15 great country albums from 2022
Maybe it was just more out in the open this year, but 2022 seems like the year that indie rockers caught the country music bug. Waxahatchee and Jess Williamson (as Plains), Angel Olsen, and Wilco released country albums, Big Thief included a few full-on country songs on their great new album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, and more and more indie bands seem to be namedropping country singers as influences in interviews. It was nearly impossible to be an indie fan in 2022 and not engage with country music at all, and if you were hungry for even more than what those few country-leaning indie stars had to offer, you were very much in luck with that too. 2022 has been a banner year for country, with everyone from fast-rising new stars to established veterans to underrated fringe artists coming out with genuinely great records.
There were too many great country albums this year to narrow it down to a list of 15, but we tried our best to do that for the purposes of this list. A couple of these appeared on our list of the 50 best albums of 2022, but most didn't, and it's presented as an unranked list and not necessarily a "best-of" because we just chose 15 that we most wanted to shine a light on, knowing it's just a small sample size of all of the great country released this year. (And genre lines are blurry but some of the albums on our list of 15 great folk albums from 2022 share musical DNA with the albums on this list.) The list has a few very popular artists, but it leans "alt-country," so you won't find too much crossover between this list and country radio. More than anything, we hope the list leads you to discover something you might like, and if you've still got negative preconceived notions about modern country music, we hope an album or two on this list helps change that.
Read on for our list, in alphabetical order, and let us know your favorite country albums of the year in the comments...
Adeem the Artist - White Trash Revelry
Four Quarters/Thirty Tigers
Speaking to the New York Times about their 2021 album Cast-Iron Pansexual, the white, non-binary, pansexual country singer known as Adeem the Artist said, "Using the vernacular of country, I got to showcase my values with the conduit of my oppression." On its followup, White Trash Revelry, Adeem continues to use classic country tropes to open up about their own queerness and sexuality, while also battling white supremacy and confronting their own internalized racism in the process. The album tells stories that often go overlooked in mainstream and traditional country music, but it's not just that the album is doing something important, it's also that these are some of the most tuneful country songs to come out all year. White Trash Revelry stylistically leans more "alt" country than "pop" country, but it's catchy enough to infiltrate the latter, and that's what Adeem ultimately wants. "I imagine these songs getting on a playlist beside Luke Bryan, articulating a full scope of the country experience," they said in that same NYT interview. "The stories of queer Appalachians and Black activists in the rural South are part of this culture, too."
Amanda Shires - Take It Like A Man
Take It Like A Man is one of Amanda Shires' boldest, most powerful albums yet, and it almost didn't get made. She had considered retiring from music, until producer Lawrence Rothamn helped rekindle her love for songwriting, and she ended up writing more than twice as many songs as she needed for Take It Like A Man. The album embraces Amanda's roots in country and folk but doesn't stay there, also branching out into horn-fueled soul, jazzy balladry, swaggering rock, and more. It's also some of Amanda's most painfully honest songwriting yet, addressing issues that she and husband Jason Isbell (who contributed to several of these songs) had been having in their marriage, and focusing on herself and her own desires, without mincing words. "Everything on the record is autobiographical; I didn't hold anything back," she said in press materials for the album. It's an album that touches on specific aspects of Amanda's personal life and her relationship with Jason, but it's also just an album about putting yourself out there, being exactly who you need to be, and coming out with impactful art in the process.
Angel Olsen - Big Time
Angel Olsen began work on her sixth studio album in a tumultuous time, buoyed by coming out as queer to her adoptive parents, then left reeling from their deaths, only two weeks apart from each other, soon after. Love and loss are painfully intertwined on the resulting record, Big Time, which features some of Angel's most immediate songwriting yet. It finds her building on the ornamented chamber pop of 2019's All Mirrors and turning to country, pairing the twang of lap steel with beautiful string and horn arrangements. Country is a natural genre for her to work in, and Big Time's songs run the genre's gamut, from lovelorn ballads like "This Is How It Works" to towering anthems like "Right Now." That Angel possesses one of the most moving, unmistakable voices of anyone in indie rock is basically a given at this point, but in case you needed a reminder, these songs serve as further evidence -- and count among the best of her career so far.
Arlo McKinley - This Mess We're In
Oh Boy Records
The title This Mess We're In is not a reference to the state of the world, but to issues that hit a little closer to home, like addiction and mental health, and the loss of family members and close friends. Fittingly, it's also Arlo's darkest, most somber album yet. He cites Nick Drake and Nick Cave as influences, and you can hear their haunting music echoing through Arlo's country twang. He made it with an in-demand producer (Matt Ross-Spang) and an ace band (including former Wilco drummer Ken Coomer, Lucero keyboardist Rick Steff, and guitarist Will Sexton), and it ranges from dirgey ballads to amplified Southern rock to classic countrified heartache. Throughout it all, Arlo proves not just to be an evocative storyteller, but that he's got an arsenal of singalong hooks too.
Denitia - Highways
Having risen to prominence as a maker of airy R&B, Denitia (of Denitia & Sene) got back to her childhood roots this year with a country-folk album. The New York-based Houston native grew up listening to country and folk (and singing in church choirs), and her approach to the genre on Highways is just as dreamlike and blissful as her R&B. Denitia primarily wrote the album alone in her studio, and it feels intimate and personal but also spacious and welcoming and ready for the world. It's a light, breezy album that feels like a warm day of spring every time you click play, and some of the most purely gorgeous music of its kind that we've heard all year.
Drayton Farley - Walk Home
Of course things like string arrangements and pedal steels and other embellishments can bring a song to the next level, but a truly great song can reveal itself with nothing more than a voice and acoustic guitar, the only two things Drayton Farley used to record the five stunning songs on his new EP Walk Home. The songs bring to mind anything from Townes Van Zandt to Jason Isbell's solo records to early Strand of Oaks, but Drayton has developed a strong, distinct songwriting style of his own. From his somber melancholy to his heartstring-tugging melodies to poetic one-liners that stop you in your tracks, this EP may be short and minimal, but it feels towering.
Garrett T. Capps & NASA Country - People Are Beautiful
Garrett T. Capps calls his music "Kraut-country," and he and his band take as much influence from the country music of their Texas home state as they do from groups like Kraftwerk, Neu!, and Stereolab. As cool as that sounds on paper, it's even better in execution; on People Are Beautiful, Capps and NASA Country employ modular synths and break out into extended psychedelic jams, all while Capps leads the way with his countrified Texas drawl. They're a rare band who would sound just as home at Stagecoach as they would at Levitation, and they don't just embrace the head-trip sonics of the psychedelic era; they also remember that much of the early psychedelic music was protest music, as on People Are Beautiful's title track, a motorik jam about the state of humanity written in the wake of George Floyd's murder.
Hailey Whitters - Raised
Earlier this year, I suggested that Hailey Whitters picks up where the more overtly country stylings of Kacey Musgraves' pre-Golden Hour material left off, but seeing the way she's risen throughout the year, that now feels like an understatement. Hailey is a force of her own, bringing fresh perspective to familiar country music themes (love, small town pride, self assurance, etc) and wrapping them in melodies that are impossible to get out of your head.
Ian Noe - River Fools & Mountain Saints
Ian Noe's sophomore album River Fools & Mountain Saints plays out like a novel or a film, with characters -- many of them real people -- that come to life. There's the river fool from old Southfork, Kentucky that everybody knows, the man that started out a greenhorn when he was 25, the woman trying to raise that family she could never afford. There's Bobby who dreams on the back porch swing, Sarah who goes when the whiskey flows, and Tom Barrett, a killing man from the 21st platoon. River Fools & Mountain Saints portrays the death of Ian's grandfather, a flood that hit Ian's hometown of Beattyville, Kentucky in 2020, and, on "Lonesome as It Gets," we see Ian dealing with his own heartbreak. He sets these tales to a backdrop of country, folk, and bluegrass that takes inspiration from an array of different sources, from John Prine to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Bill Monroe. Ian shows off an old soul without seeming retro, kind of like CCR did back in the day.
Kelsey Waldon - No Regular Dog
Oh Boy Records
"I wanted to show my whole color scheme and create something that’s less of a honky-tonk thing and more like a big, beautiful picture of everything I see in country music," Kelsey Waldon said in the press materials for No Regular Dog, and that's exactly what she did. It seamlessly weaves together various country subgenres, as well as rock, soul, folk, blues, and a hint of psychedelia, and it's topped off with sparkling, modern production. Kelsey's soothing melodies go down easy as she touches on widely-impactful topics like addiction, mental health, self-worth, politics, and the death of her late collaborator/label boss John Prine. It's an effortlessly enjoyable, deceptively simple album that reveals more and more depth with each listen.
Miranda Lambert - Palomino
Sony Music Nashville
It's easy to see why multiple people have compared Miranda Lambert to Dolly Parton, including Dolly herself. Over 20 years into Miranda's prolific, consistently-rewarding career, she's become the pop-country artist that even pop-country haters love, like Dolly was in the '70s. Her latest album Palomino makes very good on the promise of Miranda's crossover appeal, from its swaggering blues rock ("Actin' Up") to tender folk songs ("In His Arms") to anthemic country-pop ("Strange") to a B-52's collaboration to a Mick Jagger cover. Miranda swings in a ton of different directions on Palomino, and she always hits.
Plains - I Walked With You A Ways
For their collaborative album as Plains, Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee) and Jess Williamson embraced their shared roots in country music and love of artists like Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, and The Chicks, but Katie told Pitchfork, "There was that shared thing of, ‘Oh, we’re not trying to do this, this country element just sort of snuck in there." I Walked With You A Ways followed Waxahatchee and Jess Williamson's 2020 albums, Saint Cloud and Sorceress, respectively, both of which flirted more directly with country music than the artists had in the past, and Katie says the new album also functioned as a lower-stakes palate cleanser after the deeply personal Saint Cloud. Each member brought their own songs to the table for I Walked With You A Ways, and the songs are really brought to the next level when Katie and Jess harmonize, fusing their voices to create something that's even greater than the sum of Plains' parts.
Ryan Culwell - Run Like A Bull
On his best album yet, Ryan Culwell blurs the lines between country, rock, and folk more than ever before, with a batch of songs that sit nicely next to Jason Isbell, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Fleetwood Mac without abandoning Ryan's Texas country roots. Run Like A Bull ranges from anthems that deserve to be played in stadiums ("All I Got," "Let's Go Crazy," "Keep Your Head Up") to more serene tunes ("Colorado Blues," "Certain Light"), and Ryan tops it off with a conversational, down-to-earth delivery that, in a certain light, can really wreck you.
S.G. Goodman - Teeth Marks
S.G. Goodman populates her sophomore album with vivid tales of opioid addiction, trauma, and unrequited love, relayed through sparse poetry in her distinctive, quavering twang. The daughter of a Kentucky farmer, Goodman's Appalachian roots are evident in the deep empathy she shows her subjects, but she doesn't limit her sonic pallet to traditionally rootsy sounds, pulling just as readily from rock. Then there's "You Were Someone I Loved," one of the album's most striking tracks, which is entirely a capella. "There didn't need to be any barriers between the human nature of how I chose to sing this part and the listener, because that's what, in my mind, I was trying to get people to connect with anyway," Goodman told NPR; "Let's connect as humans here, and realize when we're not."
Tyler Childers and The Food Stamps - Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?
Tyler Childers' latest project is a triple album, and even within the context of triple albums, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is a uniquely ambitious undertaking. It's split into three parts, Hallelujah, Jubilee, and Joyful Noise, and each part is (technically) made up of the same songs. Hallelujah features Tyler and his backing band The Food Stamps playing live in the studio like a no-frills rock band, and breaking out into jams that would make the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers proud. On Jubilee, Tyler takes those same songs and brings in strings, horns, dulcimer, sitar, gospel backing vocals, and more, coming out with something that sounds straight out of the early '70s album-oriented rock era. And then Joyful Noise renders the songs nearly unrecognizable, turning them into avant-garde pieces full of sampled soundbites, glitchy studio wizardry, and more. Throughout it all, religion and religious music plays a huge role, but not in a way that's preachy or traditional. "Message wise, I hope that people take that it doesn't matter race, creed, religion and all of that like — the most important part is to protect your heart, cultivate that and make that something useful for the world," Tyler said. Each of the three albums bring something of unique value to the table, and even with repeated songs, the experience of listening to all three in a row is a lot more unpredictable than you might expect.
Zach Bryan - American Heartbreak
The streaming era has turned the idea of an "album" on its head, and it's caused some artists to ignore the format's traditions entirely, like fast-rising country star Zach Bryan, whose major label debut American Heartbreak has 34 songs. "I have this weird fear of like, if I don’t put this music out, someone 20 years from now isn’t going to be able to hear it," he recently told The New York Times. "If some kid needs this in 40 years and he’s 16, he’s sitting in his room, what if I didn’t put out ‘Quiet, Heavy Dreams’? What if that’s his favorite song of all time?" Since releasing the LP in May, he followed it with a nine-song EP and a two-song single within the next few months. It's a formula that you might not expect to jive well with our generation's increased access to entertainment and decreased attention spans, and yet, Zach has quickly become one of country's most widely loved rising stars. You may not always listen to all 34 songs every time you click play on American Heartbreak, but there's so much great stuff on there to choose from and very little filler. As an artist who can compete in the mainstream (Zach's one of only two artists to dethrone Morgan Wallen at the top of the country charts this year) but also values indie music (he cites Bon Iver and Radiohead as core influences and he's a close affiliate of go-to alt-country producer Dave Cobb), Zach has a little something for everyone. American Heartbreak ranges from somber country folk to amplified heartland rock to line-dance-inducing fiddle songs, and Zach's personal, emotional storytelling is nearly impossible to ignore, regardless of your preference in subgenre.
10 More Great Country Albums from 2022:
Chris Canterbury - Quaalude Lullabies
Honey Harper - Honey Harper & the Infinite Sky
Joshua Hedley - Neon Blue
Kaitlin Butts - What Else Can She Do
Lost Dog Street Band - Glory
Michaela Anne - Oh To Be That Free
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway - Crooked Tree
Nikki Lane - Denim & Diamonds
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers - Nightroamer
Vandoliers - The Vandoliers