After eighteen years of ranked lists, we are taking a new approach this year. We present to you the Ten Best Albums of 2022, with only one ranking: the overall Album of the Year. The rest of the top ten is presented alphabetically by artist, with honorable mentions included at the bottom of the list.
Contributing votes to this list were Kevin John Coyne, Michelle Ivey, Jonathan Keefe, Zack Kephart, and Leeann Ward.
The Ten Best Albums of 2022
Album of the Year
The positive forces that came together to help Neilson fully realize her talent and cultivated her confidence are instructive for what ails country music today. Kingmaker is easily the best country album of the decade, and one of the seminal recordings of the 21st century. It’s finding its audience, too, especially in Australia and New Zealand, where Olivia Newton-John and Kasey Chambers have previously demonstrated how grace and grit can power a female artist to iconic status. But even more so than those two ladies who contributed so much to the format, country music really needs Tami Neilson, who has the potential to be a transformative figure for the genre if given the platform to do so.
Much of Kingmaker documents why that platform is unlikely to be given by the powers that be, who seem incapable of distinguishing the poison from the antidote. But it doesn’t matter what they think or who they choose to anoint as the next big thing. Kingmaker is a career-defining statement from an artist who realizes the crown has been hers all along, and it should serve as both inspiration and roadmap for aspiring artists who don’t fit within the narrow conventions that are suffocating the genre. Claim your crowns, y’all. Tami has shown you how. — Kevin John Coyne [Full review]
Completing our Top Ten Albums of 2022, alphabetically by artist:
Adeem the Artist
White Trash Revelry
At a time when the phrase “identity politics” gets thrown around entirely as a pejorative, Adeem the Artist, on their extraordinary White Trash Revelry, leans hard into the notion that a person’s identity can never be anything but political. Already very, very good, Adeem comes fully into their own songwriting voice here; what’s most striking about songs like “Redneck, Unread Hicks,” “Run This Town,” and “My America” are how they rely on the power of perfectly-chosen images and first-person experiences, rather than overt political rhetoric, to make their points. Even as their most frustrated, as on “Heritage of Arrogance,” Adeem’s songs are characterized by empathy and an effort to understand those who might otherwise deny their basic humanity. White Trash Revelry is an album that, taken as a whole, suggests there’s nothing more revolutionary we can do in 2022 than to look each other in the eye and treat everyone with decency. — Jonathan Keefe
The New Faith
What Blount accomplishes over the course of The New Faith is a genius form of scavenging. He’s found essential bits of musical and spiritual culture– a blues riff or banjo fill here, a traditional dirge or testimonial there– and assembled them into something wholly new. The album draws heavily from traditional forms of folk, country, blues. and gospel– what we’d call our “country universe,” incidentally– but is in no way beholden to those conventions… With The New Faith, Jake Blount demonstrates a peerless command not only of country, folk, and stringband traditions but a sense of questioning and a fierce intelligence that redefines “gospel” music for this exact cultural moment. By taking stock of where we are as a society and seeing challenges to do and be better, Blount leans into the value of questioning as perhaps the highest expression of faith. — JK [Full review]
A sprawling journey over 17 tracks, Different Man is a different kind of country album because Kane Brown is a different kind of country artist. His musical fluency in country, rock, pop, and R&B allows him to create sonic landscapes that are well beyond the capabilities of his peers. He moves between genres with the full confidence of an artist who knows he can do all of them well, and he makes a conscious choice to present disparate genre elements together in their purest forms… Different Man charts a different path for mainstream country music, one that is inclusive in spirit, anchored in gratitude, and boundless in its creativity. By incorporating pure country elements alongside the signature sounds of pop, rock, and R&B, Brown reaffirms country music’s vitality and asserts its contemporary relevance. — KJC [Full review]
What Else Can She Do
Miko Marks and the Resurrectors
Feel Like Going Home
Since resurfacing last year with two outstanding releases, Marks has rightfully claimed her place in the genre, using her platform to educate as well as entertain. Feel Like Going Home continues to build out her legacy, and if it sounds to you like she’s going beyond what country music is supposed to sound like, you need to learn some more about what country music has historically been… This is the third essential release from Marks in under two years. She’s making up for lost time and we’re all the beneficiaries of her redoubled efforts.
— KJC [Full review]
Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville
Lindeville is an ambitious concept album orchestrated by Ashley McBryde. She co-wrote nearly all of the tracks with Brandy Clark, Benjy Davis, Connie Harrington, Nicolette “Pillbox Patti” Hayford, and Aaron Raitiere. John Osborne of Brothers Osborne serves as the producer, and the duo joins Caylee Hammack and the songwriters as vocal performers on various tracks. The use the framework of a town named after a legendary country music figure, with songs that recall his idiosyncratic approach to character development… That Lindeville is home to some of the best songs and performances of 2022 is a testament to the curating talent of McBryde and the production skills of John Osborne. — KJC [Full review]
River Fools & Mountain Saints
I say this with all of the love in my heart: With Ian Noe’s River Fools & Mountain Saints, an artist in the Americana realm finally had the gumption to work with someone besides Dave Cobb or someone trying to imitate Dave Cobb. After pairing with Cobb for his quite good but sonically indistinct debut, Kentucky’s Noe teamed up with producer Andrija Tokic for his second outing, and the results are immediately arresting. The ranginess of Tokic’s production choices highlights both the breadth of Noe’s knotty and unconventional songwriting and the fact that Noe is a sneaky great vocalist. Noe and Tokic pull from traditional blues, honky-tonk country, folk, and bluegrass to bring something distinctive to every track on the album, which is only fitting for the way Noe’s songs are more about character sketches than they are about straightforward narratives. River fools, mountain saints, Vietnam vets, and grizzled retired men: Noe has populated a world here that’s truly captivating. – JK
There is one artist carrying on the sound of Loretta Lynn, as well as her approach to songwriting, and she’s doing a damn good job of it. Sunny Sweeney’s Married Alone is pure honky-tonk heaven, even when – no, especially when – her characters are going through hell. But Married Alone isn’t an exercise in nostalgia. To keep Lynn’s legacy going, artists need to bring their own ideas and a contemporary point of view while utilizing those classic sounds… The album’s two best moments capture Sweeney’s resilience. “A Song Can’t Fix Everything” is Married Alone‘s centerpiece, a poignant statement on how music can transport us to another place and time, even if it can’t bring back the ones we’ve lost, including the younger versions of ourselves. “Still Here” is explicitly about committing to a marriage in the face of struggle, but as the album closer, it implicitly feels like Sweeney’s insistence on sticking around in country music, despite the genre’s frustratingly limited vision of what it should look and sound like. — KJC [Full review]
Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson
Tribute albums are often a mixed bag, especially when they lean too heavily on the popular mainstream artists of the day to maximize profits. The approach taken by this John Anderson tribute album was to look for artists who were genuinely influenced by Anderson, and his influence permeates the project, with contributing artists striking the perfect balance between showing reverence for the source material and having the confidence to put their own spin on it. The album’s biggest highlight is Ashley McBryde’s empathetic reading of “Straight Tequila Night,” and there are fine moments as well from Brothers Osborne, Tyler Childers, and the late, great John Prine.
Here are two more albums that received notice from multiple writers this year:
BRELAND, Cross Country
Julie Roberts, Ain’t in No Hurry.
Best of 2022:
The Preamble: Lunatic Country Music Person(s) in the Wild
The Ten Best Albums of 2022 | The Twenty Best Singles of 2022
What a list! Thank you for this. I am an absolute fiend for end-of-year lists. I value and depend upon ones so obviously thoughtful and intentional as this one to help wade through the sheer volume of new music each year. Now to get busy listening!
…miko marks’ next to ashley mcbryde’ work – nuff said! this list shows once more how rich a year 2022 in country music eventually turned out to be – and what a pleasantly diverse one – stylistically – at the top end of the quality scale it was. your set is the latest to confirm that. It has been really hard in 2022 not to find a few favourite albums, especially, considering that there are easily some more that could have made it into such a summary quite deservedly..