Today we finish our “Happy Birthday” celebration of twelve albums that turn twenty years old this year with part 3. If you missed parts 1 & 2 click below and get caught up!
Hope you’ve been enjoying…on to the final four!
4. Caedmon’s Call – Self Titled
The acoustic folk sounds of Caedmon’s Call were largely new to my young music listening career, and aside from Jars of Clay’s self-titled debut I couldn’t tell you what else in that musical vein I had heard. I was enamored with this CD for a long time. This album served as a major catalyst to cement what has become my preferred musical taste with the softer side of pop/rock that features thinking man’s lyrics. Opening track “Lead of Love” starts things of well with a tasty organ line (and anyone who knows my music taste knows I’m a sucker for B3 organ!) and the intricate three-part harmonies of Cliff Young, Derek Webb, and Danielle Young. Certainly, another highlight of the album and their entire discography is the song “This World” and its realization that, “This world has nothing for me/And this world has everything/All that I could want/And nothing that I need.” Probably their most well-known song is a cover of the late Rich Mullins song called “Hope to Carry On.” In concert, it was often paired with another Mullins song “I will Sing,” which you can find on their Greatest Hits release “Chronicles.” For some reason, this one isn’t on Spotify yet though the rest of their catalogue is; but it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s music collection, and worth the extra effort to track down.
3. Smalltown Poets – Self-Titled
My introduction to Smalltown Poets and their self-titled debut was at another youth camp in the summer of 1997. All the college kids that were staffing the camp had their hands on classic Poet’s tracks “Prophet, Priest, and King,” “Everything I Hate,” and “If You’ll Let Me Love You” and they were featured as part of the week’s soundtrack. I loved the roots rock sound and was taken by the honest and earthy lyrics. Another favorite song is the earnestly soaring “I’ll Give.” In fact, I would put the first five tracks of this album up against almost any other 90’s CCM release and I believe it they would hold their own in that discussion. “Monkey’s Paw” is the hardest rocking of this set of songs and features a nice guitar solo at the 1:30 mark. Also worth noting is the song “Trust” which features the beautiful chorus, “Take this bread/drink this cup/Know this price has pardoned you/From all that’s hardened you/But it’s going to take some trust.” This album would make any top 25 album of the 90’s CCM era in my personal rankings.
2. All Star United – Self Titled
With the right amount of snark and rock/alternative sounds; All Star United exploded into my ear canals as a baby faced sixteen year old. I was a homeschooler raised right, with sarcasm being one of my better and favorite subjects, and this album practically drips with it. Lead singer Ian Eskelin had a knack for using said sarcasm to make a much needed point. I immediately took to songs like the exuberantly piano driven “La La Land,” guitar heavy “Bright Red Carpet,” and the mock “la la la’s” of song “Smash Hit.” Jesus just needed better PR right?! Two other must-hear tracks are the organ flourishes and “woohoo’s” of “Beautiful Thing,” and the bouncy “Tenderness.” Really you can’t go wrong with any track on the entire CD as it’s another album that’s high on the 90’s list of all-time greats. For fans of great pop/rock/alternative with lyrics that will make you examine yourself, and laugh at some of the dumb things we as Christians say and do.
1. Jars of Clay – Much Afraid
My relationship with Jars of Clay’s follow up to their Self-Titled masterpiece is a complicated one. Originally I was disappointed, as there weren’t many similarities to the debut save “Fade to Grey” and “Frail,” which I was to discover were actually written in the same time period as the Self-Titled. But over time, I began to appreciate the evolution of sound. Much Afraid felt more polished, less organic which isn’t bad, just different. There were still the strings that I loved, but it was more of a rock record than it’s predessesor. This is still a highlight of their long and storied career. Other than the previously mentioned songs, other favorites for me were/are “Overjoyed,” with it’s almost whispered beginning and then build to guitars with tight harmonies, “Crazy Times” with it’s searing guitar solo from Stephen Mason, and the tender closing song “Hymn” with it’s hymn-like structure and poetry. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, though some claim this as their best overall, I personally would rank it at two or three among an astoundingly solid discography. This one is a must own for all fans of music!
Well, I hope you enjoyed the journey of this countdown of what I belive was an amazing year for CCM. If you grew up with these I’d love to hear the stories and memories that you have attached to certain albums or songs. If you’ve never heard many of them, as a self-proclaimed CCM music historian I beg you to at least give them a listen, there really are some “classics” here that have aged well. To make it easy for you here’s a link to a spotify list of the albums all in one place except Caedmon’s Call’s, which as I noted Spotify doesn’t have just yet. Happy listening!
Lastly, because every list has to have a cut off there were a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make it for me. Not that they were lesser, they just weren’t ones I personally connected with or I didn’t include because they were a greatest hits album (which I feel like is cheating, though I almost caved for PFR). I listed a few other deserving 1997 albums below. So did I miss anything? Agree with the ranking? Disagree? Love to hear from you!
Audio Adrenaline – “Some Kind of Zombie”, Chris Rice – “Deep enough to Dream”, and PFR – “The Late Great PFR”