BlueSky Bullet Points: January 28, 2024

The country music renaissance continues with three new contenders for Album of the Year.


Conner Smith
Smoky Mountains
Great production and song construction for a current mainstream album, and Smith clears the low bar of singing better than Wallen and Zimmerman. Mostly clichéd songwriting, but the occasional clever flourish (“Creek Will Rise,” “Heatin’ Up”) sneaks through.
Randall King
Into the Neon
Astonishing for its quality control over the span of a full 18 tracks, King’s second album honors his Texas-country roots while envisioning a better present and future for the genre’s mainstream. Every track here hits like a ’96 #1.
Willi Carlisle
Not to get too, “I read theory!” about it, but this is a masterwork of what it means to queer a set of artistic conventions. Wry, smart, and emotionally raw, Carlisle centers a historically marginalized POV in country and folk forms with a clear vision and catchy tunes.
Niko Moon
Better Days
One Star
Walker Hayes without even the occasional flash of wit or the base capacity to half-sing, Moon immediately wears out his welcome. The production sounds like Jason Mraz’s first album, and the lyrics are all that same old post-Bro, store-brand Wallen fare.
Brown Horse
Take heed, Brown Horse: The (Dixie) Chicks had to fire their original lead singer to become great. The overall aesthetic here is a heavy-on-the-alt version of alt-country and is great, but the lead vocals are *atrocious*, bordering on unlistenable.
Lizzie No
Spectacular. A wide-ranging, progressive vision of “Americana” supports an album about how human connections should be about empathy and support, rather than compromise and sacrificing our authentic inner lives. An early comer for 2024’s best album.


  1. …ugh. Niko Moon. I actually listened to a couple of his songs a while back to see if he was as bad as Farce the Music made him out to be. Spoiler alert: He absolutely was. I didn’t think it could get worse than Walker Hayes, but apparently I was wrong.

    I was a bit trepidatious seeing the 18 songs on the Randall King album, but yeah, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. It’s kind of amazing how he pulled that off. He deserves to be huge. I hope this album does it for him.

    • Best thing I can say about Niko Moon, really, is that he’s a rare example in the modern era of a just-awful white guy who got exactly one chance to fail before his major label on Music Row dropped him. His 2021 album peaked at #12 on the country albums chart, and RCA Nashville has sent him on his merry way.

  2. Hmm. I’m not necessarily above speaking ill of the dead on rare occasions, but that truly wasn’t my intent here at all.

    Laura Lynch rarely, if ever, spoke poorly of her departure from The (Dixie) Chicks and, by all accounts, lived a pretty fortunate life of her own after she and the band parted company. But there are only a small handful of folks who, even since her death last Christmas season, actually claim that the band’s original line-up was the superior version.

    That was the gist of my comment on Brown Horse: The potential is there for something bigger than what their current lead singer is cut out for, and I still think that’s true of The Chicks. I don’t know that it would’ve cut differently had I said that last November as opposed to a week ago. Wasn’t trying to be crass or insensitive, but YMMV.

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