As much as we like to complain about country music radio, the Nashville corporate music machine, and the lack of appreciation for traditional country music these days, we’re in a WAY better place than we were five years ago.
And whether it’s a brand new artist bursting on the scene, or some of our old favorites continuing put out great work, 2022 gave us a TON of country albums to be excited about.
From Nashville to Texas, Appalachia to California, bluegrass, southern rock, old school to new school, and everything in between… I’m sure a few of your favorite records will be featured on this list, but we’re hopeful that you’ll find something new as well. And we’re really spanning the entire spectrum underneath the country music umbrella this year with albums that lean heavy towards rock and roll, albums that were pure bluegrass, some with a little pop flavor, traditional, funky, Texas, mainstream and everything in between.
At the end of the day, we might live in a streaming world where singles reign supreme, but for me, country music is always going to be about the album.
It’s not easy tell a complete story over the course of an entire album. It is what separates the good artists from the truly great artists.
Honing in that storytelling ability to produce something truly compelling, some that truly moves the listener requires vision, introspection, honesty, authenticity, talent, passion, and guts.
There were so many great albums to choose from that there are plenty that we had to leave off. When the team here sat down and put together our shortlist of albums worthy of consideration… we had over 80 albums on the list. And then began the daunting task of stripping it down to our favorite 40.
And we’re also not even mentioning some of the great EPs that artists dropped this year, deluxe editions, cover albums, live albums, and other various side projects. Sorry John Anderson tribute record… you are amazing, but the rules are the rules.
So without further ado, let’s get to it…
40. Caroline Spence – ‘True North’
A Charlottesville, Virginia native and current Nashville resident, Spence’s fifth album True North is my favorite yet.
With distinct, easygoing vocals and a knack for storytelling, Spence is one of the most talented artists in the business.
39. Ben Burgess – ‘Tears the Size of Texas’
The record resonates perfectly with its title-track, full of deep self-reflection and storytelling. Throw a couple murder ballads into the mix and the modern-day cowboy record is born.
38. William Clark Green – ‘Baker Hotel’
One of the best artists in the game since his debut album in 2008, Green’s Baker Hotel is one of his best records yet.
The album shows how versatile WCG can be with songs that span between country and rock, and content that goes from lighthearted and clever to heavy and heartfelt. WCG can do it all.
37. Kolby Cooper – ‘Boy From Anderson County To The Moon’
Kolby Cooper did not disappoint with his major label debut as the kid from Anderson County, Texas has further proven that he has everything it takes to hang with the big dawgs in country music.
36. Wade Bowen – ‘Somewhere Between The Secret & The Truth’
Two decades into his career and Wade Bowen continues to be as consistent as they come in country music.
Bowen’s first trip into the sole producer role, Somewhere Between The Secret & The Truth brings a well-rounded mix of some honky tonk heaters, some hometown feel-gooders, and some old school Texas country heartbreakers.
35. Adeem the Artist – ‘White Trash Revelry’
Exploring themes of gender identity, sexual orientation, suicide, racism, poverty, addiction, and more, all through the eyes of a poor, white southerner, White Trash Revelry proves to be one of the most thought-provoking and polarizing projects of the year.
34. Ernest – ‘Flower Shops’
Morgan Wallen songwriter who?
Prior to the release of Flower Shops Ernest was primarily regarded by the country music world as a collaborator, co-writer, and friend of Morgan Wallen. However, now… Ernest is coming to his own as a great solo artist and a worthy performer. The album features quality songwriting, a ton of great steel, and needless to say, the future is BRIGHT for ol’ Ern.
33. Vandoliers – ‘The Vandoliers’
With a perfect mix of raucous rock and roll and boot-stomping country, highlighted by intricate lyricism and hard-charging attitude, “your favorite punk bands favorite country band” is the perfect description.
32. Paul Cauthen – ‘Country Coming Down’
Is Funky-Tonk a thing? If it’s not… it is now…
In the words of Paul Cauthen himself, you got “bangers, and you got your ballads. You got your meaningful songs where you’re opening up more of your vulnerable side, and then you’re putting on a f*cking show… all in one album.”
31. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Married Alone’
With two divorces on her belt and many heartbreaking stories to tell, Sweeney has just shared with the world what might be the most brutally honest album of her career.
Married Alone proves once again why she is a master of the craft.
30. Ronnie Dunn – ‘100 Proof Neon’
Inspired by little honky tonks and beer joints in Texas and Oklahoma, the whole album is full of that iconic late ’80s and ’90s country sound that Brooks & Dunn are known for.
Thirty years in this country music business and Ronnie Dunn sounds as good as he ever has.
29. Kelsey Waldon – ‘No Regular Dog’
A powerhouse of an album, without a single weak link… if you’re going through a hard times and you tend to find solace in music, look no further than No Regular Dog.
28. The Wilder Blue – ‘The Wilder Blue’
The band’s second album, their self-titled The Wilder Blue leaves no doubt that The Wilder Blue is here to stay.
Frontman Zane Williams has been making great music on the Texas scene for years, and I think he’s found something special with The Wilder Blue. This album is proof.
27. John Fullbright – ‘The Liar’
The album is a mixture of some old songs, some new song, and some unfinished songs that called on the help of other songwriters to finish. But the end result is a much more creative, yet much less polished finished product for Fullbright who in years past had treated the process like a science.
26. Benjamin Tod – ‘Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing’
This solo project is truly a fantastic record that vulnerably addresses lead singer Benjamin Tod’s own experiences and struggles.
If you want raw, authentic, and honest… this is as raw, authentic and honest as it gets.
25. Willie Nelson – ‘A Beautiful Time’
Willie Nelson, man… a living legend.
24. Tyler Childers – ‘Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven?’
I would’ve loved to rank this one higher, but it just felt a little thin to me. Nevertheless, with Tyler Childers, the quality always outweighs the quantity and this Gospel-infused project proved once more why Tyler Childers is one of the most compelling acts in all of country music.
Can I get an amen?
23. Drake Milligan – ‘Dallas/Forth Worth’
Produced by the great Tony Brown (George Strait, Reba McEntire) and songwriter/producer Brandon Hood, the 14-track project features Milligan’s deep baritone voice, catchy hooks, and plenty of tasty fiddle and steel licks.
Milligan has everything it takes to become a household name in country music, and I’ve gotta feeling this is just the beginning for the young buck.
22. Miranda Lambert – ‘Palomino’
Despite Lambert’s long standing superstardom, she has managed to maintain her iconic sound and stay true to her musical roots, and that is why she is one of the best artists that has hit mainstream fame.
The 9th solo album of her career, Palomino is one of her best yet.
21. Tony Logue – ‘Jericho’
Tony Logue had himself a bit of a breakout year with the release of Jericho, a 12-song masterpiece of deep storytelling that comes straight from the heart of Western Kentucky.
20. Jon Pardi – ‘Mr. Saturday Night’
Jon Pardi continues to carry the torch for traditional country music in the mainstream and Mr. Saturday Night further solidifies his place at the top of the pack.
19. Joshua Hedley – ‘Neon Blue’
Not only is this album incredibly fun and nostalgic to listen to, it just goes to prove that the traditional country sound we all know and love is still alive and well in the Music City.
Neon Blue is chock full of certified twangers that will have wishin’ you were sittin’ on a barstool in some ol’ ’90s dive bar. Featuring a heavy dose of steel, fiddle, and two-steppin’ honky tonk beats, this entire record is a time machine back to one of the greatest eras of country music.
18. Billy Strings – ‘Me / And / Dad’
Easily one of the more unique and special projects we’ve gotten this year, and while it’s technically a cover album, the average country music fan probably isn’t very familiar with many of these traditional bluegrass classics, so we made an exception to the rule.
And beyond that, it’s just phenomenal… Billy Strings is quickly becoming a superstar.
17. Randall King – ‘Shot Glass’
An up and coming act out of West Texas, King has superstar potential. With music reminiscent of ’80s and ’90s country classics, he has revived a more traditional sound, which is something country music could use right now.
His sophomore album, Shot Glass is a honky tonk masterpiece.
16. Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – ‘Crooked Tree’
Not that it ever really went anywhere, but bluegrass seems to be making a comeback, or it is at least growing in popularity. Molly Tuttle and her band Golden Highway are at the forefront of that, and Crooked Tree is a masterpiece of an album.
She has some pretty great features on the album, too.
15. Luke Combs – ‘Growin’ Up’
Luke Combs has been a runaway freight train of momentum since the second he exploded onto the scene and with the release of his third studio album, Growin’ Up, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Top to bottom, it’s just a rock solid record.
14. Gabe Lee – ‘The Hometown Kid’
Gabe Lee has done it again.
Each song on the album paints the perfect picture of what life was like for Lee, growing up near the bright lights of Broadway in Nashville, and he brings this sense of deep reflection, and also self awareness within each and every word.
13. Charley Crockett – ‘The Man From Waco’
Weaving together various shades of Crockett’s tattered past, Crockett’s album draws influence from jazz, rhythm and blues, country-western, and swing to create a record that, is uniquely… Crockett.
12. Lainey Wilson – ‘Bell Bottom Country’
Bell Bottom Country is Lainey Wilson to the core, written straight from the heart, and chock full of her own signature flair. We’re witnessing the next big thing in country music ladies and gentleman… and this record is another step in the right direction.
11. Arlo McKinley – ‘This Mess We’re In’
Arlo McKinley is one of the most authentic and honest artists in music, tackling tough topics like loss, addiction, mental health and self-forgiveness. With the release of This Mess We’re In, he has proved that he belongs in the upper echelon of today’s musicians.
10. Koe Wetzel – ‘Hell Paso’
In a world full of artists who jump on trends and copy whatever the hot “thing” is at the moment, you can always count on Koe to bring everything he has to the table in a way that is uniquely him… the good, the bad and the ugly.
‘Hell Paso’ is a wild ride full of honesty, authenticity and cold hard truths… and it’s well-worth the trip.
9. Hailey Whitters – ‘Raised’
No matter where you’re from, I think we all need to go back home every once in a while. Hailey made it easy to return to the best parts of that place, wherever it may be, which is why the record is nothing short of phenomenal.
8. Whiskey Myers – ‘Tornillo’
While the essence of the Whiskey Myers sound we all know and love remains prominent, the band took this opportunity to experiment with instrumentation and push the limits of their already genre defying sound. The result is a 12 track masterpiece of rock and roll, blues, country, and soul all amalgamated to form something uniquely special.
7. Muscadine Bloodline – ‘Dispatch To 16th Ave’
The Alabama duo of Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton absolutely killed it with their second album, Dispatch to 16th Ave.
A timely and well warranted jab at mainstream country music and the Nashville scene, Muscadine Bloodline keeps it real and stays true to the authentically southern sound that has evolved over the years into something special.
6. American Aquarium – ‘Chicamacomico’
No band in country music has released such high quality records as prolifically as American Aquarium over the years. A super introspective record full of emotion and passion, Chicamacomico proves why BJ Barham is one of the best songwriters to ever do it.
If sad songs make you happy, this is the album for you.
5. Ashley McBryde – ‘Lindeville’
Ashley McBryde has officially outdone herself.
A concept album centered on the fictional small town of Lindeville and its cast of colorful characters, this project really has it all.
In between all the funny lines and exaggerated telling of the town drama and what’s going on in Lindeville, there’s a hell of a lot of truth, and that’s the thing about small towns across America… they’re nothing, if not real.
4. Ian Noe – ‘River Fools & Mountain Saints’
One of the best up and coming Appalachian artists, Noe’s second album River Fools and Mountain Saints is full of stories and other content that deal with the ups and downs of life in Appalachia.
3. Kaitlin Butts – ‘What Else Can She Do’
Everybody knew Kaitlin Butts was bound to release something spectacular at some point, it was just a matter of time. Only her second album, and first since 2015, What Else Can She Do was heavily anticipated and has more than lived up to the hype.
With her dynamic vocals and chilling song content, Butts is one of the most underrated acts in all of music, and hopefully this album will change that.
2. 49 Winchester – ‘Fortune Favors The Bold’
The Appalachian soul outfit out of Castlewood, Virginia struck gold with their 4th album Fortune Favors the Bold. Full of driving melodies and clever lyrics, this album is an absolute must-listen from one of the hottest bands in the industry.
With a never ending tour schedule that has included headlining events, festivals, and their current tour supporting Whiskey Myers, these honky tonkers have been quickly gaining momentum throughout the year.
And with this album, they are officially taking the next step in their careers as they settle into their role as one of the best bands in the country music scene.
1. Zach Bryan – ‘American Heartbreak’
While he was well on his way prior to 2022, Zach Bryan has officially become a country music superstar this year. Containing 34 songs, his third album is the best work of his young career and has catalyzed his ascent to the top of country music.
In true Zach Bryan fashion, the album features unmatched lyricism and storytelling that will take you on a rollercoaster of emotion, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
Not only is American Heartbreak the best album of the year so far, it’s the best album I’ve heard in years.