Best Roots/Folk Christian Album of 2015

Andrew Peterson

Here are our favorite Roots/Folk Christian albums released this year with an excerpt and link to each of the reviews.

8. Jon Micah Sumrall's "Faith and Family"

Jon Micah Sumrall's "Faith and Family" finds its zip code in Smallsville USA.  By letting his aggressive electric guitars enjoy a well-deserved recess, the front man of Christian rock band Kutless has taken the back road home to one of his more introspective and mellow collections.  Unlike the Kutless outputs, "Faith and Family," as the titular advocates, is a personal collection of songs Sumrall has amassed over the years.  Some of which were birthed right out of his own personal reflections of Scripture while others were written specifically for his wife and his family.  Sonically, there's a roostier sound to the whole 10 cuts. Yet, "Faith and Family" is not a snooze affair either; rather akin to the works of Tim McGraw or Robert Earl Keen, many of these songs narrate scintillating autobiographical anecdotes about Sumrall's struggles and triumphs in life. With lots of attention paid to details, such perspicuity often untangles emotions within us giving us a hike along the same dusty side roads Sumrall has traversed.

7. Lynn Anderson "Bridges"

Only God knows that when this album was released in June this year, Lynn Anderson would die more than a month later.  "Bridges" is the "Rose Garden" singer's final album, but it's also (sadly) her first Gospel album.  However, Anderson never expected this to be her last; in fact, around the release of this album, she was eagerly tooting the horns of this release with interviews and even social media tweets.  Truth be told, this is Anderson's best album to date.  Part of the success comes from Anderson's deft ear for a good song.  Seasonal country music scribes such as Mike Reid, Paul Overstreet, Buffy Lawson, Kim Williams, Don Schlitz, and Allen Shamblin were invited to offer their latest and finest compositions.

6. Cindy Morgan 'Bows and Arrows"

"Bows and Arrows" is a leftfield masterpiece.  This album is to Cindy Morgan what "Wrecking Ball" is to Emmylou Harris or what "Van Lear Rose" is to Loretta Lynn.  Rich in atmosphere and haunting in its lyrical nuances, to say that this album is enthralling is an understatement.  Gone are the synth pop sounds of Morgan's earlier records.  Rather, "Bows and Arrows" is sonically a sheer work of art where elements of bluegrass, Americana, old spirituals, country, and folk coalesce together into a deftly crafted tapestry of sound.  If comparisons are to be made, "Bows and Arrows" is closer in sound to Morgan's 2006 "Postcards" than 1992 "Real Life."  With ballads dominating the bulk of the record, listening to this album is indeed a convalescent affair where our souls are awaken to the healing balm of God's truth as Morgan wrestles with how life's hurts and disappointments ultimately find their rest in Jesus Christ.

5. Sara Groves "Floodplains"

Sara Groves gave us some unforgettable radio hits like "Less Like Scars" and "All Right Here."  Fair enough; they were catchy and they make us want to sing along.  But Groves has never really been tailored made for mass consumption.  Rather, right from her early days with tracks such as "Paintings Pictures of Egypt" and "The Word,"she has had a ruminative side.  Over the years as she becomes more established, building up a larger and larger fan base, Groves has moved musically farther away from pampering to radio's favour.  And her lyrics have become more and more poetic and acerbic ready to trim off any frills or tropes that might border on cliché.  She manages to reach an epitome of her poetic best with the largely introspective and ballad heavy "Invisible Empires" in 2011.  Though not as emotionally dense as "Invisible Empires," "Floodplain" continues Groves streak for songs that stymied with a cathartic weight with lots of intimate moments on full display.  This means "Floodplain" is deeply personal, emotionally deep, and spiritually penetrating.

4. Marty and Patti Elmore "Hand in Hand"

Marty and Patti Elmore's new album "Hand in Hand" does not just offers us tutorials in the faith. It also treks with us hand in hand through the labyrinths of life's most dire and complicated moments offering to us piquant encouragements from Scripture and leading us always to the Savior.  And making the journey most memorable are the sublime tunes the couples have crafted to go along with such a travelogue of faith.  Marty and Patti Elmore are a husband & wife team from West Plains, Missouri.  They have been writing and singing gospel music together for the past 27 years, traveling over much of Missouri and several surrounding states.

3. Point of Grace "Directions Home (Songs We Love, Songs You Know)" 

Drive time will be so much more enjoyable and rewarding with Point of Grace's "Directions Home."  Not only do they navigate well in GPSing us home (whether it's literal or/and spiritual), they have encompass great scenic routes where we get to hear the trio sing some of the old verdant songs from the past all the way to today's biggest hits.  "Directions Home" is Point of Grace's tenth studio album and it's also their first covers album, save for two new cuts.  Unlike many covers albums, Point of Grace have chosen to eschew some of the tried and true highways in favour of the scenic byways.  Thus, you will find them tackling lesser known country songs such as Wynonna Judd's "Only Love," Trace Adkins' "You're Gonna Miss This" to more overt and recent choices such as Carrie Underwood's "Something in the Water," Miley Cyrus' "The Climb" and Nashville Cast's "A Life That's Good."  And venturing into their Christian roots, they have also offered their reading of Matt Maher's "Lord I Need You" and Wayne Watson's "Friend of a Wounded Heart."

2. Lizzy Long "Blueberry Pie"

When Lizzy Long sings, she can evoke a palate of emotions.  Not since Alison Krauss or Kristyn Getty has there been a voice like Long's.  Possessing a sweet backwoods soprano that gushes with crystal clear Appalachian timbre, Long has a voice that can soothe like a healing balm and beguile the brawniest of hearts.  And adding patency to such a vocal charm is her delightful Southern charm.  Listening to Long is an unforgettable treat in itself; one could put her on repeat copiously and never get tired of her honeyed voice.  "Blueberry Pie," released under Wayne Haun and Kevin Ward's Vine Records, is Long's debut solo record.

1. Andrew Peterson "The Burning Edge of Dawn"

Like a tantalizing meal that lingers with its rich aromatic flavours long after you have finished your last bite, the songs of Peterson lingers.  They haunt.  They disturb.  They comfort.  Some of the lines such as "Now my heart is a catacomb/I'm praying we can find a way to raise these bones" are so acerbic that they will get us ruminating for days without end.  Further, Anderson has such a way of spinning out attention grabbing narratives that he will get us hook, line and sinker.  With narrative cues such as "I remember Mr. Greene and I/Were walking down a busy street in Louisville," we can't help but beg for more of the story to come.  Maybe it's because Peterson is also a novel writer (Peterson has just completed writing The Warden and the Wolf King, the final book in the award-winning Wingfeather Saga series), he has honed his pen in such a way that he's the connoisseur of language that excites and engages. These 10 cuts, in short, piques, excites and entices our hearts and minds.

Tags : best folk/roots album 2015 Andrew Peterson martin and patti elmer Cindy Morgan Point of Grace jon micah sumrall Lynn Anderson Sara Groves lizzy long

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