10 Best Country Albums of 2023
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10 Best Country Albums of 2023 – Country Now
2023 has brought on an exciting array of new releases, record-breaking achievements, and introductions to some of country music’s brightest rising stars. Among this year’s batch of memorable albums, many artists refined their signature sounds that have continued to define their well-established careers, while others opted to make a bold statement by stepping beyond the bounds of the genre to explore new elements of their artistry. In addition to the twang-fueled melodies, acoustic guitar strums and electrifying drum beats, songwriting hit an especially strong point as fans got an in-depth look at today’s country stars who are guiding the future of the industry.
Jelly Roll, Kelsea Ballerini, and Morgan Wallen are responsible for creating some of the most talked about projects this year as they honed in on themes specific to their personal journeys. These are just a few of the stand-out names that have made significant strides in their work within the last 365 days, but there are plenty more artists to praise for their dedication to creating new music for the worldwide community of country music lovers.
New releases are slowing down as the end of the year approaches and to celebrate, we have compiled a list of 10 of the best country albums of 2023. Find the complete list below in no particular order.
Cody Johnson – Leather
When putting together his latest collection of songs, Cody Johnson had a goal to assemble a purely country album that reflects the current state of his career and his personal life simultaneously. In the end, he did just that with Leather, a 12-track project made up entirely of outside cuts that is surely something to be proud of. Johnson has never been one to back down when it comes to expressing his pride for country music and the roster of stars that carry it from generation to generation. He tapped a few of his fellow country stars Jelly Roll and Brooks & Dunn to help him achieve these goals in songs like “Long Live Country Music” and “Whiskey Bent.” The entirety of this album was built around the title track, which serves as an unwavering example of what fans can continue to expect from Johnson’s career – an all-encompassing proclamation of his humble cowboy lifestyle in Texas paired with his love for country music.
Chris Stapleton – Higher
Chris Stapleton’s most recent album, Higher, was officially released on November 10 as a profession of love to his wife, Morgane Stapleton. Upon first listen, it’s evident that the collection elevates Stapleton’s signature sound while heightening his undertones of bluesy rock and sultry grooves. Before the album’s official release, the country star gave fans a glimpse into the profound themes of love, heartbreak and trust through songs like “It Takes A Woman,” “Think I’m In Love With You,” and his single, “White Horse,” the highest charting debut for the country superstar at Mediabase with an entry at No. 31. Additionally, he interlaced all the alt-rock, country, and tenderhearted songs with the title track, “Higher,” a solo write that’s been waiting in the wings since 2001. The entire 14-track collection was recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studio A and serves as the transition into Stapleton’s next, passion-driven chapter of his successful music career.
Megan Moroney – Lucky
One of Nashville’s brightest up-and-coming female stars, Megan Moroney made her grand entrance into country music with the release of her debut album, Lucky, produced by Kristian Bush. Right off the bat, the Georgia native opens with a dose of lighthearted fun inspired by a true story in “I’m Not Pretty” before moving into the previously released title track that finds her gambling on some poor decisions. The project wouldn’t be complete without her Platinum-certified, No. 1 single, “Tennessee Orange” that’s earned a spot in the top 10 on Country radio. The remainder of the 13 tracks provide a clever take on self-reflection, honest conversations, the rollercoaster of falling in and out of love and more. These intimate themes that come with being a twenty-something paired with her raw yet silky vocals are what cements Moroney’s destiny for stardom.
Jelly Roll – Whitsitt Chapel
Jelly Roll confronts any perceived notions or judgments about his troubled past while proving his unparalleled talent with his history-making, debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel. Named after the church the Antioch native grew up attending, Jelly Roll’s 13-track project was released June 2 via BMG/Stoney Creek Records and features fan favorites like “Need A Favor” and “She.” Additionally, he breaks up his signature country rock-sound with three collaborations featuring artists like Brantley Gilbert and Struggle Jennings on “Behind Bars,” Yelawolf on “Unlive,” and Lainey Wilson who joined him in recreating the smash hit, “Save Me.” Through each of these songs and more, listeners hear an exploration of Jelly Roll’s inner thoughts as he enters a new era of growth and discovers gratitude in all he has accomplished for the underdogs of the world. Jelly Roll doesn’t fail to shy away from singing about the real problems of real people who have found themselves clinging on to the hope that they will be able to fight through any shame or regret and turn their life around. Right out of the gate, this project saw success as it debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Album Charts and Top 3 on the Billboard 200 all-genre chart with 90,000 album equivalents, thus placing Jelly Roll at the biggest opening week for a first entry on the Top Country Albums charts since 2017.
Luke Combs – Gettin’ Old
When putting together his fourth studio album, Luke Combs took a good hard look at his life and the journey he’s taken to get to this point as an award-winning artist and proud father of two. While his latest collection titled Gettin’ Old is technically a stand-alone project, it acts as a continuation or second chapter of his 2022 project, Growin’ Up. The initial proof lies within the album covers seeing as how they connect as one cohesive image when placed side by side. This shows the shift in his priorities and how instead of spending his nights at the bars, he now welcomes the wholesome nights at home with his family. Combs poured his complete heart and soul into this coming-of-age project that celebrates his current stage of life while also mourning how things used to be. Gettin’ Old had great triumphs on the charts as it sat at No. 1 at country radio for 5 consecutive weeks and spawned several smash hits including his 17th No. 1 single with “Love You Anyway,” which claimed the top spot on the Mediabase Country Airplay chart as well as the Billboard Country Airplay chart and the 2X platinum No. 1 hit, “Fast Car,” which has been GRAMMY nominated for Best Country Solo Performance and named the CMA Song of the Year and Single of the Year
Jordan Davis – Bluebird Days
With Jordan Davis’ sophomore album, Bluebird Days, listeners are faced with an incredibly raw and authentic collection of stories that reflect the past, the present, and the future of Davis’ journey. It’s clear that when writing these tracks, the Louisiana native dove headfirst into the depths of his truest emotions only to pull out an array of core values and snippets into his world. Named after a duck hunting term that reflects “cold, clear skies, sunshine, and a strong north wind,” the album opens on a lighter note with the upbeat sanction of “Damn Good Time,” a tune that balances out the remaining list of heavy topics that he brings to the surface before landing on the final track, his CMA award-winning hit, “Buy Dirt.” In between, Bluebird Days also features a slew of fan-favorites including “Money Isn’t Real,” “No Time Soon, “Part Of It,” “Next Thing You Know,” “Midnight Crisis” with Danielle Bradbery, and his fifth career No. 1 single, “What My World Spins Around.”
Kelsea Ballerini – Rolling Up The Welcome Mat
Nearly three months after finalizing her divorce from fellow country star Morgan Evans, Kelsea Ballerini set her emotional pain free through her vulnerable masterpiece, Rolling Up The Welcome Mat. The songstress holds nothing back as she documents the painful process of separating from the person who was supposed to be her forever. Through songs like “Penthouse,” “Mountain With A View,” “Blindsided” and more, Ballerini offers a painfully honest representation of what she was feeling at the time of the split that was so heavily consumed by the public eye. She mustered up enough courage to mourn this chapter of her life while also showing fans her side of the story through the GRAMMY-nominated six-song EP and accompanying short film. Anyone who has been through heartbreak, divorce, or the painful process of falling out of love can relate to and even find peace in this journey that admirably covers themes of loneliness, breaking points, realizations, and reflection.
Morgan Wallen – One Thing At A Time
On Friday (March 3), Morgan Wallen unveiled his highly anticipated One Thing At A Time project, which marks the first full-length release since his 2021 Dangerous: The Double Album. While his last project was a hard act to follow, Wallen came out stronger than ever with 36 new songs that tell it like it is while covering late-night anthems, personal stories from his small-town upbringing, heartbreak ballads, his journey of fatherhood and more. After spending 16 nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 on the weekly Billboard 200 before claiming the year-end No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums recap, his third studio album claimed the title of Billboard’s Top Country Album of the Year. Along with the album seeing success as a whole, it also spawned the chart-shattering “Last Night,” which is currently leading the 2023 Hot 100 Songs recap. This has turned into a monumental feat for Wallen as he is the first solo male to have headed the weekly Hot Country Songs list since 1959. Before listeners even have the chance to dive into the large track list, they are greeted with the album art, which captures Wallen in front of the home of his late Mamaw (grandmother) in Sneedville, Tennessee. Once inside the album, Wallen offers a stark delivery of his signature sound and stand-out vocals through chart-topping songs and duets with Eric Church, HARDY, and Ernest.
Ashley Cooke – Shot In The Dark
Ashley took a Shot In The Dark with her debut album (no pun intended). With each track, the rising superstar gives fans a closer look into the evolution of her personal growth and the vulnerable chapters that she’s experienced over the years. It’s almost as if Cooke takes listeners inside her ups and downs as a twenty-something to showcase her truth behind gut-wrenching heartbreak ballads, empowering spells of freedom, and self-reflecting anthems. The album serves as an outlet for her to showcase the current era of her talent and creativity as she executes nothing but raw, emotional deliveries that are backed by her signature country-pop sound. Serving as a co-writer on 20 out of the 24 total tracks, Ashley Cooke has unintentionally created an album that’s on its way to becoming the longest debut album by a female Country artist to date. In addition to the stacked lineup of fan-favorites offered throughout the project, Cooke took things to the next level by featuring several of her fellow thriving artists on songs like “see you around” with Nate Smith, “mean girl” with Colbie Caillat, “what are you on fire about” with Jackson Dean, and “never til now” with Brett Young.
Ashley McBryde – The Devil I Know
Fans got the first taste of Ashley McBryde’s latest project, The Devil I Know, through songs like “Learned To Lie,” “Made for This,” “Cool Little Bars,” and her latest single, “Light On In The Kitchen.” The entire collection was released on September 8 via Warner Music Nashville with a total of 11 new tracks that have opened up a whole new side to McBryde’s artistry. She entrances listeners with her rich vocals and continues to prove her undeniable songwriting skills by showcasing her captivating ability to deliver stories with lyrics pulled straight from her heart and real-life experiences. This is especially true in songs like “Learned To Lie,” which illustrates a raw look inside a broken household that instilled lessons of lying to protect your heart from pain lurking around the corner, “Light On in the Kitchen,” which honors the strong woman in life who never fail to be there to lend some advice, and “Cool Little Bars,” an ode to the dives, holes in the wall and local establishments that welcomed the Arkansas native in the early days of her career.
Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.