Matthew West

Matthew West returns this year with his third studio project based on real-life stories submitted by fans. Details below.

2015 is poised to be another year of fantastic new music, thanks to releases from some major heavy hitters and the return of some beloved songwriters. This list is merely the tip of the iceberg for what the next 12 months are slated to offer, but here are the first nine of 18 hand-picked albums we can’t wait to hear!

1. I Am They, I Am They (Essential) – January 27

There’s already been extensive buzz surrounding this new six-piece from Carson, City, Nev. The hype is truly legit based on the authenticity alone found on their self-titled debut. Bursting with raucous joy and foot-stomping hooks, this Americana-flavored collection should instantly resonate with listeners. Plus, the group’s organic three-part harmony shines in a genre where trio harmonies are lacking.

2. The Lone Bellow, Then Came The Morning (Descendant) – January 27

If the sophomore offering from The Lone Bellow is as good as the trio’s debut, it will easily be one of our favorites of the year. The folk outfit has already previewed multiple selections from their forthcoming album in advance of its late January release. While several of the songs boast more subtle harmonies than the fullness found on their first outing, the group’s creativity, thoughtfulness and superb artistry all remain in tact.

3. Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, Medicine (Magnolia Music) – January 27

This band might be forging ahead minus one neighbor (namely the lovely Ellie Holcomb), but Drew Holcomb has never sounded better. From the pureness of the sparse “American Beauty” to the stuck-in-your-head “Here We Go” (and subsequent EPIC music video), Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors are bringing good medicine, indeed.

4. Jeremy Camp, I Will Follow (Sparrow) – February 3

Jeremy Camp is more sure of his calling than ever before, and it shows on I Will Follow, easily the best effort of his career since his debut. Musically adventurous and lyrically solid, every cut on the album is different, yet instantly likable. Longtime fans will have this on repeat, and Camp is likely to gain some new followers in the meantime.

5. Brandon Heath, No Turning Back (Reunion) – February 10

Blue Mountain found Heath leaving his pop roots behind and venturing into country territory. No Turning Back reveals the award-winning singer returning to his beginnings (in more ways than one). There’s plenty to enjoy throughout the 11 substantial tracks—hefty pop, artsy nuances and signature storytelling. It’s a return to form for the singer-songwriter and a nostalgic journey that reminds listeners that our past indelibly shapes our character.

Mat Kearney_Just Kids6. Mat Kearney, Just Kids (InPop) – February 24

It’s been four years since Mat Kearney gifted us with the irresistibly catchy Young Love. It’s about time he gave us some new tunes to add to our dance party playlist. Along with the title track, lead single “Heartbeat” serves up vintage Kearney (equal parts rhyme and rhythm), and we can’t wait to hear what else this musical genius has up his sleeve! (PS: That’s Mat and his wife Annie—a model—on the album’s too cool for school cover.)

7. Third Day, Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship (Essential) – March 3

Third Day returns with their first worship effort since their successful Offerings series (the best-selling albums of their career to date). Judging from the songs we’ve heard so far, sonically, this album is unlike anything the Platinum-selling band has done in the past. More experimental and ethereal in nature, longtime fans will be surprised by how the band intentionally stretched themselves on this release.

8. Christy Nockels, Live Album (sixstepsrecords)

Christy Nockels recorded a live performance at her home church, Atlanta’s Passion City Church, last year in anticipation of her first live album slated to release some time in 2015. Her voice is that of an angel and one of the most beautiful in all of Christian music. We’ll take new music from C-Nock in any form. She always sounds flawless on the annual live Passion recordings, so her own live outing should be every bit as exquisite.

9. Matthew West, Title TBD (Sparrow)

For the third time, West holed up in a secluded writing cabin and solicited stories from fans. The previous two “fan story” records produced some of the best songs of his career. Will the trifecta prove too much of a good thing, or will fans continue to connect with the stories of others in a powerful way? That remains to be seen. What we know for sure is that, either way, West continues to be one of the genre’s most underrated songwriters.

Stay tuned for the back nine on Monday!

**All release dates and album titles are subject to change.