Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2017


We are now in our 10th year as music curators, which means a language and culture and tradition has been built in our little corner of the music world. One of THE favorite traditions for our followers (and for us) is sharing our annual list of top albums. One thing that has always made this list unique is that it is not the opinion of one person, or even one staff. We have assembled a 10-member panel of critics from a widespread cross-section of faith-based media, including magazines, music review sites, radio, blogs, and higher education. 2017 was a unique year in faith-inspired music, reflected in the most diverse voting process in our history. For the first time ever, each of the 10 critics had a different #1 album. Four of these #1 picks did not even make our collective Top 11. Yet there is something beautiful in how this list is a community reflection. And after sitting with this list, we hope you’ll agree that the final tally is a very good representation of some of the highest quality music birthed from the Christian community.  It is our honor to present The Top 11 Gourmet Albums of 2017.

[Albums qualify for consideration if the artist is a Christian, over 50% of the songs are new to 2017, and the public release date was between 12/1/16 and 12/1/17.]

1. Red Sea Road – Ellie Holcomb

We never hope for trials and tribulations, but often it’s the place God helps our faith grow. In the case of this album, it’s also the place where beautiful art can spring forth. These songs, which were birthed after a season of heartache, help declare God’s redemptive and restorative work in our lives. One UTR panelist shared, “With songs that wrap your insecurity, doubt, and fear with re-assurances of God’s goodness, this album is true encouragement.” Another stated, “Ellie’s love for God and people is contagious. It practically radiates from these songs.” We hereby declare that Red Sea Road is the #1 best gourmet album from 2017!

2. Here Comes Trouble – The New Respects

Once you hear their music, you’ll know exactly why Rolling Stone named The New Respects as one of “10 New Artists You Need To Know.” This sibling/cousin band has an electric-blues-rock vibe that feels like one of the most relevant new artists to come from the Christian “industry” in some time. One of our critics shared, “This release is original and exciting. The New Respects are THE band to watch!” Another panelist explained, “Every song on this debut project are catchy, clever, smart, and wonderfully hip: which is pretty amazing for a debut from such young kids.”

3. Mercury & Lightening – John Mark McMillan

During the making of this album, John Mark McMillan went through a crisis of faith, and didn’t know if he would ever finish this record. We can thank the Lord he did, because what he delivered is a project with depth, honesty, artistry, and passion. Here’s what a couple of UTR Critics said about it: first, “McMillan does everything right on this album inspired by a personal faith crisis.” Second, “You won’t find worship songs on this record, but Mercury and Lightning feels like one of the most complete and cohesive records of JMM’s career. Springsteen meets Southern gothic in a haunting, yet somehow catchy rock record.”

4. River House – Taylor Leonhardt

What a joy when an artist’s full-length debut is this masterfully done, with soul-stirring lyrics, enchanting melodies, and a Patty Griffen-esque voice that will melt the coldest of hearts. It’s not a shock that one of our panelists called this release”an artistic triumph.” Fellow Raleigh artist Jess Ray takes the production helm and delivers an album that is worthy of many repeat listens. As one UTR critic shared: “I’d never heard of Taylor Leonhardt before obligingly clicking a link on the advice of a friend. My reward was a set of lilting, atmospheric, alt-country ditties… skillfully crafted songs kept me listening… and listening.”

5. Only The Lonely – Colony House

“Colony House exceeded expectations with their sophomore album,” stated one UTR panelist. “Only The Lonely proves they have all the ingredients for longevity: a killer live show, a tireless work ethic, an uncanny melodic sixth sense and, perhaps most important of all, incredibly meaningful songs.” Fan of straight-ahead rock-n-roll will love the riffs, hooks, and driving beats… and the potent lyrics might hit you by surprise too. Another critic said, “The Chapman brothers and friends talk about the struggles of road life and devotion to loved ones and wrap it up in a slick, 60s throwback rock-n-roll package.”

6. All is Not Lost – The Brilliance

In a culture where it seems like consumerism and hit-making are the ideals of most worship music makers, it’s a refreshing cup of cold water when an artist breaks the mold and presents songs that are poignant and honest. One of our panelists explained, “All Is Not Lost demonstrates more cohesion and focus than previous efforts. They don’t offer worship music in the corporate sense, but The Brilliance is one of the best examples around fusing worship and creativity together beautifully.” Another said, “If you want to experience an uplifting, soul-stirring, stunning and worshipful album, look no further than this.”

7. Every Mile Mattered – Nichole Nordeman

One UTR critic declared: “Over a decade after her last full-length record, Nichole is back — a little worn, a little wiser, and still one of CCM’s greatest treasures. This vulnerable, hopeful record reminds me what I loved about her music in the first place.”  There is only a very short list of songwriters who can engage the head and heart so fully while still having commercial appeal. This project was worth the wait. Here’s what another of our panelists said: “Every Mile Mattered – Nichole’s first full-length album in 12 years – reestablishes her craft with excellent songs that comfort the soul and inspire our faith while also challenging us to live our beliefs.”

8. Vanity – Brianna Gaither

On paper, this was one of the most ambitious creative projects of the whole year. Yet, we all know what might happen if one invites too many cooks into the kitchen. With 10 tracks nurtured by 10 different producers over the span of 10 months, Vanity somehow avoids to potential trainwreck, and instead Brianna Gaither has recorded a modern masterpiece. One UTR critic shared, “The variety of styles presented on this record is astounding and yet holds together nicely as one.” Another said, “Brianna Gaither put out a lovely album of brilliant piano-based songs… all containing her beautiful and clear voice and heart-provoking lyrics.”

9. How To Be Human – The Classic Crime

This album is not without some controversy. There is some swearing sprinkled in, even one F-bomb, which caused a lot in the Christian community to (sadly) dismiss this work [e.g. the website New Release Today refused to do an album review]. To be fair, if you want your music to always have a tightly packed “solution” with a bow on top, this is not the album for you. One of our critics shared, “This is [lead songwriter] Matt McDonald’s cut-open-and-bleeding confession of doubt, fear, anger, and searching for hope – and the result is spiritual, authentic, and captivating.” Another added that the album’s production is “pretty near flawless.”

10. Gather – Christopher Williams

With over 20 years of recording and touring under his belt, Christopher Williams has proven to be the fine wine of Christian music, as he now releases (likely) his career-to-date best album. One UTR critic said, “It’s been fun to watch/listen to Christopher grow as an independent artist with each release. Gather is a more polished, rootsy, and (dare I say) radio friendly sound that reveals what an undeniably great songwriter he has become.” Another panelist really loved the themes woven into the song, describing Gather as “an old school band record that will remind you how important old school face-to-face relationships are.”

11. A Home & A Hunger – Caroline Cobb

“With songs pulled directly from scripture,” shares one UTR panelist, “Caroline Cobb has put out another album that does a tremendous job of telling the great story – songs of Kingdom Hope. They’ll make you smile, dance, cry, and think.”  This project is a musical journey through the story arch of the Bible, beginning with The Fall in Genesis, and concluding with God restoring all things to Himself in Revelations. Producer Gabe Scott really helped to keep the sonic landscape interesting and varied as well. Another critic adds, “I can’t get enough of this thought-provoking project. Rarely has an album affected me this deeply.”

We believe this list is a great place to start if you are looking for the best of the best from the year-gone-by. Maybe you are ready to dig even deeper. We compiled the list of ALL of the albums cited in one or more of our critics’ individual top 11 lists, and it’s a record-high 63 total cited albumsread the FULL list here.

If you’d like listen to the Top 11 Gourmet Albums audio countdown, check out Episode 9 of the Gourmet Music Podcast. Or you can check out a special video presentation of this Top 11 list.

We LOVE getting your feedback. In fact, lists like these are mostly good discussion starters.
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?


  1. Terry Kreutzkamp January 15, 2018 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    My favourite album this year was “Through the Seasons” by Brian Thiessen – check it out.

  2. Earl Freeman January 15, 2018 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    I love it when I get this list and already have 6 out of 11!

    Good choices! I’m seeing Drew and Ellie next month in Winfield, AL

  3. Jillian Jones January 15, 2018 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Love Red Sea Road and Every Mile Mattered. Really excited to check out Brianna Gaither’s record too – I’m kinda partial to piano driven, singer-songwriter projects. Thanks for putting these lists out – I have discovered some great artists through you – Andy Gullahorn, Rachel Wilhelm, Tanya Godsey to name a few. Love your hearts towards this ministry.

  4. Kim Milligan January 15, 2018 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    I’m super-curious about the new Ellie Holcomb and Nichole Nordeman albums. I have loved their past work. 🙂

  5. Blake Mathis January 15, 2018 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    I think I want to listen to some controversy, so “How To Be Human by The Classic Crime” is now on the list. 🙂 Thanks for the article!

  6. Teresa shane January 15, 2018 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much for a great list!

  7. Jon Swerens January 15, 2018 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    I’d say you guys should pay attention to My Soul Among Lions, a band dedicated to setting all 150 psalms to music!

    (I can’t tell if you’ve covered them before because alas I canot find the search function on your site!)

    • utrmedia January 15, 2018 at 9:35 pm - Reply

      Good recommendation. We’re not familiar with MSAL.

  8. Chris January 15, 2018 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    Yes!! Red Sea Road by Ellie Holcomb was my pick for #1 album of 2017 also. We were extremely blessed to see her live at the Maranatha Bible Conference in Muskeghon MI this past summer. Keep up the great work Dave!! (Now I need to work on perusing the 7 other albums I somehow totally missed in 2017.)

  9. Kim Weston January 15, 2018 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    My overall reaction is “oh man, I’ve barely listened to any of these. I better catch up!” Totally agree with Taylor Leonhardt being on this list! Such beautiful music!

  10. Christopher Campbell January 16, 2018 at 2:11 am - Reply

    Covered The New Respects…awesome…my #1 album of the year was Genesis by Cass. I will have to check out some of the artists on this list I’m not familiar with (Leonhardt, Gaither)

  11. Andy Clements January 16, 2018 at 5:28 am - Reply

    I just discovered Taylor Leonhardt this Fall and became an instant fan! I can’t get enough of River House. I’ll have to check out some of the others.

  12. Jeremy Nordmoe January 16, 2018 at 9:48 am - Reply

    All Is Not Lost was my #1 and I like Red Sea Road. Propaganda’s Crooked and Drew Holcomb’s Souvenir were both in my top 11. Missing is Stu Garrard’s Beatitudes project.

  13. Joseph Barbier January 16, 2018 at 11:21 am - Reply

    My wife and I spent the past few months working at a children’s home in East Tennessee bordering the Smoky Mountains. I discovered your music through a tweet by Andy Gullahorn. I played RIVER HOUSE often. I can still remember listening to “Black Mountain” at dusk as I wandered the lonely curving roads inscribed in the Appalachian hillsides. Surreal and beautiful. One of my favorite music memories. The entire album is a healing oasis of sound, tenderly and expertly woven. Truth, beauty, and grace. Thank you.

    And thank you to Jess Ray for the production work! Spot on!

  14. Keith January 16, 2018 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Taylor’s is my fave.

  15. Vince January 18, 2018 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    The New Respects are the best thing to appear in a long time. Fantastic EP.

    The notes on “How to be Human” appear to imply that if you don’t “want to always have a tightly packed “solution” with a bow on top” then you need to just live with cussing. That’s a false dichotomy. You can explore the outer edges of the Christian (and human) experience without resorting to f-bombs. Letting an expletive slip in conversation is one thing; intentionally recording it is quite another. Music is intended to be listened to repeatedly, and sung along with, either in our heads or out loud. There’s simply no reason for recording that kind of language for others to listen to and repeat on an ongoing basis.

    What I find “sad” is media making excuses for this behavior, and trying to marginalize those who (for very good reasons) don’t like it.

  16. Vonda January 18, 2018 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    I’m surprised Bethany Barnard isn’t on any of the lists, her album is one of my favorites this year. Paper Route was also on heavy rotation. Their song Untitled has been meaningful to me. I guess that was a 2016 release though. Other favorite albums this year: Ellie Holcomb, Cody Carnes, Colony House, Caroline Cobb, future of Forestry, and Melanie Penn’s Christmas album. I have never heard of the new respects I will definitely check them out.

  17. Olivia Butz January 18, 2018 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I definitely need to check out River House – I have been on the fence but this might have pushed me over. A big fan of Caroline Cobb’s new album!

  18. Lorraine Powers January 19, 2018 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Taylor And River House amazing! I love the cd and all the songs! I heard her singing live in Raleigh, NC and it was one of the best concerts I have been to in years!

  19. Duncan Aldridge January 20, 2018 at 2:06 am - Reply

    One of my favorites for the year is Amanda Held Opelt´s Embers. Just stunning both in terms of the words and music.

  20. Mary Mangan January 20, 2018 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Mercury & Lightning was my favorite album of 2017!

  21. Nicole January 20, 2018 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    There are some really great picks here! I appreciate how you have a covered a broad selection of sounds. I have to add Zach Winters “To Have You Around”, The Lone Bellow “Walk into a Storm”, and Sleeping at Last “Atlas:Space (Deluxe)” to my 2017 list. Keep up the great work of unearthing musical treasures for all to appreciate!

  22. Brenden Moore January 20, 2018 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Glad to see Colony House on the list again! I’ll have to check all the others out though1

  23. Doug Simpson January 20, 2018 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    If I win the $25 gift card, I’m using it to get Caroline Cobb’s album and the John Tibbs album from the honorable mentions list. Thanks for putting this together and sharing the greater list! (I would add Sufjan’s collaborative “Planetarium” to it. It’s magnificent.)

  24. Dave January 20, 2018 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    Elle is the best! Thanks for the list!

  25. Ron Scott January 21, 2018 at 12:26 am - Reply

    You definitely touched on some great artists, I noticed a few I’ve never heard of. Thank-you for broadening my horizons.

  26. Jeff Childs January 21, 2018 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    Some great music. I particularly liked The Brilliance. I am going to check them out.

  27. Duane January 22, 2018 at 12:14 am - Reply

    Love the new format and songs. Bought The New Resucuers because of it!

  28. Ryan Killion January 22, 2018 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Was hoping to see Pull The Stars From The Sky by Jess Ray on the main list.

  29. Katie Koopmann January 23, 2018 at 2:55 am - Reply

    Definitely enjoying this list so far! Knew about Mercury and Lightning, but hadn’t really listened to it until I saw it on this list and I’m really enjoying it. All is Not Lost is great too! Excited to revisit some artists I haven’t listened to in a while like Nicole Nordeman and Ellie Holcomb! Pleased to see a mix of familiar bands/songwriters as well as some knew ones for me.

  30. karimi moses January 23, 2018 at 9:05 am - Reply

    Was hoping to see Pam Mark’s Hall ‘MANGLE THE TANGO’….

  31. William Wall January 26, 2018 at 7:53 am - Reply

    40 by Michael Ketterer

  32. Joel Schwartz January 31, 2018 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    After listening to some clips from these albums, I’ve realized that I didn’t get near enough gift cards for Christmas last year. The New Respects, John Mark McMillan, and The Classic Crime are now all albums I need to hear in their entirety!

  33. Staci January 31, 2018 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Huge fan of both Ellie Holcomb and Nichole Nordeman!

  34. Joshua Cooley February 1, 2018 at 7:57 am - Reply

    Colony House is definitely my favorite from this list. I will be checking out The New Respects and Brianna Gaither after hearing them on the video and podcast.

  35. Kevin February 1, 2018 at 11:26 am - Reply

    This is truly a great representation of some of the most creative and uplifting music released in any genre last year. I find that these albums get deeper with each listen, and Ellie Holcomb, The Brilliance, Nichole Nordeman and The Classic Crime are consistently among my favorite artists. Thanks for highlighting such deserving “gourmet” music!

  36. Bethany Kaczmarek February 1, 2018 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    Fantastic list! I expected to see Zach Winters and Jess Ray on here, but I’m definitely not disappointed with the choices. And hey, Jess Ray’s artistry got a mention. I’m most looking forward to checking out the New Respects and Taylor Leonhardt.

  37. Jake February 1, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    So glad to see The Brilliance and The New Respects (dance party music with my kids).

    Waterdeep and Sara Groves hit the honorable mentions column and they made my own top 10.

    One band that I haven’t ever seen featured is Lowland Hum. One of my favorite “quiet music” bands who sought to escape the trappings of traditional Christian music and their last few albums have been remarkable. 2017’s Thin, Thin (B-Sides), and Songs for Christmas were perfect entries in their catalog.

  38. utrmedia February 18, 2018 at 2:09 am - Reply

    We’re a bit late in announcing this… but COMMENT #19… which is Duncan Aldridge is our WINNER of the special iTunes $25 gift card giveaway. Congrats! And thanks to everyone for the amazing comments. Always fun to see lively discussion like this. Thanks y’all.

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