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Holler's Albums of the Year 2023

November 30, 2023 4:25 pm GMT
Last Edited May 24, 2024 9:58 pm GMT

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When the editorial team gathered at Holler HQ to vote for the best records of the last 12 months, it quickly became clear – and is now hereby declared – that 2023 has been the year of the album.

Huddled around in our chilly London office (jumping on the opportunity to channel our inner X Factor judge), every member of the team brought a varying selection of standouts to the table, passionately backing their inclusion in the final 25.

Spanning the range from commercial to indie, traditional to unconventional, celebratory to reflective, the long-list reflected a year of incredible releases across the board – one distinctly challenging to cut down and rank.

After much deliberation, those that have made it into this year’s official list have been of special significance to the artist, industry and fans alike. The cream of the crop of names old and new, this selection unites some of the finest records from a truly prolific year in country, Americana and roots music, we can’t wait for the next.

Here is the list of Holler’s Albums of the Year for 2023. 

25
Warner Music Nashville | 2023

Leather - Cody Johnson

Cody Johnson’s Leather offers listeners the chance to hear the Texan settling into his status as country music’s leading neo-traditionalist.

Whether he’s tipping his Resistol to his idols on ‘Long Live Country Music’, serenading his wife on ‘The Painter’ or scolding a home-invader with the surprisingly sinister ‘Jesus Loves You’, CoJo’s signature baritone oozes charisma and gravitas.

Leather undoubtedly whetted fans’ appetite for its sequel, which is expected to arrive in 2024.

- Maxim Mower

Read Holler's interview with Cody Johnson

24
Big Loud | 2023

the mockingbird & THE CROW - HARDY

the mockingbird & THE CROW was undoubtedly one of the most dynamic records of 2023.

One part acoustic-driven excellence and another part explosive, unapologetic rock, HARDY's sophomore record shows the Mississippi native stretching the sonic boundaries of country music and notching up hit after hit in the process, from 'wait in the truck' and 'red' to 'TRUCK BED' and 'JACK'.

- Lydia Farthing

Read Holler's full review

23
Torrez Music Group | 2023

Drink the River - Gabe Lee

With Drink The River, Gabe Lee cemented himself as not only one of Nashville's great upcoming songwriters, but one of its finest storytellers.

His fourth studio album - and second in 12 months - wanders through the vast thicket of life's trials and tribulations, facing up to the reality of human vulnerability as he confronts cancer, dementia and even land disputes with empathy, charm and poetic power.

- Ross Jones

Read Holler's full review

22
Soundly Music | 2023

North Georgia Rounder - Pony Bradshaw

North Georgia Rounder found Pony Bradshaw at odds with his place in the world. Yearning for a grounded life but having to accept the unsettled routines of being a songwriter, Bradshaw battled with his inner conflicts, in the process creating his seminal work.

He threads complex imagery of sinners and saints through his observations, from the gritty journeyman's ode of 'North Georgia Rounder' to the weary buskers lament of 'Kindly Turn the Bed Down, Drusilla'. "I make my wage on the road, good lord / A mortal man's work is sun to sun / Oh, but mine it ain't never done", he sings.

Rich and evocative, North Georgia Rounder is a stunning exploration of the self and one's place in the world.

- RJ

Read Holler's full review

21
CMATBABY | 2023

Crazymad, for Me - CMAT

Not only do we love CMAT for her genre-breaking songs, but also because you just know that if you were friends in school and someone bullied you, she would absolutely have your back. She might not smack 'em in the mouth, but she’d destroy them emotionally. It's something she can do with her songs too, while also making you want to dance.

We need more CMATs in the world, but she’s one of a kind, so let’s protect her at all costs.

- Baylen Leonard

Read Holler's interview with CMAT

20
Mexican Summer | 2023

Time Ain't Accidental - Jess Williamson

After last year’s Plains project with Waxahatchee brought Jess Williamson to the attention of a wider audience, the fifth album from the Texas-born, Los Angeles-based songwriter was a spotlight-stealing pop country masterpiece.

With its wry and quietly emboldened songs about love, loss and distance, Time Ain’t Accidental was a daringly personal, beautifully understated record that sounded like what Emmylou Harris or Linda Ronstadt might have in the '70s if Four Tet had produced them.

- Jof Owen

19
Big Loud | 2023

One Thing At A Time - Morgan Wallen

Morgan Wallen’s 2021 double-album, Dangerous, transformed him into country music’s biggest star.

Some predicted he’d never be able to top it, but Wallen’s sprawling 2023 album, One Thing At A Time, took things a step further and – with the help of the infectious, record-breaking lead single, ‘Last Night’ – fuelled the de-mulleted maverick’s evolution into the most streamed artist across all genres.

In turn, Wallen has arguably propelled country music deeper into the mainstream than it’s been since the Garth era of the 90s.

- MM

Read Holler's full review

18
Ol' Buddy Records / Thirty Tigers | 2023

Southern Star - Brent Cobb

A blend of the soft, MOR country folk of Don Williams and the laid-back swamp funk of Larry Jon Wilson, Southern Star was Brent Cobb’s most fully-realised record yet.

There has always been something uniquely reassuring about Cobb’s easy going, all-the-time-in-the-world perspective on life and this album felt like a much-needed antidote to a world gone absolutely insane.

- JO

Read Holler's full review

17
Signature Sounds | 2023

Ain't Through Honky Tonkin' Yet - Brennen Leigh

Journeying through energetic bluegrass and string-led honky tonk, Brennen Leigh captures the spirit of country's golden age and brings it to the modern day with Ain't Through Honky Tonkin' Yet.

Leigh's insightful lyrics and rich melodies deliver timeworn tales with a notable freshness, spurred further by star-studded support from the likes of Marty Stuart and Rodney Crowell.

Ain't Through Honky Tonkin' Yet resonates with a familiar warmth and wisdom you just can't get enough of.

- Ciara Bains

Read Holler's full review

16
Cut A Shine | 2023

Kentucky Blue - Brit Taylor

Brit Taylor isn't afraid of hard work – she even started her own cleaning business to fund the making of her sophomore record. Thankfully, her steadfast desire and belief to succeed has paid off with her finest work yet.

On Kentucky Blue, Taylor takes her modern countrypolitan sound and injects it with pop sensibility. Her colourful, witty songwriting thrives here, both in the vulnerability of the title track and 'If You Don't Wanna Love Me' to the droll humour of working girls anthem 'Rich Little Girls'.

Grounded and wry, Brit Taylor has been a golden nugget in the Appalachian mountains just waiting to be mined.

- RJ

Read Holler's full review

15
Blue Gown Records

#1 Zoo Keeper (of the San Diego Zoo) - Abby Hamilton

A refreshing, coming-of-age heartache album, Abby Hamilton holds a magnifying glass up to her life, thoughtfully examining her memories and relationships.

Though it generally steers itself towards contemporary country, Hamilton infuses #1 Zoo Keeper with subtle indie folk and rock; smooth electric riffs and chiming acoustic choruses accompanying her stories. It's the kind of waltzing soundtrack best enjoyed driving down the coast with the windows down and the speakers up.

- Gemma Donahoe

Read Holler's full review

14
Black River Entertainment | 2023

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good) - Kelsea Ballerini

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, and its For Good extension, found Kelsea Ballerini in rare form.

Simultaneously lamenting her failed marriage to Morgan Evans and stepping into a new chapter of love and self-empowerment, Ballerini demonstrated with flair just how much of force she is to be reckoned with.

Gut-wrenchingly vulnerable and soberingly honest, Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good) was a triumph with equal parts introspection, melancholy and a sizzling mic drop or two.

- LF

Read Holler's full review

13
Nonesuch Records | 2023

City of Gold - Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway

City of Gold is Molly Tuttle's most captivating record yet.

Her fifth full-length release captures the unwavering spirit and synchronicity of her live shows alongside Golden Highway with surprising vivacity. It makes for an engrossing and at times even euphoric listen, whether while chanting for legalisation on 'Downhome Dispensary' or urging to say goodbye to a relationship gone stale on 'Yosemite'.

A heady 48 minutes of joy, Tuttle is single handedly making bluegrass her own.

- RJ

Read Holler's full review

12
Warner | 2023

Brandy Clark - Brandy Clark

Brady Clark is one of best songwriters of our time, and while we aren’t lawyers, we’re pretty sure you could use this self-titled album as evidence in an actual court of law to prove that claim.

Smart, funny, heartbreaking and self-reflective, it has it all. We called it impeccable in our review and we stand by that. If you don’t agree, you can’t sit at our table, and we can’t be friends.

- BL

Read Holler's full review

11

White Buffalo - Ian Munsick

On White Buffalo, armed with his ethereal tenor and a vibrant palette of fiddle-soaked imagery of the Wyoming plains, Ian Munsick sets out to ‘bring the West to the rest’.

Equally as striking in its moments of poignance (‘Indian Paintbrush’, ‘White Buffalo’) as it is when he’s delivering hilarious, tongue-in-cheek rebuttals to an ex (‘Barn Burner’, ‘Cowshit in the Morning’), White Buffalo is an eclectic collection of vignettes that capture the warm hues of family life, faith and the rural landscape Munsick calls home.

- MM

Read Holler's full review

10
Easy Eye Sound | 2023

Yellow Peril - Nat Myers

It's no understatement to say that when Kentucky hailing Korean-American artist Nat Myers dropped his debut, Yellow Peril, the contemporary blues scene instantly evolved.

Weaving deeply intelligent poetry through road-worn tales of restless souls, Myers captures the timelessness of the blues - his gritty voice resonating above old-78 fleet riffs and complex rhythms - with standout flair and a uniquely modern nod.

- CB

Read Holler's interview with Nat Myers

9
RCA | 2023

Rustin' in the Rain - Tyler Childers

A clever collection of seven songs, Tyler Childers confessed he playfully stitched together Rustin' in the Rain as though he was pitching to Elvis Presley.

Sticking closely to the theme of love and the labor of relationships, the album switches between gentle, melancholic songs to upbeat bumpkin jigs – all romantic, thought-provoking and effortlessly catchy.

Putting himself in the shoes of an old-school writer, Childers elevated his work to new heights, producing his most cohesive and refined record yet.

- GD

Read Holler's full review

8
Warner Music Nashville | 2023

The Devil I Know - Ashley McBryde

Weaving country ditties, rock-tinged rompers and biker-bar riffs, The Devil I Know is full of arena-sized regrets, a couple of classic country odes and a few bouts of Ashley McBryde's signature vulnerability.

Sharing plenty of lessons learned – most notably on the evocative ‘Light On in the Kitchen’ – the album opens by explaining that you have to be ‘Made For This’. In just under 40 minutes, McBryde yet again proved that she is.

- LF

Read Holler's full review

7

Weathervanes - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

When Weathervanes arrived in June, it was instantly lauded as one of the best projects of the year, and rightfully so.

Finding the silver linings of the unknown and unforeseen paths life can take, the record sees Isbell showing off his unparalleled storytelling abilities while the charms and talents of his accompanying 400 Unit shine through in perfect unity like never before.

- LF

Read Holler's full review

6
Warner Records | 2023

Zach Bryan - Zach Bryan

Listening to Zach Bryan’s self-titled album is similar to buying a new toothpaste. It’s practically the same as the last one, but it’s full, clean and you’re no longer rolling the tube for the remnants.

For an album that explores the harsh realities of life, Zach Bryan offers an unusually fresh take, with glimmers of hope, on his usual American boy anthems.

Collaborations with The War and Treaty, Kacey Musgraves and Sierra Ferrell gave us something we hadn’t heard before but kept everything we love from Zach Bryan’s familiar sound.

- GD

Read Holler's full review

5
Birds of Chicago / Fantasy Records | 2023

The Returner - Allison Russell

The Returner is an album of joyful defiance and a battle call for cultural, political and environmental survival, taking in everything from '60s girl group pop and gospel to slamming '70s George Clinton-esque avant-funk and the jazzy, meticulous melodies of Miles Davis.

Melodically intricate, carefully performed and thematically overwhelming, The Returner is the kind of record that only comes around once in every generation.

- JO

Read Holler's full review

4
Mercury Nashville | 2023

Lover's Game - The War & Treaty

When Lover’s Game came out in March, we called it without a doubt the best album of the year so far and an antidote to the world’s sickly state.

Nine months on, Tanya and Michael’s love-heals-all belief is needed more than ever and is still one of our favourites in the office.

- BL

Read Holler's full review

3

Family Ties - Charles Wesley Godwin

The fact that Charles Wesley Godwin suffered from debilitating writers block when attempting to write his major label debut and the follow up to 2021's cult favourite, How The Mighty Fall, makes Family Ties even more of a remarkable album.

A 19-track epic that remains eternally grounded and humble in it's conception and delivery, Family Ties is a thematically striking and emotionally affecting reflection on loved ones, distance and the excruciating notion of ever losing those who make you who you are.

- RJ

Read Holler's full review

2

Lucky - Megan Moroney

As heartbreaking as it is hilarious, Lucky is filled with the kind of songs that made Dolly, Loretta and Kacey household names.

Fierce, funny and deliciously acerbic, it captures the best and worst bits of being in love, all delivered with a hairdresser’s convivial humour and down-to-earth conversational charm.

Heartbreak might be ungendered, but Lucky felt like a distinctly woman’s experience of it, and at a time when country music is having a moment with the Great-and-Serious-Male-Artist, there was something refreshingly subversive about Moroney's take on it.

- JO

Read Holler's full review

1
Big Loud Records | 2023

søn of dad - Stephen Wilson Jr.

søn of dad is a record for the ages.

A 22-song tour de force of country, grunge, rock and alternative-indie, Stephen Wilson Jr.’s major label debut is a testament to the life of his father; a document of grief presented with thematic prowess and lyrical candour.

It’s an album of contrasts on every level – intricate staccato guitar sparkles through heavily distorted riffs; faith shines a guiding light away from the devil; radio-ready hits punctuate darker cuts – allowing SWJ to capture the many twists, turns and layers of life with uniquely rich perspective.

In fact, søn of dad feels less of just an album, but more a euphoric, coming-of-age soundtrack. It’s cathartic, unconventional, invigorating, reflective and diverse. With it, SWJ embodies the artist he’d always been destined to become: a sage storyteller and unrivalled songwriter whose welcome arrival spurs a ground-breaking new energy in Nashville.

- CB

Read Holler's full review

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Written by Ciara Bains
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