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