Here we sit in the middle of November. 2013 has blitzed through so quickly!
Based on the feedback of my posts “Top Worship Songs of 2013… So Far” and “Fast Songs for Worship,” I figured it may be helpful to compile a giant end-of-the-year list featuring the best of the best of 2013. I have combed through many worship albums and below are what I feel are the most outstanding.
Something to keep in mind – I only listed albums that I felt included songs fit for congregational worship. The albums below were released between January of 2013 and the time I am compiling this post.
Here we go!
15. Hope Will Rise (Warr Acres)
Originally known as VMusic, Warr Acres springs up from sleepy Oklahoma with a surprisingly incredible album. Vocally, worship leader Kristy Starling nails every song with her outrageously incomparable licks. Some songs on the album may be better suited for radio play, but there are a few that can definitely be utilized in a corporate worship setting.
Key Worship Song: “Come to Jesus” – Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.
Key Fast Song: “Pulse” – A great praise song for your arsenal. While their version is electronic and techno-y, it can easily be spun into something a traditional worship band can play.
Honorable Mention: “Hope Will Rise” – A prophetic worship anthem that will prove to be a strong weapon of choice during spiritual battles. If you can keep up with Kristy’s vocal aerobics, you should consider adding this to your repertoire.
14. Burning Lights (Chris Tomlin)
America’s worship leader Chris Tomlin has joined forces with Kari Jobe, Lecrae, Phil Wickham, and Passion’s Christy Nockels to release “Burning Lights.” Tomlin’s easy knack for penning worship songs that quickly dive into the hearts of mainstream churchgoers everywhere shines through again with several soon-to-be favorites. However, if you recognize, well, most of the songs on “Burning Lights,” it’s because Tomlin already recorded near-identical versions on Passion’s earlier album “White Flag.”
Key Worship Song: “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)” – Because this is one that I lead often at Transit, I can attest that song just works. It’s a reminder that because God is on our side and fighting for us, we have nothing to fear, and the heart of Psalm 27 rings out.
Key Fast Song: “Lay Me Down” – As this song was actually recorded live on a previous Passion album, Tomlin rolls up his sleeves and attempts a different spin as a studio-recorded worship track. Simple to play and fun to sing.
Honorable Mention: “Jesus, Son of God” – Chris’s duet with the understated Christy Nockels is brilliant, especially in its delivery of important theology.
13. We Are Young & Free (Hillsong Young & Free)
The new generation of Hillsong UNITED, Hillsong Y&F has given the world a glimpse into their raw, unrefined, and exceedingly energetic worship. Because the songwriting and style is geared primarily at teens, the themes are a bit broad and the musicality maybe a bit, shall we say, pulsating for the typical Sunday morning crowd – although the songs should immediately find themselves at home if you are a youth worship leader! But regardless if your church is young or young at heart, there are a few songs you should really lean into.
Key Worship Song: “Sinking Deep” – Keys driven with an elegant melody, “Sinking Deep” somehow finds its way into my mind several times a day and lingers there. Check it out.
Key Fast Song: “Alive” – As a friend of mine used to say, “If you worship the way the Bible prescribes, you’ll stay fit!” This song exemplifies just that, as your church will suddenly start grooving out and dancing, I’m sure.
Honorable Mention: “Wake” – Another upbeat song to get your church up and praising.
12. Holy Ground (Citipointe Live)
The Aussie worship junkies Citipointe Live do not disappoint in their level of passion and heartfelt God-chasing. Maybe not too well known here in the States (and why? They are terrific!), they bring a sound that will easily fit into your next worship set.
Key Worship Song: “The Ninety Nine” – A big vocal range here, but a great song that details the wonder of Christ’s love.
Key Fast Song: “Glorious” – Lots of fun, your church will have fun worshiping along, and a fun service opener. Did I mention fun?
Honorable Mention: “Hold Me Now” – A song that explores the beautiful contrast of having close, intimate relationship with the holy Creator God.
11. Always Been About You (Fellowship Creative)
Ed Young’s Fellowship Church released the musically exciting, studio-recorded “Always Been About You.” What I love about these guys is that it isn’t your typical worship sound (whatever that is), but it probably can work in your church setting!
Key Worship Song: “Just One Touch” – The chorus resounds, “I’m reaching for Your hands that wondrously reached for me. Jesus, I’m reaching. Just one touch is all that I need.” Not enough to sell you? Then you may very well be bought over by the fabulous harmonies, or maybe the great music, or maybe the way your church will latch on…
Key Fast Song: “Always Been About You” – Too much fun! Very keys-driven (exceptionally rare for fast worship tunes these days!), a solid choir part (likewise very rare), fun claps and percussion bits, and yet Fellowship Creative pulls it off splendidly. Your church will love it!
Honorable Mention: “In You” – A beautifully written, intimate worship ballad. You can easily make it “big” with lots of synths and layers, or you can strip it to a simple ukelele or acoustic guitar.
10. Strong God (New Life Worship)
The much anticipated “Strong God” is a comfortable addition to the collection of New Life Worship albums. With previous offerings, there was more vocal continuity throughout by Ross Parsley and then by his brother Brad Parsley, but “Strong God” deviates with Jon Egan of Desperation Band stepping up to lead most of the songs (well, 3), and new-to-mainstream-worship Cory Asbury also rising to the occasion. If this is any indication to the future of New Life Worship, I for one am excited to see what comes next.
Key Worship Song: “Strong God” – Simple melody, explosive lyrics. The verses outline the character of God, the chorus beautifully asks the worshiper to respond, and the bridge… well, you could easily repeat the bridge into the double-digits.
Key Fast Song: “All to Him” – Penned by Jon Egan and led by Cory Asbury (a formidable new alliance), “All to Him” is a perfect service opener. It puts in perspective our relationship with God, I think, that our response should always be one of thanksgiving and praise.
Honorable Mention: “Unassailable” – There was probably a rise in Google searches for the definition of “unassailable” when this came out (it means unable to be attacked or defeated). Powerful characteristic of God, and likewise a powerful song.
9. Passion: Let the Future Begin (Passion)
Chris Tomlin, Kristian Stanfill, and Matt Redman lead their mighty Passion army in another great CD, which features Kari Jobe and her iconic “Revelation Song.” Because the songs were worked for a massive crowd and a huge arena, some may be difficult to utilize in a normal church setting. I personally would love to hear Passion mainstay Christy Nockels lead out a bit more, giving a balance to the otherwise overwhelmingly male-dominated vocals. All in all, though, there are a couple really great songs that could be a great match for your church.
Key Worship Song: “Jesus, Only Jesus” – Lyrically and rhythmically reminiscent of a classic hymn, “Jesus, Only Jesus” is infused with wonder-striking theology. And clever words abound; for example, one of my favorite lines: “You stand alone; I stand amazed.”
Key Fast Song: “Shout” – A danceworthy, evangelistic-oriented number.
Honorable Mention: “The Lord our God” – Intimate lyrics detailing the sensitivity of the Lord in our human trials and weaknesses, and the chorus sounds with a confident reassurance that He will never leave us.
8. The Invisible (Daniel Bashta)
Daniel Bashta has unleashed on us quite a gem with “The Invisible” (think along the lines of Bethel Live or Jesus Culture). Each song has been delivered with such raw and genuine passion, and the album covers a variety of themes. It’s much less “Hillsong” and “Passion” and more “Mumford & Sons” in that it’s a slew of guitar-driven, eclectic arrangements.
Key Worship Song: “Praise the Invisible” – This folky worship diddy brings fresh music to several Scripture references. (It was so hard to select only one song as “key!”)
Key Fast Song: “Undone” – As I wrote in a previous blog post, it’s hard for me to get through this song without smiling! There is always such power in singing about the blood and saving power of Jesus.
Honorable Mention: “I Want It All (Just Give Me Jesus)” – Maybe not the most congregation-friendly but one of my personal favorites. The words get me every time! “My voice has sung a million words, but I’m just looking for the real Jesus. And only You will do.”
7. Zion (Hillsong UNITED)
It’s probably safe to say that Hillsong UNITED is officially a staple in churches around the world. (Frontman Joel Houston now being stationed in the States probably won’t hurt their global prominence either.) While their latest “Zion” is ornate, layered, and full of subtle intricacies that may be difficult to successfully pull off in a live setting, there are several that will definitely make you want to take the plunge.
Key Worship Song: “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” – Easily the world’s favorite new worship song, and for good reason. The song pleads for faith to follow Christ in boldness, even if that means stepping out into the unknown. If you’re one of the 6 people on the planet who haven’t yet heard this gem, you should do yourself a favor and give it a listen!
Key Fast Song: “Relentless” – The sleepy vocals and the rocking music help make this song amazing, and the Scriptural message will make it a quick favorite in your church. Truly His love is relentless.
Honorable Mention: “King of Heaven” – A slow ballad that could even double as a Christmas song (let’s hurry and get on that; Christmas is almost upon us!). In the span of this reverent song, the good news of redemption is told, which is always a plus in my book.
6. Nothing is Wasted (Elevation Worship)
The last few albums from Elevation Church have been good, but I’m really thinking that the worship junkies there have tapped into a new vein of emotion and depth in their songwriting with their latest “Nothing is Wasted.” Several of the songs will especially speak to those who are familiar with suffering of any kind, be it loneliness, physical ailment, or loss, among others, which is why I think this album has diverged from the group’s typical full, rock n’ roll feel to a more reverent and emotional chord.
Key Worship Song: “Open Up Our Eyes” – An intimate request to see God’s love in the darkest moments. To sing that His love endures forever is to bring rich strength and rest for the weary souls in your church.
Key Fast Song: “Great in Us” – Similar in theme to “Open Up Our Eyes,” this upbeat gem speaks of the Lord’s pervading kindness in the midst of our lack of understanding, in our fears, in our weakness.
Honorable Mention: “Nothing is Wasted” – The titular song definitely runs thick in the vein of Elevation’s classic “Give Me Faith.” The bridge especially will encourage and challenge worshipers to remember that God will use every situation for His glory; we need only to rest in His love.
5. Revealing Jesus (Darlene Zschech)
One of the best releases all year. Australia’s worship pastor, the legendary Darlene Zschech, has offered her very first solo live worship album (previously she had spearheaded every single Hillsong album that came out for decades), and she has partnered with Israel Houghton, Kari Jobe, Michael W. Smith, and B.J. Putnam. Her pioneering contributions to the modern worship movement can’t be overstated.
Key Worship Song: “Victor’s Crown” – In the anthemic and driving style that Darlene introduced through Hillsong Live, “Victor’s Crown” is a declaration of the finished work of Christ. Caution: the song is meant to build, and will probably result in your church singing in faith louder than ever before.
Key Fast Song: “In Jesus’ Name” – A powerful song announcing that sickness and defeat do not belong in the life of the believer, by the Name of Jesus.
Honorable Mention: “God is Here” – A great ‘crowd-pleaser,’ “God is Here” is the perfect upbeat service opener.
4. Your Grace Finds Me (Matt Redman)
English Matt Redman casually flies under the American radar again with his brilliant offering “Your Grace Finds Me.” Filled with congregational worship songs in the vein of his “Blessed Be Your Name” and “Our God,” this is a live record you don’t want to miss.
Key Worship Song: “Your Grace Finds Me” – This has been on repeat for me for days now! A stunning word painting. I feel like this song was written with a very sensitive and pastoral heart. While it does have a lot of words for congregational worship, it’s easy to catch on to and sticks with you.
Key Fast Song: “Let My People Go” – A missions-minded, upbeat worship song – what every worship leader is looking for!
Honorable Mention: “Good Forever” – à la Matt Redman, classic and worshipful. Every songwriter’s wonderful task: exploring new ways to communicate the timeless love of Jesus.
3. Let It Be Known (Worship Central)
The #1 Editor’s Pick of 2013 worship releases by Worship Leader magazine (whoops, spoiler alert?), this collective from the UK quickly jumped into the ranks of American worship vets like Chris Tomlin and Jesus Culture. If you haven’t given “Let It Be Known” a chance yet, be sure to remedy that!
Key Worship Song: “The Same Power” – A passionate and unreserved declaration of the supremacy of the Lord. If you’re not careful, you will accidentally add this song to every single set list you ever do, ever.
Key Fast Song: “Let It Be Known” – I mean, it’s the title track for a reason. Very missional, a great service opener and closer!
Honorable Mention: “The Cross Stands” – Just beautiful. The orchestral arrangement here soars, and your church will draw strength from the message of the cross.
2. Glorious Ruins (Hillsong Live)
It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of annual Hillsong Live albums, even though the world-famous worship team from Down Under has been reinventing their sound as of late. However, “Glorious Ruins” certainly stands out, in my opinion, as one of the best from Australia’s largest church in recent memory. It is also a notable album in that it is the first effort from the Hillsong Live series without any involvement from mainstay Darlene Zschech in over 20 albums.
Key Worship Song: “Christ is Enough” – One of the hardest parts of this entire list is narrowing down which key slow song to put here; almost every single song is tremendous. “Christ is Enough” is a beautifully simple, congregation-friendly worship anthem, what we have come to expect from Hillsong.
Key Fast Song: “Closer” – Simple to sing, simple to play. One of the things that makes this song so formidable is its very limited vocal range which lends itself to fit snugly in most any key.
Honorable Mention: “Glorious Ruins” – Again, SO difficult to choose a song here! “Glorious Ruins” is one we do here at Transit, and its easy range and dynamite lyrics have made it a quick favorite.
1. The Rock Won’t Move (Vertical Church Band)
One of my favorite releases this year. Every single track – absolutely fantastic. These guys are in a league of their own. Vertical Church Band hails from Harvest Bible Chapel (James MacDonald’s church), and has a stellar assortment of songwriters and worship leaders. Make sure you look into “The Rock Won’t Move!”
Key Worship Song: “The Rock Won’t Move” – Wow! What a song. It reminds the worshiper of the unchanging nature of our loving and strong God, and this is such a great reminder in the midst of a tumultuous, shifting world.
Key Fast Song: “Only Jesus Can” – A powerful declaration that Jesus is willing and able… Can He heal, restore, deliver? Yes, He can.
Honorable Mention: “I’m Going Free (Jailbreak)” – This was exceptionally challenging trying to narrow down the last song, but “I’m Going Free (Jailbreak)” is a song that can’t be overlooked. An upbeat, celebratory anthem that tells a story… win.
And there you have it. What do you think? Any albums that should have made the list? Any standout songs? Let us know in the comments.
And with this list, I pray churches everywhere will lift their voices and sing a new song to the Lord. He is worthy.. always worthy.