This year we have been blessed with a deluge of top drawer worship albums. In an effort to help worship leaders acquaint wth the swath of releases, we have picked our favorites. We hope these albums will become great resources for worship leaders as they lead their churches in worship. In order for an album to qualify for this list, the record must be released in 2016 and they must be submitted to us for review. Here's our list of favorites with excerpts of our reviews.
Other than Darlene Zschech, Paul Wilbur and Graham Kendrick, Paul Baloche is the only worship leader from the Integrity Music's Hosanna to be still recording for the imprint. Such a lengthy tenure with Integrity Music speaks volumes of Baloche's ability to stay current and find fresh vocabulary and expressions of worship. One look at the album's liner notes reveals Baloche's secret. Rather than resting on his laurels, Baloche refused to be defined just by the past. Thus, for his latest Integrity Music release "Your Mercy," Baloche ventures to share his pen with younger songwriters and artists such as Meredith Andrews, Aaron Shust, All Sons and Daughters, Aaron Gillespie and Matt Redman. As a result, there is a contemporary currency to these newly crafted songs, making them sound fresh and rejuvenated. Yet, they are not bereft of the seasoned depth and theological titillation only a capable veteran like Baloche can imbue.
Travis Ryan has been known to champion big-sounding worship anthems with theologically robust lyrics. One listen to Ryan's songs reveals that this former Saddleback Church worship leader is not into worship songs that are frivolous in their contents. Neither is he into songs that ride along the ambiguous fence of a secular love song and a worship shout-out. "Until My Voice is Gone (Live)" is the perfect showcase of worship songs that flex with theological muscles. They are not only meaty in their lyrical depths, but they are musically sturdy, anthemic, and exhortatory.
Surrender is the pulse that undergirds the entire record. Copious songs give exposition to this theme, most prominently the title cut "Have It All" led by Brian Johnson. Starting off with an acapella-esque introduction, the slow pensive ballad finds a vulnerable Brian Johnson emptying his soul before God in utter surrender. Though Leeland is an esteemed singer-songwriter in his own rights, he easily blends in with the team in offering what is the album's most catchy burner"Lion and the Lamb." While many worship tunes are so bereft of creative use of images, "Lion and the Lamb" is an exception. Jeremy Riddle's "Be Enthroned" has a gorgeous cinematic introduction that draws us into this dramatic presentation of worship often leaving us at the edges of our seats.
Paul Wilbur brings an indispensable component to worship music often overlooked by today's worship songwriters. Wilbur allows us to see through his extensive discography that our faith finds its roots in the Hebrew Bible. And that our worship shouldn't be ethno-centric in the sense that we forget that God's loves peoples of all nations, particularly the Jewish people. Ever since his inaugural Integrity Music debut "Up to Zion" in 1991, Wilbur has had been championing these concerns over classic songs such as "Kadosh," "Song of Ezekiel," "Lord God of Abraham," "Shalom Jerusalem," and more popularly, "Days of Elijah." Borrowing traditional Jewish instruments like the shofar with Yiddish-influence tunes augmented by Hebrew phrases lifted from the Hebrew Bible, Wilbur shows us that worship music should be informed, influenced, and compelled from both the New as well as the Old Testament. Thus, listening to Wilbur not only opportune for us moments of worship, but it also enhances our appreciation of the Old Testament.
The accolades lauded on Steven Curtis Chapman are just staggering. With 5 Grammy Awards and 58 GMA Dove Awards won, 10 million albums sold, 46 Christian #1 songs, and to say Chapman is a veteran is a mere understatement. However, after 22 studio albums released, it's a surprise that Chapman hasn't released a worship album until now. "Worship and Believe" is thus a much anticipated endeavour as this is Chapman's first and foremost worship record. Ardent fans who have grown to love Chapman's acoustic guitar based CCM pop need not fret as the album still bears all the licks and quips of a signature Chapman record. Rather, what's different this time is twofold: first, the lyrics are all directly vertical up to God with lots of horizontal encouragements to engage with our Master and Friend. Second, the songs here are far more inviting cordially drawing us in to singalong with Chapman as he leads us in worship.
Hailed as the Charles Wesley of the 21st Century, Keith and Kristyn Getty have resourced the church's worship with vocabulary that goes beyond a hook and five repeated lines. On the other, the hymns of the Gettys are not old fashioned and jaded, mummified in the musical noirs of the Victorian era. Rather, they are musically engaging and refreshingly contemporary. As a result, churches of both the liturgically-driven as well as the more contemporary ones have embraced the couple's hymns such as "Speak, O Lord," "In Christ Alone," "By Faith," and many others. Now, they are back with their album of new and non-festive material since 2012's "Hymns for the Christian Life."
Chris Tomlin's name is synonymous with worship music. Over the years, with songs such as "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)," "How Great is Our God," "Our God," and "At the Cross (Love Ran Red)," Tomlin has had written the soundtrack of the church's worship. Whether or not the causal worship knows Tomlin's name, most of us have sung his songs before in church. Moreover, Tomlin has had established such a repertoire of sublime worship tunes that every album is an event to look forward to. "Never Lose Sight," Tomlin's first non-festive album in almost two years, has already had fans waiting with bated breath. Even before the album's release, "Never Lose Sight" has top iTunes Inspirational Chart and it has been lingering in the upper echelon of Amazon's pre-order chart.
Taking its cue from Genesis 1:3 is Hillsong Worship's titular "Let There Be Light." And in at least three ways, this album is a return to the group's grassroots genesis. First, this 25th live album sees the return of Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood as the worship leader on two cuts. Though Ligertwood has never ceased writing for the Australian worship team, she has not been on the microphone since 2010's "A Beautiful Exchange." Second, the same can be said of Marty Sampson. In the earlier days, Sampson used to be one of the most prominent male voices of the team. After a period of conspicuous absence, Sampson is back both as a songwriter of 2 songs and he sings lead on his self-penned "Elohim." Third, while their previous record "Open Heaven/River Wild" was a tad more experimental and ethereal, this new record gets back to their mother's milk of solidly congregational-focused songs.