The One21 Essential 100 is a collection of albums that represent the best in creativity, innovation, and originality in music. This is not a “best of” list, nor is it influenced by album sales, or even popularity. Our attempt with this series is to highlight the gems, those rare albums that push boundaries and encourage new ways of thinking; both musical and philosophically. In our opinion, the music highlighted in this series is the “good stuff”.
Simply what this is going to be is a list of 100 albums from Christian music artists that we think you should own. Like our website, most genres will be represented, and some of the albums will be from as far back as the 60s, to as current as 2009. Each week we will post five albums, in no real order, with descriptions, album artwork, and places to buy the music.
Do Not Fear
Kelly Jones Parks
Buy this album: iTunes
Kelly Jones Parks‘ 2001 debut Do Not Fear is a masterpiece, almost a diary of a young woman struggling with the fear and excitement of coming to maturity in the transition from high school with family and college on her own. The opening track “Right Hand” focuses on the comfort of Christ’s presence in Park‘s life as she explores the freedom of her new life. “The One” should be required listening for all teen girls and young women as Kelly Jones Parks shares the wonder of finding the One she has waited for God to bring to her. “Scarborough House” celebrates the discovery of new friendship and the importance of sisterhood in college. The triumph of Do Not Fear is “Isaiah 43 (You Are Mine)” which is Kelly Jones Parks‘ celebration of God’s love for us. We defy you to listen to all 4:21 minutes of this song without praying gratitude and praises.
Highlights: Isaiah 43 (You Are Mine), The One, Scarborough House
Mean Everything To Nothing
Buy this album: Amazon, iTunes
When you are able to marry both catchiness and intelligence, then you created something very special. Manchester Orchestra have done just that with equal parts gritty garage rock, and angry post-hardcore combined to result in a cohesive group of songs that not only build on each other, but also communicate a vast range of emotion and mood. Much of the album feels like the best of 90s era grunge mixed in with the best of modern progressive indie rock.
Many songs deal with the frustration of wanting more out of everyday life than the status quo, while others try to reconcile love for a person who does not deserve it. Lyrically, it can range from the baffling to the profound, but every word, every note is performed with a rising sense of tension, and sometimes all out pain. It is the post card of a band no longer young men, but not quite grown either.
The depth as to which these songs are written is amazing as well, the layers each song presents only give power to the emotions being expressed. Every song has something that you didn’t hear the first time (or the second), and Mean Everything To Nothing will keep you coming back. In plain English, this is a phenomenal album.
Highlights: The River, Everything To Nothing, Shake It Out
Slow Dark Train
Vigilantes Of Love
Buy this album: Amazon, iTunes
Vigilantes of Love blended blues, gospel, folk-rock and country-rock. Formed in 1990 in Athens, Georgia, the group consisted of chief songwriter Bill Mallonee on vocals and acoustic guitars, Newton Carter on electric guitars and backing vocals, David LaBruyere on bass, and Travis Aaron McNabb on drums and percussion. Vigilantes of Love began as an acoustic duo, with just Mallonee and an accordionist; after releasing two independent albums as a duo, Mallonee added some other Athens-area local band veterans to go electric.
Bill Mallonee and Vigilantes of Love deliver crushingly good music written from a Believer’s view of faith and hope. But it is not a belief packaged by today’s Church. It is a belief built on the scars of life and redemption. The band does their best to turn this to their advantage by cranking out Southern post-punk garage rock songs of despair held in check only by day-to-day faith in God. They mostly succeed, and the album is full of excellent hooks, in addition to Bill Mallonee‘s typically inspired lyrical genius: “I was drowning in/complancy’s cheap perfume/yeah, licking my wounds…” is one of many indellible verses.
Bill Mallonee has called Slow Dark Train his “testament to despair,” and it fits. The opening triumverate–”Locust Years,” “Tokyo Rose,” “Black Crow”–is about is hard and angry as VOL is ever likely to be. When the record isn’t raging against corrupt record labels, false friends, and human nature itself, it finds Mallonee weeping in a motel room over his own fallenness and inability to follow the truth.
Highlights: Locust Years, All The Mercy We Have Found, Judas Skin
Highlights: Amazon, iTunes
Call were one of the great bands of the 80’s with smart musicians, a passionate singer, great songs, an “original” sound, intelligent and thought provoking spiritually-themed lyrics. Some critics place The Call in a group with REM and U2 and they were darlings of music icons like Peter Gabriel and Robbie Robertson. The Call‘s music is characterized by driving rhythm, deep and subtle lyrics and a texture unlike anyone else out there. The Call sucked you into their world, with a driving danceable beat and intelligent lyrics that were easy to sing along to. The band’s musical interplay is tight, and Michael Been’s lyrics & transcendent lead vocals are passionate with a capital P.
In 1986, The Call released what is without a doubt their masterpiece, Reconciled. It is one of the greatest, most passionate rock albums ever made. Reconciled, more than any other captures the anthemic essence of The Call’s mission…great rock and roll with a reason. The Call delivers one emotional, powerhouse rocker after another, such as the dramatic “Everywhere I Go,” the triumphant “I Still Believe,” “Blood Red,” “Oklahoma,” “Sanctuary,” and the closing “Even Now.” Michael Been’s voice is the absolute glue. Deep,rich and gutsy his treatment of the lyric puts this album in a class by itself. And, for the coup de grace, Reconciled features guest performances by such The Call fans as Peter Gabriel and Simple Minds‘ Jim Kerr on backing vocals, and Robbie Robertson on guitar. Outstanding music from start to finish, Reconciled is a magnificent album from a magnificent band. Many of the songs feel fresh 20 years later…a couple are beginning to sound like “classics.” This just might be one of the top 10 most perfect albums of the 80′s.
Highlights: Everywhere I Go, I Still Believe, Sanctuary
The Key To The Kingdom
Highlights: Amazon, iTunes
How does a set of raw, simple early gospel tunes make onto this list of underground Christian music? It is really good. Washington Phillips was a street preacher, street musician and gospel pioneer. Phillips’ laid the foundation for 20th century gospel music influencing modern music influnecers Sister Rosetta Thorpe, Sam Cooke and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
The Keys to The Kingdom features Phillip’s sincere, plaintive vocals accompanied by some rare fretless zither-like instrument that is a cousin to the auto harp. The quite sincerity and humility of these songs haunt you for days after hearing them. Songs from The Keys to The Kingdom have been covered by everyone from Ry Cooder to Phish and were featured in the movie “Elizabethtown.”
Washington Phillips had a short but amazing recording career. He recorded these 16 tracks between 1927 and 1929 and never recorded again. It is some of the most gentle, beautiful, passionate spiritual music I have ever heard.
Highlights: Denomination Blues Pt. One, Denomination Blues Pt. Two, I Am Born to Preach the Gospel, Paul and Silas In Jail