Staff Picks 2015
Welcome to the annual feature where we at AbsolutelyGospel.com list our favorite recordings of the year. The albums here may not have been rated in our album reviews as the best of the year – but they were definitely among our favorite. Perennial favorites like Karen Peck & New River, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Booth Brothers, and Bowling Family show up again, as well as new faces like Amber Nelon Thompson, Jim Brady Trio, and Point of Grace.
Wilburn & Wilburn
Wilburn & Wilburn have stepped up a notch with this recording. This project just seems to gel more than any others. It’s full of great songs and really nice arrangements. Songs like “It’s What He’s Done”, “Sin Is No Match for grace”, and “Shoulders” are very impressive songs, but the song I predict will do best for them is “You Asked Him to Leave”. It has a message so timely for the day we are living in and will touch the hearts of anyone who listens to it. “You Asked Him To Leave” could do well in any genre, but especially crossing over to main-line Country. If Daywind doesn’t release this song to Country Radio, they are missing a great opportunity and doing a disservice to the song, the group, and to our Country,
Karen Peck & New River
Well, what can you say, this is Karen Peck and New River. I’ve never heard a KP&NR project that I didn’t have to listen to over and over again. This one is no exception. Like Wilburn and Wilburn’s Shoulders, this CD had a lot of great songs including, “Hallelujah for The Cross”, “I Am Blessed” and “I Choose Christ”, but the one song setting this album apart from others is “Pray Now”. Little did Karen know that this song would personally minister to her family as her husband Ricky went through all of his cancer treatments, but thousands of other families hearing this song were touched as they were going through similar.
A Christmas CD has to be pretty special to make my Top 5 list. Christmas CDs are always judged, in my view, by how commercial the sound is. The message is important, but to sell Christmas CDs you are being compared to such artists as Celine Dion, Josh Groban, or Michael Buble’, all of which have the highest paid producers and orchestrations available in New York or Hollywood. The Browders have managed to produce a very commercial sounding project, yet keep the warmth and personality of their Gospel recordings. On top of all that, Mathew Browder has written a Christmas tune, “Merry Christmas” that just won’t get out of your head once you hear it. If a secular artist picks this song up, it could become a Christmas classic.
Live at Daywind Studios
This video/CD combo is a delight to watch and then listen to with the expressions and antics of actually seeing the group perform. It’s taken a couple of changes over the years, but this group of guys can stand toe to toe with any quartet in the market today. I think watching them perform adds to the connection and vitality of hearing their music. This project has a lot of familiar tunes like “The Unclouded Day”, “Living In Canaan Now”, and “Oh What A Savior, but also includes their newest radio single “Those Who Know Me Know”. I’m not big on studio videos, but this one caught my attention. Give it a listen, watch, whatever. You will like it.
After All This Time
I enjoyed this Talleys CD because it gives me a good blend of traditional and progressive styled Gospel music. There are some traditional favorites on the album, but enough of it has a progressive feel that it keeps my interest going. The Talleys always remind me of what great Southern Gospel music is inherently known for…. close family harmony. The harmony doesn’t get any closer than when the Talleys sing. Some old standards like “I Love To Tell The Story/Blessed Assurance”, “Naaman”, and and a new twist to the old Gold City song “Who But God” got me going, but new songs like “People In The Line” and “Somebody’s Story” touch the lives of everyone who listens to them.
Booth Brothers – Still (Spring Hill Records)
Gordon Mote – Hymns & Songs of Inspiration (New Haven Records)
Amber Nelon Thompson – Just Sing (Daywind Records)
The Lesters – Live In Boston (Independent)
|Chris D. Unthank
Moments Like These
These guys continue to amaze me with their strong song selection and excellent production. Mike is at the top of his game on this release – most notably on “I Was There.” There are some fantastic numbers – like the group’s first #1 hit on the record “One Glorious Moment of Faith,” “God Is Always Good” and the tearjerked “Our First Hallelujah There.”
Jim Brady Trio
A New Chapter
I’ve been a huge fan of Jim and Melissa Brady since their time in their own respective ministries (Jim with the Booth Brothers and Melissa on her own or doing fill-in work). Tim Parton joined the duo for this debut release, and it is phenomenal. Jim and Melissa’s writing talents are on display here, but Melissa is the stand out on vocally – finally getting a chance to shine. This is the hottest new group on the scene in years, and you don’t want to miss out on a phenomenal debut recording.
Amber Nelon Thompson
Amber is one of the finest vocalists to ever step out of this genre, and her debut solo recording Just Sing showcases that marvelously. It would be remiss of me to mention this recording without talking about the stellar production work of Jason Clark who seamlessly weaves multiple genres together to make one of the best recordings of the year. Bravo Amber and Jason!
Jeff & Sheri Easter
Spring Hill Music Group
My big complaint about Jeff & Sheri Easter is that it takes way too long to get new music from them. Small Town didn’t disappoint in the least bit. Sheri continues to be one of the most underrated songwriters in the business. Just listen to their #1 hit “Jesus Loves You” and you’ll know why I make such a grand statement. The country sounds you’ve come to love continues on this great release!
Spring Hill Music Group
I’ve always been a huge fan of the Booth Brothers, but as I’ve stated earlier, I’ve also always loved Jim Brady and what he brought to this group. However, Paul Lancaster seamlessly moved in to the baritone position for this group, and they didn’t miss a beat on Still. The guy are still in top form on this release. It only makes me anticipate more releases from this popular trio!
Eighth Day – I’m Gonna Say It (Butler Music Group)
Karen Peck & New River – Pray Now (Daywind Records)
Gordon Mote – Hymns & Songs of Inspiration (New Haven Records)
Canton Juntion – Every Hallelujah (Difference Media)
Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – Happy People (StowTown Records)
Mylon Hayes Family
I consider the Mylon Hayes Family to be the modern version of the Speer Family. The Mylon Hayes Family is devoted to the preservation of our music and they do so with class and dignity! This is their best recording to date. Featuring songs from great writers such as Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck, Rodney Griffin, Sandy Blythe, and others, coupled with excellent arrangements and vocal delivery, the group went to great measures to ensure an impeccable recording. They went outside their norm with arrangements, and also included excellent orchestral arrangements from Cody McVey (which bares striking resemblances to the late, great Lari Goss). I applaud their efforts and the end result was one of the finest releases for 2015 featuring great songs like the “Love Medley”, “At the Foot of Calvary’s Cross”, “The Coming of the Lord”, “Grace Happened Here” and many others.
This is probably my favorite release of 2015. These guys sound like they’ve been together for years. I am sure having Garry Jones at the producing helm had a lot to do it, along with 2 members who have sung together before. But the song selection presented on this powerful release is unsurpassed by any other release in 2015. Filled with tremendous song, topped with outstanding arrangements make this is a highly enjoyable recording. Kicking off with the heavy hitter “God’s Got a Better Plan”, the recording continues with a bunch of new songs and remakes such as “Tumbling Down”, “When I Lift Up My Head”, “When He Was on the Cross”, “I Am”, “I Need a Little More Jesus”, “Weep No More” and “The King and I”.
I’m Gonna Say It
Butler Music Group
This is one of the finest releases for 2015 and I dare say the best offering from Eighth Day. It truly is a masterpiece and an outstanding piece of work from song selection, musicianship, vocals, arrangements, etc. The songs are paced well, very well written and flawlessly executed. They are one of the few groups I can easily pick out on radio, which testifies to the uniqueness of their sound. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this recording over and over again, especially such songs as “I’m Gonna Say it”, “Somebody’s Blessing”, “Wings”, “Waiting for You to Notice Me” and the stunning “Shadow of His Hand”.
Amber Nelon Thompson
Once in awhile, a vocalist comes along within our field that just blows everyone away…back in the day, people like Vestal Goodman, Joy Gardner and Sue Dodge come to mind. More recently, Kim Hopper, Angie Hoskins-Aldridge and TaRanda Greene come to mind. Everybody move over, as we make way for Amber Nelon Thompson. What a powerful set of vocals this young lady has and she has been honing her craft for years and it all culminates into one majestic piece of work with this recording…as she throws her head back and just sings some truly great songs like “He’s Making Me”, “Another Time, Another Place”, “What Do You Say”, “Without Your Love” and “Give it to Jesus”.
Dixie Melody Boys
This latest release is probably one of their finest in recent years. Produced by lead singer, Josh Garner, the recording may not be of the same production quality as your mainline label recordings, but Josh has produced a fine piece of work. Mostly featuring songs that have been “revived”, the Dixie Melody Boys didn’t rely on tired, worn out favorites that everybody else has done or are doing currently. Some of these songs haven’t been heard in quite some time, and it’s so good hearing them being revived in such a way that we can enjoy them like their brand new all over again such as “Wait Upon the Lord”, “My Burdens Have Rolled Away”, “Some Wonderful Day”, “Hello Mama” and “Oh What Love”.
The Talleys – After All This Time (Horizon Records)
Triumphant – Living In Harmony (StowTown Records)
Bowling Family – Moments Like These (Daywind Records)
Goodman Revival – Songs In the Key of Happy (Gaither Music Group)
Collingsworth Family – That Day Is Coming (StowTown Records)
Jason Crabb – Whatever the Road (Reunion Records)
My top 5 projects are below. And for me, the reasons I have chosen these special five projects out of the many other releases for the past year all consist of the following. These projects all are consistent with great artwork, which to me is always something every artist should carefully analyze and make certain they are looking at from every point of view…people still pick up and buy projects based on the cover. They do! Of course the most important element to the project is that familiar but so true statement: it all begins with a song. For me, every one of these projects have songs that have touched my heart, moved me, made me think, challenged me, encouraged me and made me want to share the music with others. It’s all about touching lives with the precious gift of music. Great artistry and ministry is shown with all of these projects, their touring, their availability, their websites, their members, their lives, their fan base and their commitment to the fans and friends and the fans and friends commitment back to them. My favorites for the year are…AND IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER…