not sure they would have been in my top 11. ‘Pariah’ is amazing! 2/3 of the way through my first listen to it, and quite sure it would have made the top 11 cut for me! Still need to listen to numbers 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10, as well as most of the ones on the ‘additional ones cited’ list.
So many new discoveries for me here…counting JVD and The Royal Foundry as the best ones so far, but I have a lot of exploring to do! And Ben Rector was one of the few I knew already and is a great album! Good stuff. Deeper into Love is one I would have maybe had in the mix somewhere, but I understand it not being a full length album may have contributed to it not making it on all the critics’ lists.