You know what, country music is in a pretty cool spot right now.
While there is still a lot of undeserving music out there dominating the radio stations and awards shows, plenty of country music’s biggest artists are making great music, and the independent roots music we all love is starting to gain some serious traction and recognition.
The music that has been coming out over the last several years has been spectacular, and the momentum behind good country music only seems to be growing. With albums from superstars like Luke Combs and Dierks Bentley, big time independent artists like Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, up and comers like Colby Acuff and Drayton Farley, and so many more incredible artists, 2023 has been a strong year thus far, and there are no signs of that slowing down.
I think it’s safe to say that it’s a great time to be a country music fan, and the genre is far from dead.
In fact, country music is alive, well, and thriving. If you’re looking for proof, look no further than the albums I have listed below. And the only rules here are that we didn’t include deluxe albums, live albums or EPs.
Nearly halfway through the year, here are my 20 favorite albums of 2023 thus far… in no particular order.
Bella White – Among Other Things
Song Pick: “Flowers on My Bedside”
Brit Taylor – Kentucky Blue
Song Pick: “No Cowboys”
Colby Acuff – Western White Pines
Get ready for Acuff to blow up, because it’s not a question of if it will happen, but more just a matter of when it will happen. And with his major label debut Western White Pines out in the world now, something tells me his rise to the top of the genre is coming sooner rather than later.
Song Pick: “Western White Pines”
Dierks Bentley – Gravel & Gold
Song Pick: “High Note” ft. Billy Strings
Drayton Farley – Twenty On High
Those Alabama guys are getting after it this year. Farley’s third album, produced by the legendary Sadler Vaden, Twenty On High is a breakthrough in Farley’s nascent career, and a sign of what is to come from one of country music’s most promising up and comers. With a raw voice and a knack for honest lyricism, Farley is as real as it gets, and it shows in Twenty on High.
Song Pick: “Above My Head”
El Dorado – Unincorporated
Song Pick: “Bed of Roses”
Jake Worthington – Jake Worthington
Song Pick: “State You Left Me In”
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Weathervanes
There are a ton of incredible albums out already this year from a ton of great artists, but there is only one Jason Isbell, and he proved his dominance of the independent, Americana music scene with Weathervanes. An absolute masterpiece of a record, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Weathervanes exemplifies brilliance from start to finish, and even in the midst of his iconic catalog, this one is something special.
Song Pick: “King of Oklahoma”
JD Clayton – Long Way From Home
Song Pick: “Cotton Candy Clouds”
Lance Roark – Better Man
Something tells me we are going to be hearing a lot about Lance Roark from now on. As the Oklahoma based artist solidifies himself in the Turnpike Troubadours’ world, and blazes his own path as an unbelievable songwriting talent, the buzz is only going to continue to grow around his name. And his debut record Better Man is quite the start.
Song Pick: “Oklahoma Blacktop”
Logan Halstead – Dark Black Coal
Halstead’s Dark Black Coal is one of the most highly anticipated debut records I can remember, largely due to the album’s title track “Dark Black Coal” blowing up on YouTube a couple years back. Not only did it live up to the hype, but Halstead’s debut blew expectations out of the water, and proved he’s got talent that transcends his young age.
Song Pick: “Mountain Queen”
Luke Combs – Gettin’ Old
Song Pick: “Joe”
Margo Price – Strays
Song Pick: “Change of Heart”
Megan Moroney – Lucky
Song Pick: “Girl In The Mirror”
Muscadine Bloodline – Teenage Dixie
There must be something in the water down there in Alabama, because the three best albums of the year so far have come out of the Yellowhammer State. The duo of Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton has been making music together since the mid 2010s, but they really hit their stride with 2022’s Dispatch to 16th Ave. And now, just a year later they’re back with Teenage Dixie.
With honky tonk heaters that play right into Muncaster’s 90s country influences, and lyrically masterful ballads that tell stories in the same vein as Stanton’s songwriting hero Chris Knight, Teenage Dixie has it all. These guys have outdone themselves with this one, and as one of the most successful independent acts of the last several years, there seems to be plenty more where that came from.
Song Pick: “Teenage Dixie”
Nicholas Jamerson – Peace Mountain
2023 has been a big year for Jamerson, who not only made this list with his latest solo record Peace Mountain, but also as half of the legendary Kentucky duo Sundy Best whose comeback record Feel Good Country is a force in its own right.
With his songwriting aptitude and Appalachian sound in full effect on both records, Jamerson has his fingerprints all over the best music of the year, and deservingly so.
Song Pick: “This Ain’t Supposed to Happen in Our Town”
Pony Bradshaw – North Georgia Rounder
Song Pick: “Holler Rose”
Sundy Best – Feel Good Country
Song Pick: “Escapee”
Them Dirty Roses – Lost in the Valley of Hate & Love, Vol. 1
Song Pick: “Ain’t No Need”
The Panhandlers – Tough Country
Song Pick: “Where Cotton is King”
Top Honorable Mentions:
Benjamin Dakota Rogers – Paint Horse
Evan Honer – West on I-10
Ian Munsick – White Buffalo
Kip Moore – Damn Love
Chancey Williams – One Of These Days
Ritch Henderson – Fallacies and Four-Letter Words
Chapel Hart – Glory Days
The list of albums that are worth listening to thus far in 2023 is much, much longer, but these right here are the best of the best. And just for right now, who know what will happen as all of these records, and some not mentioned get more spins throughout the second half of the year.
But there is plenty more to come, with Summer Dean’s next record coming out in just a few days, Tommy Prine’s debut record later this month, Morgan Wade later this summer, and many more that could find their way into our top albums list at the end of the year.
And of course, we can’t forget that the Turnpike Troubadours comeback record Cat in the Rain is set to hit streaming platforms on August 25th. I would think that could be a shoe-in for album of the year given the sheer magnitude of the project in the realm of country music and the simple fact that the Turnpike Troubadours are the best to ever do it.
But with the albums I have listed above, and all of the other ones that are still to come this year, it is going to be a very tight race for the top spot.
No matter how you look at it though, country music has been on fire this year, and it shows no signs of cooling down.