2023 is ending, and what a year it was for country music. From stars rising to stardom quickly, artists having resurgences, charitable acts that make significant impacts beyond the country music community, and of course… lots of damn good music.
While we await the announcement of the Whiskey Riff Top Albums of the Year (which I can already tell you is going to be a tight race of who makes the list… there were so many great options for this year), I thought it’s fitting to also talk about the incredible album artwork we saw in 2023 as well.
As an album tells a story, the artwork often reflects the messages you will see on the album visually or reflects a deeper meaning to the artist.
Without further ado, here are my top pics for album artwork of the year:
Ashley McBryde- The Devil I Know
Ashley McBryde’s The Devil I Know is hands down my favorite album cover of 2023. The visual of McBryde taking different forms on the cover highlights the messaging from the lead single detailing changing your ways of remaining with “The Devil I Know.”
McBryde detailed that when shooting the album art, the idea was not to have the cover only include her, but as they changed looks and shot her in different poses, the idea came about organically. While her band got the boot from the album art, McBryde looks stunning, and her different looks highlight the most prominent message on the album through the imagery.
Chris Stapleton- Higher
I am grossly obsessed with the art from Higher. With Stapleton’s All American Road Show tour set highlighting a simply backlit stage, this album artwork is reminiscent of the silhouettes you see on stage. Like Stapleton’s music, it’s not overproduced; it’s simple, effective, and moving.
With the distinct outline of his iconic hat and the shadow of his beard, it’s so obviously Stapleton, and the shadow of the microphone highlights that you will get dang good music every time you queue him up. Higher is one of my top albums of the year, so naturally, the artwork will also rank up there.
Treaty Oak Revival…after the release of their 2021 album, they skyrocketed into stardom, and this year was monumental for the group. The release of their sophomore album, Have A Nice Day, has captured the hearts of fans in the short time it has been out, and the album artwork highlights the essence of who Treaty Oak Revival is.
The billiard balls, the cigarettes, the custom label that highlights the same devilish pinup girl from their “Stay Tuned” single artwork, the bullet, and the custom lighter with the album name on it. It’s all a chef’s kiss.
The dive bar-inspired artwork perfectly encapsulates the West Texas feel and rowdy bar scene this group plays in; it also accurately reflects the grungy country rock pieces you will find home on this album.
Colter Wall is the man when it comes to prairie tunes. Little Songs earns a spot on this list because not only is the imagery stunning, but I have never seen album artwork reflect the person behind the artist so much.
Colter ranches when he is not on the road or in the studio and often makes his runs around his ranching schedule, so the simple image of him on horseback gazing over the hilltop is beyond perfect.
Family Ties was the album country music needed this year. Charles Wesley Godwin shines SO brightly through his sound and songwriting throughout the album. As most of Godwin’s songs are very personal to him and his life in West Virginia, I love that he also tied in those “Family Ties” on the album art.
The vintage rust-colored background with the black and white family photos highlights the family man CWG is and the family imagery you will hear throughout the album. I also love the tie between ancestors and today’s generation between the images pulling at how deep their family roots go.
It’s also fitting that I am writing this shortly after his two night-sold shows at The Ryman, and his family is pictured on the stage on the album cover. A full circle moment indeed.
One of my favorite debut albums of the year. Similar to Chris Stapleton’s art, I am a sucker for a backlit photo, and Stephen Wilson Jr. draws in so many personal elements on this album cover.
Søn Of Dad is heavily intertwined with life lessons and love letters to his late father, Wilson Jr., who poses in a boxing ring for the cover. The dark room not only gives a nod to the fact that his father was a boxer but also metaphorically represents the constant battle of grief, and the tracks on the album reflect all of that candidly.
The boxing theme continued past the artwork into all promos, making the album’s messaging cohesive. Grade A branding stamp of approval from a marketing nut like myself.
This album cover doesn’t immediately transport you to your hometown on a Friday night; I don’t know what will. I love this artwork so much, not only because of the nostalgia but because the hammer hits the nail square on the head when relating the lead single off the album.
It’s reliving high school in the best ways, highlighting small-town Alabama, where the boys of Muscadine are from. From the letterman jackets to the tailgate pulled down, you can already picture them holding PBRs if the picture was captured from the other side of them getting into some trouble and hoping not to get caught.
The graphics on this album cover are insane. It’s dark and vampy and encapsulates the region of Appalachia that Halstead sings about, and you can easily find yourself looking at this image for hours, uncovering hidden gems.
The skeleton miners standing outside the mine’s entrance with the tombstones of those who have entered before them all below a blood moon show the good, bad, and ugly of being a blue-collar order in Appalachia. While there was so much good music that came out of the region this year, this album’s artwork and messaging are pure gold.