As 2014 comes to a close, it's time to look back at the Southern Gospel releases for the year. Here are our top 10 favorites with snippets and links to our reviews:
1. Allan Hall "Work of Love"
If you feel like getting away from the drudgery of the heavy bass and wailing electric guitar pop sounds that surround lots of Christian record these days and you want something rustic, sweet and yet meaningful, you can't really go wrong with "Work of Love.'
2. Legacy Five "Great Day"
Great songs are like X-ray glasses, they allow us to see images oblivious to the naked eye. In times when God's presence seems hidden like a flock of grackles in a leafy tree, a great song exposes the thousands of twitching wings ready to take flight. In God's mercy, a great song can function as God's means of grace in the midst of our abject wants and plangent longings. Serving such an end are the 10 brand new songs from Legacy Five's latest Daywind Records release "Great Day."
3. The Taylors "Measure of Grace"
"Measure of Grace" is an album of 11 songs that allow us to acquaint our eyes to see our unstirred Savior in life's storms. Never domesticated by a sliver of the Christian message, here you will find the songs addressing the whole swath of the Christian life. There are songs here that will give us a kick in the behind when we are slothful ("I'm Committed to You, Lord"), comfort us when we are distraught ("He's My Guide") and reassure us of our true value when we feel like junk ("Measure of Grace"). In short, this is an album that is made to speak to every Christian who is serious about his or her walk with the Lord.
4. TaRanda Greene "Stronger"
Yet, the ultimate value of listening to this album is what these songs do to our hearts. They remind us again and again that sometimes we make the judgment call too soon. For those who choose to wait upon the Lord and for those of us who seek Him in our pain, happy ever after is not that elusive after all. Rather, it's the ultimate destination for those who are willing to hang around in faith.
5. The Martins "A Cappella"
An album full of songs sung a cappella is a cause for nervousness. It's like living in a glass prism with no curtains. The instruments that careen a song are what curtains are to a house, they have a way of covering up what we don't want others to notice. Often the virtuoso playing of guitars or the clashing sounds of the latest programmed drums can make one forget a song's lacklustre hook or its poorly constructed lyrics. Precisely because instrumentations have a way of building up anticipation, it can magically resurrect a turgid song into something pretty engaging. However, with absolutely no instruments to back the Martins' latest disc "A cappella" they do not have such luxuries. Thus, the onus is on the trio to continue to incite and excite through their layered harmonies and their vocal liberties. And to this end, the trio certainly pass muster.
6. Mark Bishop "This is What It's All About"
What is most glowing about Mark Bishop's latest release "This is What It's All About" is that it gives us glasses to see the bigness of God in every day happenstances. Listening to these 10 songs is like looking through a photo album where Bishop functions as the narrator. Here he patiently walks us through each photo pointing to us where God is in each frame before elaborating on the importance of the role God plays in each of them. So, whether it is at the country church where a pastor was speaking to a distraught parishioner ("The Devil's Playing Chess") or in the harvest fields praying for rain ("Pray on the Little Days"), Bishop carefully removes our blinders so that we can see God in each and every of these circumstances.
7. Joseph Habedank "Welcome Home"
Featuring 10 songs all co-written or written by Habedank and produced Ricky Free, you know you are in the presence of greatness as soon as the first notes of the album opener and title cut "Welcome Home" strike.
8. John Bowman "Worship Him"
"Worship Him" is not the type of album you can fully appreciate in your mad rush from picking up your kid from football practice to your grocery shopping at Walmart. It's just not that type of a record made for the hustle and bustle of life. Rather, these 10 songs are reserved for the tender hours of the early morning when we are quiet before the Lord with an open Bible on the table and a pencil in our hand. "Worship Him" is made for such moments.
9. Zane and Donna King "Mile Marker One"
"Mile Marker One," the couple's brand new record, is like a reliable spiritual GPS; it will help us navigate through life's peaks and valleys with the certainty that Christ is with us. Thus, with this record, God sightings in life will become easier especially in times when life's fogs blur our vision.
10. Kim Collingsworth "Majestic"
It is the cause of jitters when an artist uses a superlative adjective such as "Majestic" as the album's titular. With such a lofty standard already locked in by the album's title, more often than not, the material has a challenging time trying to live up to such aerial heights. But this is not the case with Kim Collingsworth's latest live piano solo release "Majestic." Hyperbola certainly does not have a place on this set as this truly is an elegant experience of worship captured on disc.