Tony Cummings and Mike Rimmer survey all the releases to find the best Christian music albums of 2006.

Tony Cummings and Mike Rimmer have between them listened to over 1,500 Christian music albums in 2006. As with last year, they have pinpointed what they believe to be the very, very best.

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

VERRA CRUZ - Emancipation Day (Fierce!)
It's been a long and hard journey from their days as Dust to finally releasing a debut album but Marc, Nick and Jimmy have delivered 11 songs that totally capture the passion and edge of their live performances. Marc James' songwriting is central here and somehow the band have rolled all their influences old and new into a set that sounds thoroughly modern and yet shows respect to those who have gone before. Still chasing that elusive mainstream deal as they head into 2007, songs like "Strange Food", "Guns In The Distance" and "Storm Will Come" mark them out as one of the most exciting British bands around.
Mike Rimmer
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

VARIOUS - The Best Of Movation (Movation)
A 2CD compilation which throws the spotlight on one of the most creative and spiritually successful production companies/labels in the history of the UK scene. Manchester's Movation, headed up by composers Mark Pennell and Zarc Porter, have for more than a decade created evangelistic pop and dance music brilliantly targeted at the quixotic tastes of Manchester school kids. Seldom has evangelism been more fun and this delightful set is full of stone classics like the World Wide Message Tribe's "I'm On My Way (To Zion)", V*enna's "Where I Wanna Be", "Shine's "Lifted" and that immortal collision of HOG and The Tribe on "Jumping In The House Of God". There are also plenty of obscurities and previously unreleased tracks and the fact that one of them, "Set My Heart On Fire" by Jenna, could make the Cross Rhythms playlist in 2006 shows that Pennell's and Porter's take on teen pop has aged amazingly well.
Tony Cummings
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

SWITCHFOOT - Oh! Gravity (Sparrow)
Released in the US on 26th December and in the UK on 13th January therefore sneaking into this survey on a technicality, once you hear this fine album you'll know why we shoe-horned this into our 20 Best. Take the title track, with its chunky riff, singable chorus and that clever bit where it sounds exactly like someone falling off a piano stool - "Oh! Gravity" has the same pop rock immediacy that made Jars Of Clay's "Dead Man" such a radio staple. But there's also plenty of poignancy and passion that exudes from Jon Foreman's best songwriting so that when he sings the final line "All my world resting on your love" on the haunting acoustic "Let Your Love Be Strong" there's a flash of the transcendent amid all the clever put-downs of the mad, helter-skelter world that has seen the American Dream mutate into a nightmare. It is hard to execute rock that conveys intelligence and insight yet is framed in the flashy clothes of Top 40 Radio. The fact that San Diego's finest have achieved this so viscerally must be heartily applauded.
Tony Cummings
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

AYIESHA WOODS - Introducing Ayiesha Woods (Gotee)
Bursting onto the scene with a high profile Gotee Records release, Ayiesha Woods is one artist who actually lived up to hype about her this year! Despite the various musical influences combining together, Woods manages to create a sound that is uniquely hers without being pigeonholed into the usual R&B slot. A song like "Happy" is a superb slab of perfect pop and "Crazy" is reggae whilst the acoustic R&B flavour of "The Remedy" is irresistible. It all sounds like Ayiesha Woods and if this is the debut, one can only marvel at what she might do next!
Mike Rimmer
(7.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

THE BURN BAND - 'All From You' (Vineyard Music UK)
One of the most difficult things to do in today's album-crowded market is to record a modern worship album which still retains a creative freshness. The fact that this difficult feat has been achieved by a team of local church musicians (out of St Albans Vineyard) is hugely impressive. Helped by quality studio production by Paul Burton and Tom Mills, the songs here (largely penned by worship leader Sam Lane) sound great on radio and are powerfully anointed in worship. "All From You", "You're The Love", "Have Mercy" and "Joy" have all been given Cross Rhythms radio exposure. An album every bit as good as those touted by the top names in contemporary worship.
Tony Cummings
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

LEELAND - Sound Of Melodies (Essential)
17 year old Leeland Mooring is a child prodigy whose debut album mixes melodic pop rock ala Keane with lyrics that are inspirational and worshipful without Leeland being a worship band. In a scene where increasingly a careful examination of the lyric sheet is needed to see whether the band you're listening to are actually believers, I like the fact that Leeland are uncompromising lyrically. Songs like the title cut and "Yes You Have" unfold with a Godly devotion and celebration. Mooring has the ability to pen gutsy songs that hit you right in the heart reminiscent of Delirious? and Waterdeep at their best. "Tears Of The Saints" is a masterpiece of a song that is another contender for song of the year. It's a moving hymn to those who have walked away from God and it stands at the heart of this excellent set.
Mike Rimmer
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

ALL SAVED FREAK BAND - Harps On Willows Vol 1: The Best Of The All Saved Freak Band (Well Done Productions, US import)
I've long been fascinated by the era when the Jesus music of the '70s pioneered today's CCM scene though it's only with the release of this fascinating compilation that I've been able to hear for myself one of the most highly regarded bands in the whole Jesus music era. (Their original vinyl today sell for hundreds of dollars a shot on eBay.) My musical education wrought by this compilation was highly rewarding. This 14 track CD brings together tracks from their four albums, all recorded in the '70s, and while the bluesy thing is going on, there are also moments when the girly vocals bring in some of the hippier, folky elements. This is noticeable on album opener "Peace, Love And Rock'n'Roll". "Seek Him" might be blues but then there's a string section doing their thing too. The result is that the band's music is not easily pigeon holed. But whether it's the stunning Hendrix-like guitar work of Glenn Schwartz, the testifying mainly spoken word of "There Is Still Hope In Jesus" or the swampy "Old Man Daniel", one thing is certain - this is a wonderful retrospective.
Tony Cummings

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

ARVO PART, ELORA FESTIVAL SINGERS, NOEL EDISON - Triodion, Ode VII, I Am The True Vine (Naxos)
For those unfamiliar with choral music, Arvo Part has composed much which is truly exquisite. Sung here by a much respected Canadian choir, the performances are superb and the production catches every nuance of one of the finest choral composers of the last 100 years. Such compositions as "Tribute To Caesar", "I Am The True Vine" and "The Woman With The Alabaster Box" are each breathtaking and easily some of the most beautiful music you'll hear this or any year. For those already familiar with Part's genius or those just looking for spiritual music, this budget priced release is recommended.
Tony Cummings

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

THE HARBOUR LIGHTS - Leaving Safe Anchorage (ICC)
Songwriter and producer Phil Baggaley's credentials are once again set out in this gorgeous album recorded by his new band. Interestingly enough, it's other band members that shine most brightly as they contribute their skills to bringing Baggaley's songs to life. The guitar and harmonica of Rob Bullock add plenty of spice to the proceedings but it's the pristine, pure voice of Bethan Court which really tops everything here. Still at school, it's the crystal-clear tone of Bethan's voice which stops the listener in their tracks. Whether it's the insistent optimism of "The Light Is Still Burning" or the gentle encouragement of "Rest For The Weary Traveller", this album wins through. Seldom has acoustic-orientated music sounded so good.
Mike Rimmer
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

BECOMING THE ARCHETYPE - Terminate Damnation (Solid State)
It was Demon Hunter's Ryan Clark who spotted Becoming The Archetype and brought them to Solid State/Tooth & Nail. Seldom has a new band made such an impact as these amazing Atlanta, Georgia masters of metal. The 11-minute long "Elegy" is a dazzling tour de force while "The Epigone", with its dramatic opening, its guitar meanderings matched by guttural vocals its "THERE IS NO OPPOSITION" shrieked in repetition, followed by the fattest breakdown you've ever heard, is the kind of bone-crunching climax most metal bands could only dream of. Equally impressive are the lyrics which often spell out spiritual truth with the skill of the poet. Music as brutal as this isn't, of course, to everyone's taste. But in its own way 'Terminate Damnation' is a stone classic.
Tony Cummings
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

BRIAN HOUSTON - Sugar Queen (Independent)
The Belfast-based Brian Houston has been lauded this year by mainstream critics and major radio figures like Bob Harris and Janice Long who have discovered what Cross Rhythms readers and festival goers have known for years, Brian is one of Britain's finest singer/songwriters! 'Sugar Queen' looks like finally putting him on the map after a pile of excellent previous releases. His observational songwriting is aimed firmly at the mainstream as he tackles relationships, memories and social commentary. There are plenty of songs here that I've been playing on the radio for the last six months and it's the Van Morrison-influenced "Childish Things" and "These Days" that grabbed me first but repeated plays only brought out the skill of other songs here. His combination of Americana influences are infectious and poignant, songs like "The Ballad Of Matthew Shepard" or "Red Badge Of Courage" show the breadth of his abilities. Maybe after spending 15 years being touted as the next big thing, he actually will hit it big. He deserves it when there are plenty of lesser talents around with higher profiles.
Mike Rimmer
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

BOB DYLAN - Modern Times (Columbia)
This is the rock maestro's return to top creative form. Musically this is more reminiscent of his last new set 'Love And Theft' with plenty of blues riffs in evidence but lyrically it's closer to 'Time Out Of Mind'. The key themes here are the struggle to live life to the ideal you have found and the coming apocalypse. What is obvious is that this set of songs is set just before the end of the world. A time when "a day that only the Lord could make" may be upon us and when "salvation could be behind the next bend in the road." As Darren Hirst wrote in his Cross Rhythms review, "The lyrics are redolent with a New Testament feel but they will find a much wider audience than most songwriters with a biblical bent because they are in touch with humanity's plight. Sit back and listen to a master at work."
Tony Cummings
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)

The 20 Best Albums Of 2006

THE 29TH CHAPTER - Underdogz (OTR)
Their previous album 'Full Time' was a real lift off but 'Underdogz' sees the London-based evangelistic rappers head for the stratosphere. Combining original and creative beats with lyrics that aren't afraid to tackle hard subjects, this is the album which finally puts UK gospel hip-hop up there with anything the Americans have made. From the fun of "29 Train" and the collaboration with Sammy G on "For The One" which shines a light on faux rappers, the group have plenty to say. "This Little Gangsta" is as strong an attack on gangsta lifestyle as anything recorded in 2006 and yet it uses humour as its chief weapon. Their version of "Shackles" with Tim Hughes brought them to the Soul Survivor audience so it's fitting the album closes with them reworking another of Hughes' songs with "Saviour" showing their diversity musically and spiritually. As for me, every time the 29 Train passes this station, I'm a sucker for taking a ride with them on this album!
Mike Rimmer
(9.97 @ Cross Rhythms Direct)