My Top 10 Gospel Songs of 2015

Top 10 SG Songs Album Cover collage

Christmas break has afforded me the pleasure of picking through the best of the best in 2015’s new southern gospel releases. I was able to review some of the albums these songs come from within a reasonable period of the time they came out, but alas, not all. Looking on the bright side, this meant I got to discover some great songs for the first time just as I was preparing this top ten list.

As usual, I have avoided including covers and traditional hymns, focusing on the best material that was brand new to 2015. Thankfully, many talented writers turned in some of their best work this year, including a new talent named Rachel McCutcheon. She co-wrote three out of ten of these songs, the highest single percentage of any contributing writer on this list. Other “double-dippers” include Kenna Turner West and Tony Wood. Most people probably wouldn’t recognize Tony by name, but I learned a lot about the craft of CCM songwriting from him growing up, especially through the songs he wrote with Scott Krippayne back in the 90s. I’m glad to see that he’s found an avenue through which he can continue to turn out songs.

Below the fold, I’ll provide a countdown of the songs with some bits of lyric and comments, then at the end, a playlist for your listening pleasure. Thanks to all the talented artists and writers who reminded me why I keep coming back to this music!

10. Redemption’s Holy Lamb
Written by: Benji Cowart, Karen Peck and Kenna Turner West
Performed by: Karen Peck & New River

There’ll be shouting up in heaven

Of how death was slain by death

When Jesus died and rose to life

Hell had nothing left

Kicking things off in classy style, this Celtic-flavored song from Karen Peck & New River sounds like a new hymn from the Gettys or Sovereign Grace. I could definitely hear it as a congregational piece. It’s very singable.

9. Shoulders
Written by: Lee Black, Kenna Turner West, and Tony Wood
Performed by: Wilburn & Wilburn

What if some dreams aren’t made to come true

‘Til long after the dreamer’s gone?

What if sometimes we’re simply meant to be shoulders

For someone else to stand on?

Break out the tissues. While this album as a whole was not the Wilburn father/son duo’s strongest, the title track was a stand-out, a truly gorgeous, understated ode to the unsung heroes in our lives.

8. I Believe He’s Alive, Bowling Family
Written by: Lyn Rowell and Tony Wood
Performed by: The Bowling Family

The empty tomb shouted through all history

“Our Savior is risen and living indeed”

Blah-blah, B-3 Hammond, blah-blah-blah. Good enough for me. Okay, so the lyrics in the chorus are a little too fideistic for my taste: After resoundingly declaring the finality of Jesus’ resurrection, it explicitly shifts the evidential weight to our experience of changed lives. The “proof I need” is not in the historical indications of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, but in how I have personally been changed by it. This is unfortunately all too common in gospel music and raises a lot of issues that are far too delicate to untangle here. But meanwhile, yeah. B-3 Hammond. And gospelly choir stuff. Count me in.

7. Sinners Come to the River
Written by: Jeff Bumgardner
Performed by: The Browns

Sinners come to the altar, lay your burdens down

For the prize awaits in the victor’s crown.

Hear the still small voice whisper “Child, draw near

For the ransom’s paid, your salvation’s here.”

I praised this song (also a minor-key tune) when it was first released. It’s very simply, very cleanly written. Another one that could easily become a new hymn. I think it’s neat that a young, relatively little-known group like the Browns got to cut it first.

6. Calvary’s One Spotless Lamb
Written by: Rachel McCutcheon
Performed by: The Erwins

I did not deserve it, could not have earned it

No way, no how, not then not now

So I’ll glorify him, never deny him

Offer him all that I am

Because of Calvary’s one spotless lamb

Here’s a young group that you’re going to be hearing more of, performing a McCutcheon home run. It will remind long-time southern gospel fans of show-stopping set pieces by family groups like The Perrys. Somewhat weak delivery on the verses is well compensated by a chorus that packs a punch.

5. He Will Abide
Written by: Rachel McCutcheon and Dianne Wilkinson
Performed by: The Collingsworth Family

If you feel your heart is searching

Longing to be satisfied

There’s a life that’s worth the living

With the Savior by your side…

The Collingsworth Family has always been weaker in song selection than vocals, but their album That Day is Coming signaled a change, largely thanks to contributions from Rachel McCutcheon. This is actually not my absolute favorite new song from that album, but it was one of my top three. I believe it’s the first minor-key original the Collingsworth Family has recorded. Middle daughter Courtney gives a beautifully controlled alto lead performance, set to a hauntingly understated arrangement by Wayne Haun. It sounds similar to the Booth Brothers’ “Just Beyond the River Jordan.”

4. Angels Everywhere
Written by: Ernie Haase and Dianne Wilkinson
Performed by: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

They were there when Jesus died

They would have come to set him free

But they waited for resurrection

And all of heaven heard them sing…

Here, have some more B-3 Hammond. It’s good for ya. Great fun to see Dianne Wilkinson, the grand dame of southern gospel songwriting, teaming up with Ernie Haase for this harmony-rich tune that digs deeper than you might expect into the nature and purpose of God’s angels.

3. Heaven’s Shore, David Phelps
Written by: David Phelps (Lyrics)
Performed by: David Phelps

On heaven’s shore, I’ll see my loved ones

Oh, the tearful glad reunion

On heaven’s shore, I’ll see my loved ones

And we will part no more, we will part no more…

Sometimes, David Phelps is just a bit much. No offense to any die-hard Phelps Phans who may be lurking (but I suspect I offended them all long ago). But, but, sometimes, he hits exactly the right balance. This is one of those times. He’s so defined by his voice that people forget he also has some songwriting talent. With “Heaven’s Shore,” he chose to take the old tune “Shenandoah” and write some new lyrics (that still recall the original with a few phrases). He also adds a brand-new chorus. The result is a very satisfying, triumphant heaven anthem.

2. Saints Love to Sing About Heaven
Written by: Rachel McCutcheon
Performed by: The Collingsworth Family

Speaking of songs about heaven, this song is pretty much perfect. I can’t find anything to fault in the lyrics or the melody, and I basically never say that. It’s moving and tuneful and well-crafted, and it doesn’t go for a formulaic big finish. Big finishes can be great too, but I like it when songs are still great without them.

1. All is Well
Written by: Ricky Skaggs and Fanny Crosby
Performed by: Ricky Skaggs and The Whites

Though my strength will falter, Lord

And my hands will toil no more

In that valley, dark and deep

You’ll sing this weary child to sleep

Overall, I was somewhat dissatisfied with the project releasing Fanny Crosby’s unpublished hymn lyrics this year. I knew a lot would depend on the artists who were tasked to set the lyrics to music, and a number of the musical choices simply did not connect with me. However, from the moment I heard a sample of this track, I knew it would be a shining exception. It remains the best new song of 2015. Way to go, Fanny! (And Ricky, for handling her work so tastefully.)

Here are all the songs, collected in a playlist.

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