Country Universe continues its thirty best albums of 2023 feature with ten albums that came close to being in our top ten of the year. A Spotify playlist of all of the albums can be found at the bottom of this post.
Here are the next best albums of 2023.
Praying for Sunshine
With so many poor singers in the genre right now, what a reprieve to hear one of its purest, most gifted vocalists again. She remains a singer of nuance and subtlety, and her phrasing on these songs is a wonder. This isn’t just a truly welcome return: Song-for-song, it might actually be her best album, which is clearing an awfully high bar.
Workin’ On a World
That she’s started enunciating her consonants again is fitting for an album of such clarity of vision. She’s always at her best when she doesn’t hold back on statements of principle, and here she’s surrounded by some of the most varied production of her career.
As thoughtfully curated a set of songs as you’ll find on a mainstream county album, all built on clever, surprising wordplays and a rugged POV. This is Cody Johnson’s best to date, and he continues to make good on his jump to a major label. This set should get him fully onto the genre’s A-list.
Karen & The Sorrows
Why Do We Want What We Want
Heady, dense, macabre in all the best ways, and I mean it as the highest of praise that this favorably recalls Gretchen Peters’ Blackbirds album in terms of the caliber of the songwriting and the overall sustained tone. This is a wonder of mood and observation that is a standout in a terrific year for this type of American Gothic.
Mike and The Moonpies
Live From The Devil’s Backbone
There’s an argument to be made that they’ve been country’s best live act for a while now, and they’ve translated that fully into a record that plays like a perfectly-curated career retrospective and captures them at peak power. A rare live album that’s essential, both as a standalone record and as an introduction to an outfit that’s remained under-the-radar for far too long.
At times, it plays more like a Punch Brothers album than a reunion for this trio, but that’s hardly a bad thing; it speaks to how all of their talents have deepened over time such that the Watkins siblings are now fully game for some of Thile’s proggier impulses. Their densest album by far.
Emily Ann Roberts
Can’t Hide Country
I expected more Music Row pap based upon the title and the cover art. 30 seconds in, I was blown away by the voice, clever POV, and twangy-AF production. Niche comparison: The vibe here is a reincarnated Dawn Sears, just with a higher-pitched voice. A tremendous trad-country debut that splits the difference between Ashley Monroe and Laura Bell Bundy, and that’s high, high praise.
Stapleton still desperately needs to break from producer Dave Cobb, but this boasts his most varied production to date, and it’s sure saying something that he’s never sounded better vocally than he does here (“Higher,” “The Bottom,” “Weight of Your World,” especially). His best solo album yet, and a thoughtful and sensitive love letter to his wife, Morgane, who remains years overdue for a star turn of her own.
Joshua Ray Walker
What Is It Even?
A response to bigoted internet trolls, What Is It Even? explodes country music’s obsession with performative, toxic masculinity. Walker sings the absolute fire out of Whitney, LeAnn, Lizzo, Sinead, and Regina, and turns Cher’s “Believe” into a country two-step. In doing so, he stakes a claim as one of the best interpretive singers in the business. Essential and transformative.
The rare throwback-styled album that actually sounds like a vinyl unearthed from the late 60s. Wyatt writes and sings country songs, but the vibe here is a mix of vintage Cher singles and “Windmills of Your Mind” from Dusty in Memphis: Fans of her more traditional work may bristle, but this vision of cosmic, retro country-rock and southern soul sets Wyatt fully apart from her contemporaries.
Best of 2023
The Thirty Best Albums of 2023:
The Sixty Best Singles of 2023: