As 2015 comes to a close, here are our favorite Gospel albums of the year. Below are our top 10 with an excerpt and link to our reviews.
10. Richard Smallwood With Vision "Anthology Live" (RCA Inspirational)
Every album that Richard Smallwood releases is an event. Longtime fans of Smallwood often wait with bated breath for his albums to drop. This is because they know that God is always at the cynosure with each of Smallwood's live recordings. "Anthology," Smallwood's debut album for RCA Inspiration, is no exception. From Smallwood's opening prayer to his choir-directed ad lips to his glorious belts to his homilies between songs to the instrumental overtures, you can't help but feel God's presence saturating every note of this recording.
9. Marvin Sapp "You Shall Live" (RCA Inspirational)
In sum, what makes "You Shall Live" such a winsome record is Sapp's inert ability of not only understanding the depths of his songs but also his ability to communicate it. Such an uncanny ability must have come from his years as a preacher. Thus, when the preacher sings, we can't help but listen.
8. Kirk Franklin "Losing My Religion" (RCA Inspirational)
It's easy to misinterpret the titular of Kirk Franklin's new album "Losing My Religion." For starters, Franklin is not abandoning his Christian roots. Neither is he eskewing his references to God and faith on this album. In fact, there's nothing on this new record that suggest any crossover hints.
7. Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago "Any Given Sunday" (Inspired People)
"Any Given Sunday" is a treat for those who don't want worship music to end on Sundays. With a project like this, we can dance, holler, and sing unto Jesus every day of the week.
6. Uche Agu "The Glory Experience: Live in Houston" (Dream Gospel)
You can feel the ceiling shaking when Uche Agu sings. This is not the result of the dynamics of the high voltage sounding choir backing Agu or the ferocious decibels of the music's loudness. Rather, there's a Holy Spirit presence when you hear Agu and his worship team sing. You can't sing such highly God saturated songs such as "Make God Big," "Yahweh," and "The Glory" without feeling the gravitas of God's glory evoked. And when Agu sings these worship paeans with such verve and conviction, you can feel heaven rattle and seraphim rejoicing.
5. Tasha Cobbs "One Place Live" (Motown Gospel)
Now, with "One Place Live," we find Cobbs uncaged as she delivers what is over an hour's worth of dynamic worship. Here she rips and roars with a holy abandonment. Here she soothes and stings with her Godly Scripture-soaked words. And here she rattles and shatters inviting us into a Spirit-led experience. Recorded live at Redemption Church in Greenville, South Carolina, with thousands of worshippers in attendance, "One Place Live" is signature Tasha Cobbs - replete with passionate, heart-tugging songs that instantly infuse the spirit.
4. AsOne "AsOne" (360MusicWorX)
With AsOne, stereo typicalness has no soapbox to stand on. First, new Gospel music duo AsOne is one of the first ever interracial female duo that features the voices of talented singer/songwriters Lisa Wright and Theresa Bailey. Signed to 360MusicWorx, this album eradicates the racial divide between black and white. Second, though often a muted subject of conversation, there is a tacit expectation of what Gospel music by an African American artist ought to sound like relative to a white artist. But with AsOne's debut album such expectations are shattered to smithereens. On these newly recorded 8 tracks, you will find a myriad of musical styles and nuances that truly make this album defy any categorization.
3. Israel Houghton & New Breed "Covered: Alive in Asia" (RCA Inspirational)
Israel Houghton & New Breed are effacers of boundary markers. Whether we care to admit it or not, there is a tacit racial divide in Christian music between black Gospel music and contemporary worship music. Such segregation has unfairly caused a drift in our worship that reaffirms the old adage that 11 am on a Sunday morning is the most racially divided hour of the week. Israel Houghton and New Breed are trailblazers in the regard of bringing the two subgenres of worship music together in both their style of music as well as the people they have worked with.
2. Casey J "The Truth" (Tyscot)
With her big, attention-drawing, booming voice, Casey J could make the reading of the phone book sing. She could have opted for a sinecure by churning out yet another Gospel album. And she could still be able to shift a truckload of CDs off the shelves. Rather, with her debut live album released via Marquis Boone Enterprises /Tyscot Record, Casey has taken to select worship songs that are embracing of her diverse audience
1. Benita Farmer "Mender of Me" (Dream Worship)
If Cece Winans and Yolanda Adams ever disciple a protégé, it has to be Benita Farmer. Possessing a suave R&B ease, Farmer like Winans and Adams has an inviting way of drawing even non-believers to her sonic palette without sounding threatening or "church-y." Her rich yet jazzy alto calls to mind soul divas such as Chante Moore and to some extend Sade. Vocally, Farmer has an agility that soothes yet she also possess an undercurrent in her voice that showcases her grit and strength which come across as confident and assuring. Yet, when it comes to her songs, they are uncompromising Jesus-besotted through and through. Never missing a beat, this collection of 10 songs are glowingly Christ-centered and Biblically informed.