For some reason I began thinking about which albums would I choose if I could have only five. I have a ridiculous amount of music, but it was surprisingly easy to whittle it down once my criteria was set. I had to use the whole album, not a mix of songs and no cheating by using a “Greatest Hits” compilation or a live CD where they sing all their hits. Some artists were easily on the list, but choosing which album to take was hard. Others were on the periphery but couldn’t quite make it. So, here they are, my top five:
#1 Graceland by Paul Simon – Paul Simon may be my favorite artist, and choosing one album was hard, especially when it came to excluding Garfunkel albums and The Rhythm of the Saints. But when it comes down to it, I don’t know of any album that I love more than Graceland, both musically and lyrically. It never seems old or dated, and I won’t forget Paul and Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Saturday Night Live together all those years ago. I was 12 when Graceland came out, and I doubt I appreciated it until I was un college. Easiest #1 ever.
#2 Love and Thunder by Andrew Peterson – Andrew Peterson is neck and neck with Paul Simon as my favorite, and it was very hard to choose between this album and Behold the Lamb of God, which is a Christmas album in name and general theme but is so good that it crosses all holiday boundaries. But when it came down to it, this 2003 album by Andrew has haunting lyrics, beautiful harmonies, and songs that really stir my soul. “After the Last Tear Falls” perfectly captures the pain of this world and the hope of heaven, and “Family Man” inspires me as a dad.
#3 Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons – Again, musically and lyrically this album is a homerun. Banjo is always a way to my heart (especially when it’s used in a way that I’d never heard before), as are lyrics that are deep, spiritual, and full of mystery. I could almost include “The Cave” on a worship mix list, because it’s story of hope and identity as so powerful. This album received round the clock play for quite some time after I first bought it, and I don’t get tired of it now.
#4 Lonely Runs Both Ways by Alison Krauss and Union Station – Bluegrass is my favorite genre, and Alison Krauss has a voice like an angel. I chose this album because it has both the bluegrass elements that I love (like banjo and a twangy tenor) and some songs that are just hauntingly beautiful when Alison sings.
And here’s where it got hard. One to go, what to choose? It came down to Song in Her Head by Sarah Jarosz and This Side by Nickel Creek. This Side has been with me, getting regular play, for almost ten years and has two of my favorite Nickel Creek songs, “This Side” and “Green and Gray.” If I were on a desert island, I would hate to be without those songs.
On the other hand, I remember buying Sarah Jarosz’s debut album on a whim after seeing a Facebook ad for it as the Amazon deal of the day. It was only $2, and my jaw hit the floor from the opening notes. I couldn’t believe someone that young could be that talented. And in the end, she incorporates banjo, which Nickel Creek doesn’t, and so:
#5 Song Up in Her Head by Sarah Jarosz – some great bluegrass, some newgrass, and just excellent pickin’, playin’, and singin’. Many of the songs have a somber, haunting quality that is really wonderful.
Albums on the outside looking in:
#6 This Side by Nickel Creek
#7 Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson
#8 Jars of Clay by Jars of Clay
#9 Purpose by Design by Fred Hammond
#10 The Nu Nation Project by Kirk Franklin
#11 Live by Harrod and Funk
#12 My Calm, Your Storm by Caedmon’s Call
#13 Tigerlilly by Natalie Merchant
#14 Paul Simon’s Concert in Central Park (I know, it’ a live greatest hits deal)
#15 Songs by Rich Mullins (I know, it’s a compilation)