Best Americana Albums of 2023
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The 15 Best Americana Albums of 2023

The best Americana albums are a multicultural, mixed-gender, cross-genre lineup of music that draws from country, folk, rock, blues, roots music, and bluegrass.

8. Tommy Prine – This Far South (Thirty Tigers)

Tommy Prine’s debut album, This Far South, shines with intelligent songwriting, and the music successfully incorporates a wide range of Americana-type styles rooted in folk to punk. Prine can sneer convincingly on one track and plead despondently on another while remaining in character. The first-person protagonist convincingly addresses his listeners about God, death, and love, even if he may contradict himself. He understands that one can have multiple perspectives and that putting thought and feeling into music somehow resolves seeming conflicts. Prine is just beginning. He has already written a bunch of new songs since making this one and can’t wait to record them. – Steve Horowitz

7. Rhiannon Giddens – You’re the One (Nonesuch)

Rhiannon GiddensYou’re the One covers a broad historical range of music. Giddens wrote each track, but sometimes it sounds like she’s pulling from ancient archives. Even so, the whole thing sounds new. She brought in Jack Splash, who’s worked with Kendrick Lamar and Alicia Keys, for the production. The record has a modern feel, occasionally drifting toward pop but without getting an annoying sheen. The approach works mainly because it allows the variety of music to cohere. Giddens moves from Motown studios to Appalachia farms, Southern swamp, and New York jazz clubs. Still, the album’s tone holds together, a necessary element given the stretch of the recordings. Giddens’ exploration of the extensive history of American music continues to be compelling and enlightening. – Justin Cober-Lake

6. Margo Cilker – Valley of Heart’s Delight (Fluff & Gravy)

Margo Cilker has a lonesome ache to her voice. This adds a pathos to the humor she employs to make her points. On her new album Valley of Heart’s Delight, she’s funny, not funny. She may be a beggar for love and find herself dismayed by all the sound and fury surrounding her, but she doesn’t feel overwhelmed by her fate. Cilker is more interested in finding the good in herself than complaining about her situation. Margo Cilker serves as a stand-in for all of us, which is why she can get her audiences to sing with her in concert or make listeners pay attention to the details in Valley of Heart’s Delight. She trusts in her visions of the outside world to tell the story of what she finds within her heart. – Steve Horowitz

5. Nickel Creek – Celebrants (Thirty Tigers)

Nickel Creek may have started as a traditional bluegrass act, but they’ve dabbled in all sorts of folk and rock styles over the years. With ten tight, compact songs, A Dotted Line felt like the most successful reunion album. They were back together and distilled their sounds into the best possible version of a Nickel Creek record. It’s hard to improve on that. Consciously or not, they went in a different direction this time out.

Celebrants announces that change immediately, opening with the title track. Lyrically, the song is indeed a celebration, as Thile sings, “My God, it’s good to see you / Right here in the flesh.” It’s about the joy of getting back together and making and experiencing live music in person. We’ve had many records over the past two years addressing the isolation and other issues involved with quarantine. Nickel Creek is ready to talk about finally seeing other people again. – Chris Conaton

4. Sunny War – Anarchist Gospel (New West)

Can music bear the whole weight of our human experience? Anarchist Gospel, folk-punk artist Sunny War‘s fourth studio album makes a case that it should. While our weariness with struggle and division may push us to yearn for the assurance of music that seamlessly ties up all loose ends, Anarchist Gospel is not offering the promise of world harmony that follows from “teaching the world to sing” a la the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola commercial. 

The heft and the hope of the album emerge from Sunny War’s narrative that she artfully translates into a deeply affecting collection of countrified blues, gospel overtones, and rock with dashes of cowpunk. Raw and authentic but never preachy nor maudlin, Anarchist Gospel keeps life’s contradictory tensions in the forefront of our consciousness, whether in the playfulness of the artist’s stage name (born Sydney Lyndell Ward) or in the attention-arresting album title. – Rick Quinn

3. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes (Southeastern)

Reunions was a solid enough album, justly earning its commercial and critical acclaim in 2020, but longtime Jason Isbell fans could be forgiven for taking that album as a very good but ultimate extension of his previous LP, The Nashville Sound. His band, the 400 Unit, remained a tight unit, honed by heavy touring, but lyrically, there was a vagueness that permeated most of the songs Reunions

Weathervanes isn’t a “return to form” for Isbell, as he hasn’t fallen off in terms of quality since his breakthrough, Southeastern, released a decade ago. However, the lonely, angered, confused characters that populate Weathervanes find ways to latch on to you and make them harder to shake than any Isbell album since Southeastern. Be it the person who suffered a workplace accident and is now addicted to painkillers on “King of Oklahoma”, the child who got lost in the foster care system after the alluded murder/suicide by his young parents in “Volunteer”, or one of the killers that inhabit the song, “Cast Iron Skillet”, most of the songs on Weathervanes could qualify as short stories, worthy of film adaptations. Add a seven-minute stunning closer (“Miles”), and you’ve got a record that deserves to be mentioned with Isbell’s best. – Sean McCarthy

2. Molly Tuttle – City of Gold (Nonesuch)

Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway are a crack ensemble of bluegrass players, and City of Gold is their second great album in two years to show off their chops. The band are equally adept at a high-speed barnburner like “San Joaquin” as they are at a languid, easygoing track like “More Like a River”. It’s the woman whose name is on the group that’s the star, though. Tuttle is a top-notch vocalist with just enough twang to fit easily into the bluegrass and roots genre.

It’s Tuttle’s songwriting that really stands out on City of Gold, however. Opener “El Dorado” is a wonder, a quick, minor key bluegrass song that recounts the entire California gold rush story from the perspective of a woman who saw it all in just over four minutes. “Yosemite” is a pleasant-sounding song about a doomed attempt to save a failing relationship, while “Goodbye Mary” is a dark ballad about a pregnant woman who dies after failing to get an abortion. Contrast this with “Next Rodeo”, a rollicking country love ’em and leave ’em track.

Then, “Alice in the Bluegrass” cleverly reinterprets Lewis Carroll’s story in a down-home way. “Evergreen, OK” and “The First Time I Fell in Love” are female empowerment songs separated by two centuries and half a continent. Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway are trying a lot of things in City of Gold, and they succeed at all of them. – Chris Conaton

1. Lydia Loveless – Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way Again (Bloodshot)

In 2023, the album as a work of art is close to becoming an endangered species. Streaming, social media, and file sharing have unraveled the album as a cohesive work. So, it’s all the more gratifying to land on a record like Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way AgainLydia Loveless‘ sixth studio record. Though not a concept album in the strictest definition, it’s a collection of songs that combine to tell a unified story. Though the tracks culminate into a coherent single work of art, that doesn’t mean Loveless falls prey to monotony. Far from it. Each song is an individual letter to audiences with a unique message or sound. However, together, the tracks tell a story of vulnerability, heartache, sadness, and yearning. 

There’s a power in being open and vulnerable, particularly when expressing those feelings through song. Because Loveless is in control, there’s a steely resolve throughout the album, regardless of how candid the lyrics are. So, in a story song like “French Restaurant”, we get a searing portrait of a collapsing relationship, but Loveless is guiding the narrative, only exposing what she wants, thereby painting a confessional portrait on her own terms. – Peter Piatkowski