In the Christian/gospel genre, 2013 saw the return of several old friends, the continued dominance of worship music, and the ongoing struggle of artists of faith trying to mix music and message without getting pigeonholed.
The best of the best included albums by perennial faves like Jars of Clay, Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman. Inland proved Jars have mastered the art of innovating and exploring new directions without going so far afield that they alienate fans who've been on this journey with them since "Flood." Grant and Chapman, both textbook examples of what singer-songwriters should strive to be, delivered introspective projects that looked back at lives that didn't turn out the way they had dreamed while pondering the legacies the artists are leaving. Meanwhile, Idol alum Mandisa again proved she's a vocal powerhouse with Overcomer, and Christian music's own Martin Luther, Derek Webb, said he's sorry (sort of).
There were new worship releases from genre stalwarts Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Passion, while Aaron Shust added some angst and Gungor remained ethereal (maybe the Denver altitude's to blame?). Mega-church music groups remained big, too, with Elevation Worship and Vertical Church Band joining our year-end list.
Pop and rock carved out a nice little niche in our Top 25 with the help of a resurrected Audio Adrenaline. Relient K, Newsboys and The Afters all delivered noteworthy new discs as well. Gospel was well represented, too (can I get an "amen"?): Tasha Cobbs is the real deal, and Tye Tribbett's solo career continues to soar. Southern gospel's Jason Crabb also managed to make a name for himself beyond his own little corner of the world.
While many of the top releases this year came from established acts with decades of experience, newer singer-songwriters like Audrey Assad, All Things New and Josh Wilson give us hope for the future of Christian music. And for all those who still find the genre terminally unhip, Lecrae helped up its cool factor once again with his hip-hop flavored release, Church Clothes Vol. 2. Thank God!