2022 is no longer with us but it definitely left a lasting impression on us. It was the year in which some stars moved even closer to the top, saw one overcome self-inflicted wounds (Morgan Wallen) to become perhaps the biggest star of the genre. It also allowed more wide-open access to the mainstream thanks to the powers of streaming and TikTok as labels, publishers, management and booking agents now have a really accurate way to gauge an artist’s popularity in real-time. The genre’s branches are growing and the roots of the evergreen remain. Below are 10 albums, in no particular order, which reflect country music, as it was in 2022 perfectly.
Breland - “Cross Country”
This genre-bending album is rooted in country music and while there will be detractors elsewhere, Breland moved beyond those voices to prove that he belongs in country music’s mainstream and now all that needs to happen is for radio to join in and help Breland spread joy like he does all over “Cross Country.”
Gabe Lee - “The Hometown Kid”
On my radar throughout the past few years, Gabe Lee broke through in 2022 and is poised to be an even bigger star in 2023 and “The Hometown Kid” is certainly proof positive why. The Album features sharp writing throughout and the Nashville native just has a distinct air of authenticity to his brand of country music.
Kimberly Kelly - “I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen”
Kimberly Kelly is, like Breland and Gabe Lee, poised to break out in 2023. She will be releasing the first official radio single from this beautifully country record in the new year and there isn’t a bad track to choose from. Though “Summers Like That” certainly has the best chance if I were picking the single.
Ashley McBryde & Friends - “Ashley McBrde Presents: Lindeville”
This concept album is beautifully executed from start to finish. McBryde brings Caylee Hammock, Aaron Raitiere, Pillbox Patti, Brothers Osborne, Brandy Clark, and Benjy Davis into the fold to tell the story of characters from this town. There’s not a bad song on the album and while radio may be hesitant to deploy any of these songs, the reality is that the album is already a winner (and up for a Grammy award too).
Jenny Tolman - “Married In a Honky Tonk”
Tolman’s sophomore album avoids the slump that so often affects artists and this is largely because of her work with her producer (and now Husband) Dave Brainard. Jennyville is a town that’s not unlike McBryde’s Lindeville and Tolman, Brainard and co-writers deliver another great set of songs which tell stories of the citizens of that town along with her own romantic stories with Brainard.
Lainey Wilson - “Bell Bottom Country”
Already a multiple CMA Award winner, including the Female Vocalist of the Year, Lainey Wilson is a STAR and “Bell Bottom Country” is ample proof of this with stellar vocals and songwriting throughout the record. She even had the guts to cut the 90s karaoke anthem “What’s Up (What’s Going On) and make it her own. “Smell Like Smoke,” “Watermelon Moonshine,” and “Those Boots” are standouts but “Hold My Halo” should follow “Heart Like A Truck” up the charts and prove to be the catalyst that turns Lainey Wilson into a star outside of the country music world (She’s already building her profile with a star-making turn on Yellowstone) and, I don’t use the term lightly, a chance to be a superstar.
Zach Bryan - “American Heartbreak”
The leader of the “Yellowstone Country” movement is really just bringing home the classic folk storytelling into mainstream music fans in a way that hasn’t quite been matched in decades. It’s a welcome sight and Zach has been an active military man for much of his career prior to the release of this 30 track opus. He’s the most-prolific artist in the zeitgeist and proves that you can sell records of music that isn’t beat-driven or repetitive nonsense.
Julie Roberts - “Ain’t In No Hurry”
Julie Roberts has been one of the best vocalists in country music since she arrived in the 2000s with her self-titled debut album. While her time with the major labels was shorter than it should’ve been due to changing tides within the mainstream towards modern pop sounds and her bluesy, soulful roots country blend the antithesis of such sounds, Julie’s found a path forward over her past few records and Ain’t In No Hurry is proof if this. From shuffles to wailing songs of heartbreak; From affirming odes to hard works to powerful duets (with Randy Houser and Jamey Johnson), Ain’t In No Hurry has it all.
John Fullbright - “The Liar”
Making smart, intellectual music, Fullbright moves from moments of despair to optimism throughout the record (even in single songs). Known as a piano playing folkie before this record, Fullbright works well with a more fleshed out sound and his bitting wit is apparent throughout this lyrical land musical masterpiece of a record. A similar artist to Zach Bryan in the sense that they make folksy roots music on the fringes of country, I wouldn’t mind if John Fullbright was a bit more prolific like Bryan so that we don’t have to wait another eight years for a follow-up record. In the interim, I’ll be listening to this record on repeat.
Wade Bowen - “Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth”
One of the biggest stars in all of Texas Music, Wade Bowen, like many before him, had his moment with the mainstream labels before returning to the land of the independents and hasn’t really looked back as he continues to make records that hold up listen after listen. “Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth is but his latest stellar record and its chock full of emotive country music with songs which champion every sector of the human condition.
OTHER RECORDS WHICH WE ENJOYED BUT BARELY MISSED THE CUT
- Miranda Lambert - “Palomino”
- Cole Swindell - “Stereotype”
- Maren Morris - “Humble Quest”
- Jon Pardi - “Mr. Saturday Night”
- Kane Brown - “Diffrent Man”
- Brett Eldredge - “Songs About You”
- Nicolle Galyon - “First Born”
- Mike Ryan - “Long Cut”
- Bailey Zimmerman - “Leave The Light On”