Another year, another flood of exceptional faith influenced music from artists that are a bit off the beaten path - which nicely fits the Tollbooth's distinctive style...with a free download!
Let's just say it's not likely you will hear any of these artists on popular CCM or other mainstream radio. The level of creativity for faith influenced indie artists continues to grow exponentially and here are some of the best from 2015. Dig in and find some gems. Note that there is no ranking implied, rather the list is in alphabetical order by title.
You can for a limited time download Under the Radar's Best Songs of 2015 Sampler Album from Noisetrade which includes songs from many of the listed albums.
Bows and Arrows - Cindy Morgan Cindy Morgan has never penned better work, sung with more heart, constructed more timeless arrangements, or created a deeper soul-stirring project. This record is filled with touching personal stories of people and places, that have a homey, genuine feel to them. The music is Americana-based with a wide range of influences making the sound varied and vibrant. We really couldn't ask for more from this wonderful artist.
Dear Wormwood - The Oh Hellos With the release of Dear Wormwood, The Oh Hellos have emerged as one of the top modern folk indie bands at this time. A virtual smorgasbord of sounds and vocals cleverly woven together, including a arrangement of Dance Macabre - what other band does that? This Texas-based sibling group is at top-form on this release, and its Irish influenced anthems coupled with poignant, and at times, profound lyrics are a remarkable listen.
Fire and Stone - Gray Havens The first full-length release from one of the most original sounding artists around contains some of the best production and arranging of the year. Radford is a great songwriting storyteller making this is a record for those who are looking for intelligent, well-conceived and skillfully-produced music. David's vocals soar once again with simply delightful harmonies by wife Licia.
Floodplain - Sara Groves A stunning collection of new songs from one of the best songwriters of our generation. Once again Sara uses her musical gifts to reach into our common struggle for time, purpose, and community.This is Sara Groves at her best lyrically, musically, and vocally. Sara, please never stop writing and recording, we need you.
Freedom Souls - Burlap to Cashmere More variety and genre influences on this Burlap to Cashmere record mark it as somewhat of a departure from their previous offerings, but the changes are very, very good. Burlap continues to play with passion and precision, and Steven Delopoulos' lyrics are more spiritual and prayerful than ever.
Home - Josh Garrels This is Garrels most perfectly produced album with beautiful, well placed instrumentation. His lyrics are interesting and engaging, touching on a wide variety of topics. His vocals are, as always, so very soulful. An album to delight Garrels' current fans and attract new ones.
One Wild Life: Soul - Gungor This album is a perfect example of an embracing of the artist’s responsibility to share their unique voice. A couple years of radical changes in the lives of the Gungors only seem to fuel their creativity. Accessible modern arrangements paired with personal lyrics.
Psalms - Sandra McCracken Simple, beautiful, and stirring renditions of psalms recorded in a living room in Brooklyn, and the recording reflects the warmth of that atmosphere. Gorgeous melodies that will encourage you to sing and absorb the Psalms. Sandra McCracken is a treasure.
The Burning Edge of Dawn - Andrew Peterson Andrew Peterson produces the most intensely personal and emotionally honest record of his career, and no question one of his best. Peterson reveals his artist's soul as one who feels deeply and communicates in a truly intimate way on this record. Definitely a personal, introspective, and at times dark record, still it resolves with hope and grace.
Waterdeep - Waterdeep Make no mistake, this is not quantity over quality. Seemingly drawing from a bottomless well of inspiration, the Chaffers are at such a high level of creativity that they had to produce a 23-song double record of amazing variety and attention to detail. Their unique alt-pop music is teeming with twists and turns musically and lyrically as Waterdeep brings us perhaps their best overall work to date.
Wonderlands – Jon Foreman This box set of 25 songs deals mostly with themes of our mortality, and shows that Jon Foreman is not just a rocker as these songs are clever, creative, personal, and passionate.
Some artists with outstanding 2015 releases that may be new to you:
Controlled Burn – Melody Olson This album was four years in the making, and originally conceived to be a worship album. Instead these songs share the heart of someone who has overcome personal hardship. This record is filled with ache, longing, and ultimately the hope of God’s redemptive work.
Elemental - Ben Pasley The Enter the Worship Circle co-founder takes his original music in an entirely different direction - a blues and gospel oriented album of rocking, spiritual, and lyrically interesting music.
Fool - forBrothers With a record packed with vocal arrangements that are unforgettable, forBrothers has created an unique sound that adds up to an exceptional debut. The songwriting is excellent and their live show is equal to this outstanding recording.
Sentimental Creatures – Jess Ray This is an album filled with songs to ponder and thoughtfully return to. Many of the songs are reverse prayers – God communicating truth back to us, and it is executed brilliantly. Jess' passionate and soulful vocals perfectly match the songwriting and production on this record.
The Nature of Us - Joel Ansett Joel exhibits amazing maturity both lyrically and musically in his first full length album. There are some impressive gems on this record coupled with a wide range of musical styles. Standouts include "Tragedy Is Not the End," a brilliant song about grief and "New York," certainly one of the most unique songs of 2015 - a prayer for New York City.
Other exceptional releases from 2015 worth checking out:
Lands and Peoples - BIll Mallonee; Becoming - Giants and Pilgrim; Push - Riki Michele; Promised Land - Jessi McNeal; The Dream Alive - Vocal Few; Of This I'm Sure - Jenny and Tyler; Futureboy - Nick Flora; Everything Has Changed - Justin McRoberts
Dave Trout of Under the Radar contributed to this article. Under the Radar is a weekly radio show/podcast featuring well-crafted music you won't normally hear on popular outlets.