I listened to hundreds of albums from this year and the top 40 ranking surprised even me! 

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I set out to listen to every country album I could find from 2023. After the first round of listening, I narrowed it down to 166 albums. Then, to help the elimination process, I got rid of EPs and subgenres such as folk, blues and Americana which brought me to 110. 

Despite my difficulty in ranking the top 40, no record seemed overly profound. Related to this, a trend I noticed is that many of the current mainstream female artists sound indistinguishable from one another. They are all talented but somewhat unoriginal. Now this could be more of a problem with today’s country radio than with the artists themselves, but that’s another article entirely.

At the end of the day, perhaps my love for 90s country hinders my judgment of current projects. That said, over this year I have grown to appreciate what today’s artists offer which is why I am eager to present the best albums of 2023.  

40. Carrie Underwood, “Denim and Rhinestones” 

Underwood may have the most recognizable voice of any female artist on country radio today, but “Denim and Rhinestones,” isn’t a showstopper. Most tracks are bland, but the storytelling in each song makes Underwood so easy to like and relate to.  

39. Easton Corbin, “Let’s Do Country Right” 

Corbin, the babyface Florida native, delivers the sweetest storytelling in his latest album. Although the production value could be higher, songs like “Marry that Girl,” make the project a worthwhile mention. 

38. Dierks Bentley, “Gravel and Gold” 

I might just like this album because it was constantly advertised on my Spotify, but “Gravel and Gold” shows that Bentley is still going strong in his career. He’s been active in the country music industry since 2001 and from there he’s consistently grown as an artist. 

37. Hardy, “the mockingbird and THE CROW”

Hardy put out one of the most shocking radio hits with “wait in the truck,” which features Lainey Wilson. The bold writing and production of this haunting song set the tone for this entire project.  

36. Muscadine Bloodline, “Teenage Dixie”

Few artists can fully embrace the country music genre while still sounding mainstream. Muscadine Bloodline, an independent duo from Alabama, has a bit of southern rock twang but retains a traditional, country sound. Each track has a retro, Y2K feel which takes listeners back to their teenage years. It also appeases a wide range of moods. From the unforgettable opening of “Me on You” to the gentle harmonies of “Azalea Blooms,” this album is a delight. I especially adore the lyrics in “Azalea Blooms,” which say, “Now I notice every detail / And darlin’ you’re to blame / Like the scar on your forehead / Or the way you sing / You might call ’em imperfections / But they’re my favorite things.” As someone who’s had a scar on her forehead from a diving board accident since she was eight, I feel seen. 

35. Bryan Martin, “Poets and Old Souls” 

When Bryan Martin was 19 he tried to take his own life. “But instead, the 35-year-old breakout country artist is here, turning his stories of past struggles into the ultimate tale of survival,” Martin’s bio says. Certainly, there is a feeling of enduring, almost spiritual, strength in each of Martin’s songs.  

34. Colter Wall, “Little Songs”  

If you’re looking for more of a classic country sound then Colter Wall is your guy. His rich, baritone voice is beyond his years and is reminiscent  of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. 

33. Ashley Cooke, “Shot in the Dark”

This spot was a toss-up between Ashley Cooke’s  album debut “Shot in the Dark,” Meghan Moronoey’s album debut “Lucky” and Alana Springsteen’s “Twenty Something.” Due to Cooke’s collaboration with Brett Young on “never til now,” her project is a notch above the rest. 

32. Brett Young, “Across the Sheets”

Speaking of Young, he’s a standout vocalist in the industry. “Across the Sheets,” doesn’t have the same punch as past works like “In Case You Didn’t Know” and “Mercy,” had. However, this album offers something of its own with the unique incorporation of gospel hymns in “Back to Jesus,” addictive storytelling in “Love Goes On” and a Tim McGraw cover of “Don’t Take the Girl.” 

 31. Brandon Davis, “Life’s Too Short” 

“Life’s Too Short” is full of witty writing and classic, steel guitar and fiddle, but is just modern enough for radio. The title track, “Life’s Too Short,” has the fun line “Take a little time, send a prayer up to the good Lord / P.S life’s too short to drive a Ford.” Additionally, “Leave it To Love,” is one of 2023’s prettiest songs and “Better By Now,” couldn’t be more relatable. 

30. Colbie Caillat, “Along the Way”

Caillat fits in perfectly with today’s female country artists because, like many of her counterparts, her album doesn’t take many risks and therefore isn’t a standout. That said, “I’ll Be Here,” a rendition with Sheryl Crow, of Caillat’s “Never Gonna Let You Down” is excellent. Now I’m biased because I used to sing the original version to my baby turtle every night, but the updated track really does summarize the pleasant tone of the album. Also, if Morgan Wallen is the current king of heartbreak country, Caillat is the queen with bittersweet songs like “Pretend,” “Blue,” “Meant For Me,” “Worth It” and “Two Birds.”  However, the closing track offers more optimism with “The Other Side,” which carries such a hopeful spirit, it belongs in a show’s season finale.  

29. Caitlyn Smith, “High and Low” 

Smith’s voice is prettier than silk and she’s also an incredible songwriter. She wrote Meghan Trainor and John Legend’s duet “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” Cassadee Pope’s “Wasting All These Tears” and Miley Cyrus’s “High.” These talents are in full force in her third album, especially on the track “Mississippi.”  

28. Jason Aldean, “Highway Desperado” 

While Aldean’s latest project didn’t wow me, the fifth track, “Try That in a Small Town” did. Putting aside the controversy, I think on a production level, it’s 2023’s second-greatest country radio hit (read on for the first) because it actually stands out. Lyrically it’s full of tropes that pander to country culture, but it’s an anthem that many have embraced. This has made it Aldean’s first number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. “Try That in a Small Town,” was written by Kelley Lovelace, Neil Thrasher, Tully Kennedy and Kurt Allison. All of these writers have been in the industry since the ’90s. Their writing has evolved, but they still know how to write a strong ballad. 

27. Brit Taylor, “Kentucky Blue”  

Taylor’s unique voice and style is a crossover between Taylor Swift, Martina McBride and Allison Krauss. Taylor was born near the Country Music Highway (Route 23) in Eastern Kentucky. This region was home to artists such as Loretta Lynn, Christ Stapelton, Patty Loveless and Tyler Childers. The Appalachian influence is evident throughout “Kentucky Blue.” However, unlike other artists who cling to a traditional sound, her songs aren’t too obscure for radio. Maybe that’s why Wide Open Country listed “Kentucky Blue” as among the most anticipated albums of the year. 

26. Walker Hayes, “Good With Me” 

In “Good with Me’s” title track, Hayes acknowledges his critics singing, “Buddy thinks everything I sing sucks / ‘Cause it doesn’t sound like Hank (nah, it don’t),” and I honestly love how Hayes doesn’t take himself too seriously. He shows that country music doesn’t have to be stereotyped. 

 “Good With Me” didn’t have as many bops as his past works have had, but there was a lot of fun storytelling. Such as in “9” the chorus says, “If you could just be a ‘9’ for a minute / One less than a dime for a minute / I could see you in a church dress / And it would hurt less and I could focus on the bible verses.” I should hate this song and the bro-country rap, but I can’t. Another favorite was “Taylor Swift,” which has the sweetest melody and lyrics. 

25. Chris Janson, “The Outlaw Side of Me”

Janson is perfect for Friday night bonfires and backroad driving. Songs on “The Outlaw Side of Me,” are no exception to this. There are honky tonk tunes like “Tap That” and “Hank the Hell Out of the Honkytonk,” but there are  also more mature themes of love and family in tracks such as “All I Need is You” and “Days in the Field.” “Days in the Field,” is especially a dream with its orchestral symphonies and sentimental storytelling. The chorus, “Since before you were born I always prayed for a tough little boy, it’s true…Son, you don’t know it now / I hope someday you do / Know I love days in the field with you,”  is the most precious love letter to a son. 

24. Darius Rucker, “Carolyn’s Boy”  

On “Carolyn’s Boy,” Rucker’s voice sounds just as good, if not better than it did when he started with Hootie and the Blowfish in 1986. A highlight of the album is Rucker’s collaboration with Chapel Hart, a country music group that placed fifth on “America’s Got Talent,” on “Ol’ Church Hymn.” Other shining moments include the beautiful guitar picking in “Never Been Over” and the standing ovation-worthy vocals in “Life Me Up.”

23. Victoria Bailey, “A Cowgirl Rides On” 

Bailey’s bio reads, “Like all classic bluegrass and country songs, Bailey’s songs are atmospheric, telling stories of love gone wrong or evoking the memory of a special place or celebrating the joys of a special relationship.” No better description could be given to “A Cowgirl Rides On.” The title track is like the trailer to an epic, historic tale. Each song takes the listener on a journey through mandolins, pedal steels, banjos and fiddles.

22. Tyler Childers, “Rustin In The Rain” 

I didn’t get the hype around Childers until I heard “In Your Love.” This touching ballad is reminiscent of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and has almost an 80s feel with a piano intro and synthesizers. I also was intrigued by “Luke 2:8-10.” I didn’t realize it at first, but it’s a Christmas song and a humorous one at that. Then there was “Phone Calls and Emails,” which reminded me of “Last Dance,” a masterpiece sung by Conway Twitty.  

21. Dan and Shay, “Bigger Houses” 

Dan and Shay are mainstream, modern sounding and in my opinion, undeniably country. Their harmonies are like butter, especially on “Missing Someone” and “For The Both of Us.” Each track offers something but two of my favorites are “Then Again” and  “What Took You So Long,” which are both nods to God’s perfect plan. Another standout is “We Should Get Married,” a delusional, love-at-first-sight thrill ride. This track reminds me of the 2006 Steve Holy hit, “Brand New Girlfriend,” and impresses me with its piano inclusion. 

20. Jake Worthington, “Jake Worthington” 

Season six “The Voice” runner up, Jake Worthington” literally made my jaw drop with the first track, “State You Left Me In.” I couldn’t believe such mature vocals were coming out of this relatively new artist and I had never heard something so influenced by 90s country. The rest of the tracks were less impressive but I trust he’ll give us more in his next project.  

19. ERNEST, “Flower Shops (The Album)” 

ERNEST has many credits to his name having written for Morgan Wallen, Chris Lane, Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, etc. He’s also made a name for himself as a vocalist. Apple Music writes regarding his album description, “Old-school country gets a reboot on the crooner’s expanded edition.” This is seen throughout the album and on the radio hit “Flower Shops” featuring Wallen. 

18. Chase Rice, “I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell

If you look at all of Rice’s previous album covers, you’ll see he’s the opitome of bro-country. But that’s not the case for “I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell.” Rice took a risk and reimagined himself with this project. He hasn’t abandoned his Friday night party image, but he’s growing up. This is evident in “Bench Seat” and “Life Part of Livin’” where Rice mourns that college years go by so quickly, but he realizes that settling down isn’t such a bad thing.

The track I’ve had on repeat since its release is “Key West & Colorado.” This song reminds me of my dad who lived in Key West for years. The lyrics “Somewhere between Key West and Colorado / I found God in a gold Silverado / Had to get a little lost to get a little found” and “Somewhere between that sand and the snow / Salt in the air and salt on the road / Finally let myself let her go” hit so close to home it’s as if Rice knew me all along.  

17. Logan Halstead, “Dark Black Coal” 

If you’re a fan of Tyler Childers or of  Zach Bryan (who both released albums this year), then you’ll like Halstead. “Dark Black Coal,” doesn’t have the same production value as others, but he’s a diamond in the rough. At the mere age of 19, Halstead’s voice is magical. It enchants on songs “Kentucky Sky” and “Dark Black Coal.” The prodigy also wrote nine original tracks on the album.

16. Parker McCollum, “Never Enough” 

It’s hard to not be attracted to McCollum as an artist. He’s the poster child of a clean-cut cowboy. Beyond the album cover, his voice shines brightest  in “Things I Never Told You.” This track along with “Lessons From An Old Man” are two much-needed ballads in today’s country. Overall, I was more wowed by the composition than the lyrics, but I did find myself attentively listening to every word. By the time I finished the album “Never Enough,” I felt like I watched a movie of McCollum’s life. His voice  tells a story so well that I can’t help but connect to him. 

15. Ian Munsick, “White Buffalo” 

Until I listened to “White Buffalo” I only knew Munsick from his song, “Long Live Cowgirls.” I am glad I listened beyond that.  Munsick’s latest album features two of the most unique voices in all of country music– Munisck and Vince Gill. Gill is featured on, “Field of Dreams,” a song that pays tribute to one’s family history. Additionally “Dig” is another nice listen with a bit of 2010s pop reminiscences. 

14. Jade Eagleson, “Do It Anyway” 

Although Eagleson has three albums under his belt, I didn’t know he existed until this project. I was definitely missing out on this artist who’s gifted with the 90s cowboy look and an incredible writing ability. For starters, the storytelling in the opening track,“Neon Dreamin,” was so engrossing I just couldn’t wait to hear the next lyric. There were also boppy line dance songs like “Shakin’ In Them Boots” and “Do It Anyway.” Another fun moment was Eagleson’s One Direction cover of “Steal My Girl.” The album’s top tracks though have to be “Telluride” and “A Lot in a Little Town.” 

13. Larry Fleet, “Earned It” 

Fleet came onto the scene in 2018. Beforethat, he was a construction worker who never expected to find success in country music. His second album, “Stack of Records,” is still his most brilliant work, especially with the cut, “Where I find God.” On “Earned It,” there wasn’t a single track I disliked, but I wasn’t wild about anything either. I enjoyed the uplifting songwriting on “Angels Were Gone,” “There’s A Waylon,” “Much to Talk About” and “Grow,” but the best writing is found on “25-8.” The message is similar to Scotty McCreery’s hit, “Five More Minutes.” In “25-8,” Fleet wishes the good moments lasted a little longer. Lyrics like “All my favorite stories would have one more page / If 24/7 was 25/8” and “Whole town freaked out when we took it all the way to state / We practiced 24/7 and lost 25-8” strike right into the soul. 

12. Riley Green, “Ain’t My Last Rodeo”  

Judging from comments I read on various social media posts, this was the year every woman decided Green was country music’s number one hunk. Putting looks aside, Green’s vocals and songwriting are wonderful in “Ain’t My Last Rodeo.” The title track, which is the album’s only solo-written track, is the highlight. The chorus “When life throws you off your saddle / Don’t think you lost the battle / Just climb back up and turn ‘nother row / The good Lord might wanna call this cowboy home / But this ain’t my last rodeo,” is enough proof for me that Green should write more.  

11. Chris Stapelton, “Higher” 

Stapelton could sing a telephone book and he’d probably still make the rank. Indeed, each track on “Higher,” showcased how remarkable Stapelton’s vocals are, but “It Takes a Woman,” amazed me the most. I didn’t enjoy “Higher” as much as I did its predecessor “Starting Over,” but Stapelton delivered such a strong performance on it that it deserved due credit.  

10. Tyler Hubbard, “Tyler Hubbard”  

Former Florida Georgia Line (FGL) member, Tyler Hubbard, didn’t necessarily reimagine himself on his solo debut, but that’s not to say he hasn’t grown up from his “king of bro-country” days. Especially on the “Way Home,” he’s thematically starting to remind me of Jordan Davis and Thomas Rhett and all of their dad vibes. Still, he’s masterfully retained the right amount of bro-country in songs like “Out This Way,” “How Red” and “35’s.” He’s also kept influences country-pop on tracks “Dancin’ In the Country” and “By The Way.”  I enjoyed the lyrics and vocals on “Miss My Daddy” and “Inside And Out” as well. Nothing though can beat “5 Foot 9.” This is the only country song I can get my sister to listen to. Honestly, who could ever resist that majestic opening?

9. Austin Snell, “Muddy Water Rockstar” 

From bro-country to boyfriend country, there have been many trends in country music. There’s a new unnamed trend that artists like Austin Snell, Bailey Zimmerman, Austin Williams, Dallas Smith, Corey Kent and Chase Matthew have all embraced. These alternative country rock artists are all young, rough, and angry at some girl who’s done them wrong. Out of those similar to him, Snell has the coolest song titled “Pray All the Way Home.” Then there’s “Duffle Bag” which has warm vocal runs all throughout. I felt like a coach on “The Voice,” who with a single note, heard just what they needed to turn their chair around. Listening to this song, I found Snell’s album climbing through the ranks. I was awestruck by every track. He might just have the most impressive voice out of any young country artist and as a songwriter, he’s talented too. 

8. Nate Smith, “Nate Smith” 

The past three years, Smith’s gotten a lot of people’s attention on TikTok. He didn’t really catch mine until I listened to his debut album’s opening track, “If I Could Stop Loving You.” After I listened to a few more songs, I realized his voice is a complete earworm. Each record’s composition is catchy and songs like “World on Fire” and the closing track, “Love is Blind,” are unforgettable. His voice has a familiar radio sound, but when he sings certain phrases, it’s so original that I don’t think I’ve   heard anything like it.

7. Warren Zeiders, “Pretty Little Poison” 

Every morning my alarm wakes me up to Zeider’s cover of Craig Campbell’s “Outskirts of Heaven.” Zeiders’s acoustic cover album is commendable, especially his interpretation of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up.” I never listened to him beyond that until last week. In “Pretty Little Poison,” Zeiders sticks to stripped down, raw and gritty performances. Apple Music writes in his album description that he is “the latest in a growing contingent of emerging country artists, mostly men, who eschew the pop and hip-hop influences so prevalent on country radio in favor of traditionally informed, often vulnerable music.” This girl is a new fan of Zeiders as well due to just that factor. 

The best discovery was “Pittsburgh Steel.” It’s an ode to not only Zeiders’s home state but mine too. The chorus gives chills when Zeiders sings, “So go on Pittsburgh, go on Pittsburgh / Steal my girl / Wreck my heart / Mess me up / Hit me hard / Gonna get back up / We both know the deal / You can’t break what’s strong / As Pittsburgh Steel.” Equally as magnificent was “Inside Your Head,” which was originally written by Chris Stapelton and I swear, by the heavens too. I had this album ranked at number 14 but as I kept listening to it, it started to race up the ranks. Other highlights are songs “West Texas Weather” and “Cowboy Rides Away” which have the soul of a ’90s R&B song. I could hear throughout these songs how, as Zeiders described to apple music, he takes inspiration from all genres. 

6. Jordan Davis, “Bluebird Days” 

If there’s bro-country, boyfriend country, there should be dad country and Davis should be the king of it. On “Bluebird Days,” Davis embraces married life and fatherhood. These themes are front and center in the album’s biggest radio hits “Buy Dirt,” “Next Thing You Know” and “What My World Spins Around.” There’s a lot of other underrated moments in this album too.  If you’re looking for Davis’s lyrical highlights then “Bluebird days,” “Midnight Crisis,” “Part of It” and “Tucson Too Late” are your go to tracks. 

5. Luke Combs, “Gettin’ Old”  

I had a few criticisms of “Gettin’ Old” back in April, but it’s been a steady listen for myself and for many others. It peaked at number four on the US Billboard 200 chart and charted number 20 on the US Billboard 200 Year-End chart. The album spawned hits “Growin’ Up and Gettin’ Old,” the Tracy Chapman cover “Fast Car” and “Love You Anyway.” I gushed over “Love You Anyway,” in my original review and I still daydream about that song and “5 Leaf Clover,” today. Listening again to all of these tracks though, I really value how Combs is subtly leading the traditional country movement.  

4. Bailey Zimmerman, “Religiously”  

No one is as good at first impressions as Zimmerman. Nearly every track on “Religiously” opens with an addictively catchy guitar lick. Often I repeatedly play the first thirteen seconds of “Rock and A Hard Place,” a song that also has some incredible vocal riffs. Then there’s title track “Religiously” which captures the passion of heartbreak without being too sappy. You’ll want to cry out lines like “And now I’m in the back of the church / Begging God just to stop the hurt” and then skip to track six to belt out all of “Fall in Love.” Each track takes listeners through the stages of grief, finishing with “Is This Really Over” (the stage of denial). As many on Zimmerman’s TikTok have said, I don’t know who broke his heart, but selfishly, I’d like to thank them for inspiring this album debut. It’s one of the rare cases where I don’t want to skip a single track. 

3. Cody Johnson, “Leather”

I would argue that Johnson is Nashville’s current greatest treasure. Throughout all nine of Johnson’s albums he’s stayed true to pure country. Many artists try to appease country traditionalists by trying too hard to copy someone else and many composers for radio emphasize other genres such as rock, pop, hip hop or rap. These instances aren’t bad but I want at least one artist who has the bright, airy feel of today’s country with the classic sound of the fiddle, pedal steel guitar and piano. In my opinion, Johnson is today’s most successful artist in mastering this balance. 

Johnson’s previous album, “Human: The Double Album” produced what I see as the top songs of the decade making it nearly impossible to beat. However, “Leather” might come in a close second. If you love ’90s country or if you’re a dad and want to cry, then give “Dirt Cheap” a listen. Or if you’re currently heartbroken and want to cry then listen to “Watching my Old Flame.”  Additionally, “Leather” has a line dance tune “Work Boots” and a Jelly Roll collaboration in the song “Whisky Bent.” My personal favorite though is “The Painter.” With lyrics such as “Got every sunset that she’s ever seen memorized / Saves them away for a rainy day or stormy night / The sky is brighter lookin’ at it through her eyes,” this track is simply a ray of childlike joy.  

2. Restless Roads, “Last Rodeo” 

Restless Roads is the gen z version of Dan and Shay, Rascal Flatts and Love and Theft. The trio  gives off the vibe of former college athletes turned TikTok artists. And usually, I don’t eat up social media trends, but I’m obsessed with them. Because of this, I believe what Restless Roads singer, Zach Beeken, told CMT.  He said, “The dream from day one was to be the biggest band in country music. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.” 

In discussing their debut album, Restless Road’s member, Colton Pack, told “The Tennessean,” “We wanted it to be that when you listen to these songs that only we could have done them. You couldn’t hear any other artists ever doing them, because that’s what I feel like makes somebody special.” To Pack’s credit their debut is beyond special. They are the defining sound of this generation’s country music. Better yet, lyrically because each member is in a different stage of life, “Last Rodeo,” has something for everyone. If their boyfriend country tracks “Growing Old With You” and “You Don’t Have to Love Me,” make you want to hurl, then Restless Roads is here to help. Left on the side of the road? Then listen to “Could’ve Been a Love Song” or “Easy for You to Say” for some personal storytelling or to the hauntingly prolific “Roll Tide Roll. ” On the ladder, the trio’s harmonies sting the heart as they sing, “Roll tide roll / Wash the pain right out my soul / I don’t wanna miss her no more / But I can’t help it.” Additionally, if you’re mad about getting dumped then “Leave Them Boots On” and “10 Things,” are your anthems and if you’re the remorseful dumper then “Go Get Her” is for you. 

There is wisdom and hope in this album too. The title track empowers with the chorus, “I might be bruised, but I ain’t broke. / Back in the saddle, back on the road. / This ain’t the first time or the last time that I’ll ride, ride, ride / Off to the next, straight out the gate / You think I’m down, but just you wait / I’ll dust off this heart, put on a show / This ain’t my last rodeo.” Restless Roads also wrote songs to describe seasons of waiting titled “Sundown Somewhere” and “On My Way.” “On My Way,” is the closing track accompanied by a nostalgia-filled music video. I’m convinced that no album has ever come to such a fitting close. If there’s only one song you listen to from this countdown, then it should be that one. 

1. Morgan Wallen, “One Thing at a Time”  

I realize I’m destroying my chances of ever being taken seriously as a country music critic by listing “One Thing at a Time” as the number one country album of the year. However, seeing that it smashed records, had three number one hits and was number one on the Billboard 200 Albums Year-End charts, Wallen must’ve done something right. Now just because everyone’s jumping off a bridge doesn’t mean I should too, but I’ve accepted that God’s cracked the formula to making a country music sensation.

During the summer I investigated Wallen’s success. I found that Wallen is just different enough that young people embrace him, believing it’s cool to be country, but he’s still mainstream enough to fit in with many genres. His vocals are so versatile he has a universal appeal. Wallen’s rugged enough to sing like Zimmerman, but tame enough to attract a less angsty crowd. This, I believe, has made Wallen commercially (though probably not critically) the George Strait and the Garth Brooks of our decade. 

This placement may come as a shock to some since back in March, I critiqued “One Thing at a Time,” pretty hard. Although every song’s grown on me at least a little, I stand by my previous critiques. Honestly, this ranking might just be an insult to what I think was an unimpressive year in country music. Regardless, I’ve realized that throughout the year, I kept returning to “One Thing at a TIme.” With 36 songs and 49 contributing writers, it makes sense Wallen struck gold somewhere. He certainly landed upon it with “’98 Braves,” which for me, is 2023’s number one country song. I still cannot get over the geniusness of “Yea, you win some, you lose some / It ain’t always home runs / And that’s just the way life plays / If we were a team and love was a game / We’d been the ’98 Braves.” There’s simply this down- to-earth, conversational tone that “’98 Braves” and really all of Wallen’s songs have. At the end of the day, I hate to admit that Wallen has become a country music icon and no one can take that away. 

What’s to come 

Although some records were a let down, 2023 was a huge year for country music. 2024 should be a big one too. I’m most anticipating Conner Smith’s debut album, “Smoky Mountains” expected Jan. 26. Other artists I predict we’ll be hearing more from include Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown, Gabby Barrett, Mackenzie Carpenter and Randall King.  

A broader hope is that 2024 delivers what I think 2023 didn’t, which is that one mind blowing, otherworldly song divinely inspired and composed by geniuses. 

It’ll also be fascinating to see 2024’s trends. From what I’ve seen, country music for decades has gone through the trend of straying away from traditional country and then returning to it. I expect the more classic country sound to continue its resurgence. However, I’ve evolved to believe that some country music should break boundaries, sounding so new that no one can define it by one particular genre. I have a feeling the new year has enough room for that too.