We're creeping ever closer to the end of the year with another round of new album releases this week. As we begin to even consider the question of what our favourite album of the year may be, there are still plenty of potential gold standard records that have yet to be released, and boy are we excited for them. This week is certainly no different!
Riley Green returns with what is perhaps surprisingly only his second full-length in Ain't My Last Rodeo. The 'Different 'Round Here' singer recently told Holler that he didn't want "people to ride around and cry all day long!" Does this new record deliver on that? Maxim Mower finds out.
Alongside Green, there's the debut album from one Holler's new favourites on the scene, Abby Hamilton. Another treasured export of the Kentucky music community, has the singer-songwriter gifted us a piece of gold? Jof Owen goes exploring.
If that wasn't enough, we've got our hands on the exciting new collaborative project from Charlie Worsham, the second part of Strays from Margo Price and the fifth album from Jonathon Linaberry, perhaps best known as The Bones of J.R. Jones.
You know what time it is folks... Let's delve in.
As someone who’s spent most of 2023 as the direct opener for country music’s two biggest names, it feels somewhat strange that Riley Green’s new project, Ain’t My Last Rodeo, is only his sophomore album.
The palette he draws on is similar to that of his 2018 debut, Different Round Here, with Green compiling a traditionalist montage of Mossy-Oak greens, Coors Light ambers and faded Wrangler blues.
Although the subject matter does not deviate from the ‘lifestyle country’ Riley Green has become synonymous with, the Alabama native delves into his roots, heartbreak and grief with newfound deftness and maturity.
Where his Double-Platinum hit, ‘I Wish Grandpas Never Died’, cursorily scratched the surface of Green’s pain at losing his grandfathers, the new album’s title-track, ‘My Last Rodeo’, digs so much deeper, transporting the listener to a hospital bed-side to hear poignant final words.
Green’s weathered, charismatic delivery brings gravitas to the sentimental ‘Ain’t My Damn to Give’ and ‘Damn Country Music’, while he seamlessly ups the ante on the likes of ‘They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That No More’ and the Jelly Roll-assisted ‘Copenhagen in a Cadillac’.
Although Jelly Roll’s other recent car-themed collaboration spluttered and stalled, ‘Copenhagen in a Cadillac’ fires on all cylinders. It serves as one of the many highlights in a refreshingly varied and affecting record from Riley Green, cementing his megastar-elect status.
Rating: 8 / 10
Review By: Maxim Mower
There’s magic in those Kentucky hills. Tucked away in a studio up there for five months, Abby Hamilton definitely found it. Existing in a sort of fantasy world impervious to the whims of modern production, #1 Zookeeper (of the San Diego Zoo) sounds like a record made shuttered off from the rest of the world.
It’s a warm and truly lovely sounding record, one full of swooning, softly chiming guitars and serene Laurel Canyon folk-pop touches that bring Natalie Prass or Caitlin Rose to mind. Her sung-spoken conversational delivery, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Courtney Barnett’s insouciance and the forthrightness of Sheryl Crow.
There’s a deep, melancholic clarity to her observations on life, as she ruefully unpicks past relationships with a candour that makes them feel like secret whispered conversations she’s having with herself inside her head.
With the casual slacker charm of Jess Williamson and Faye Webster, Hamilton and her band cruise effortlessly through the Americana landscape of the last thirty years, taking in a little bit of Lucinda Williams and Roseanne Cash here and there. There are some stop offs at the 90’s jangly indie folk of Shawn Colvin and Mary Lou Lord along the way too, arriving at the end with something truly original and of itself.
One of the most refreshingly out of step voices in country music has made one of the year’s most genuinely brilliant and beautiful records. Sometimes you need to step away from the world for a while to see it for how it truly is.
Rating: 9 / 10
Review By: Jof Owen
Charlie Worsham has spent the last decade wearing several different musical hats. He’s stepped forward as an artist in his own right, while also pursuing successful careers as a musician and songwriter, at the heart of it all simply doing what he loves. His new project, Compadres, encompasses this perfectly.
The five-pack of star-studded songs, featuring duets with heavy hitters Lainey Wilson, Luke Combs, Dierks Bentley, Elle King and Kip Moore, finds the musicianship at the forefront. Without a synth track or 808 beat in earshot, the organic instrumentation takes centerstage on Compadres, and it's one of the most undeniably, categorically country sounding projects to hit the mainstream this year.
With this authentic, traditional sound, Worsham's clean vocals weave beautifully with each collaborator’s take. From the perfectly blended, Wilson-assisted 'Handful of Dust' to the visually evocative ode to his home state of Mississippi on 'Creekwater Clear', it's a masterfully balanced and neatly packaged EP that’s not trying to either commercially reach for the stars or be overly entrancing.
Though only five songs, Compadres feels like the gift that keeps on giving, as you find new charms with every listen. It's understated, yet effective, and though he's joined by names that should effortlessly steal the show, Worsham remains the star throughout.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Review By: Lydia Farthing
Offering three acts of musical exploration into love, grief and acceptance, Margo Price is back with Strays II, a nine-track expansion to her acclaimed January LP Strays.
Described as a “psychedelic journey… down the blurry rabbit hole of time and space”, Price weaves lyrical pearls of wisdom through 70s classic rock-inspired songwriting, packaged and delivered with her characteristic insouciance. The album also features collaborations with Jeremy Ivey, Buck Meek, Ny Oh and producer Jonathan Wilson.
Though it's an expansive album, it feels as though it's lacking in any real stand-out tracks. They're all lovely songs, but nothing hits you in the way you'd hope a stone cold banger would. It seems to take itself very seriously throughout, and doesn't necessarily offer much levity. Not that that's essential from an album, but given the fact that the record was born from a six-day mushroom trip, it all feels a little sober.
Rating: 6.5 / 10
Review By: Ciara Bains
Slow Lightning, the fifth album from The Bones of J.R. Jones, was born not out of a sudden moment. Brewing slowly since the release of his 2018 album Ones To Keep Close, Jonathon Linaberry has carved and crafted another emotionally explicit and mature record that thrives in it's disquiet nature.
The range of sounds that the record offers is pleasantly seamless and considered. Linaberry eases from the weary Autumnal folk of 'Animals' into the sinful, mechanic jive of 'Heaven Help Me' with fidgety yet purposeful desire.
Frequent collaborator Kiyoshi Matsuyama's production channels that restlessness into something musically raw and exposing - unafraid to layer Linaberry's tracks with a variety of sounds and feelings, they hone his tempestuousness. It makes for a surprisingly placating listen - Linaberry's edginess crafting something serrated yet fulfilling.
That feeds into his lyricism, with Linaberry coming across as a hardened veteran of life's hurdles who still has a desire to continue making those leaps. 'Salt Sour Sweet' encapsulates this, with Linaberry looking back on his life and it's ups and downs and documenting it with an acute sense of the present, never giving up on what could be around the corner.
Sage yet inquisitive, Slow Lightning jolts you when you least expect it. As you bathe in it's vast, escapist sounds, Linaberry lingers there within the deep, nonchalantly reminding you that the restlessness that inhabits us is what makes us feel alive.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Review By: Ross Jones
For more information and dates of all country albums being released in 2023, see below: