Country music made significant strides in 2023, and some pretty amazing albums came out of this past year.

Chris Stapleton said of his album Higher, which he released in November of 2023, “Whenever we’re releasing new music, we don’t have a specific ritual really, but I think there’s a little bit of apprehension, a little bit of excitement mixed together wondering how fans will react, really. I think that’s the main thing going on in our heads when we put something out is we hope whatever we’ve done will be something that people will gravitate to and enjoy.”

He said of the album’s title track, “‘Higher’ is a song that’s been around a long, long time. I wrote it in 2001 in the first few months of being a professional songwriter here in Nashville, and it was on the first demo session that I ever did here in Nashville. So, for it to come around 22 years later and wind up being the title track of an album is a pretty unique thing to me.”

HARDY released his the Mocking Bird & the Crow album in January of this year (2023). He said of the project after debuting at #4 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, “It’s just beyond every expectation we ever had. To have the #1 album in both country and rock at the same time is so crazy and validating. I’m grateful to country and rock radio, our partners, and everyone for embracing these songs and this record. Most of all, thank you the fans for getting it and responding like this; it means the world to me.”

Albums were also released this year by Cody Johnson, Elle King, Dierks Bentley, Tim McGraw, Dan + Shay, and more.

Before we reveal our five picks for the best country album of 2023, I want to note that Lainey Wilson’s Bell Bottom Country was released in late 2022, or of course, that project would be on the list. In this journalist’s opinion, the Lainey album is one of the best country albums in the last five or maybe ten years. Now, on with our top five 2023 country albums list.

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  • The Devil I Know - Ashley McBryde (2023)

    Ashley is such a solid artist, and this project is by far her best effort yet. The realism and honesty in her songwriting are fantastic. Ashley said upon announcing the new album in a statement that I found to be one of the best quotes in all of the country music for the year, “‘Y’all are too country.’ We leaned into that – more country it is. Y’all are awfully rock-leaning for a country artist.’ Is that so? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. ‘Last thing y’all need is another tender, finger-pickin’ song.’ Oh? Tender makes you uneasy, cowboy? I hear you. Let’s see how much more tender we can be. We listened to all those opinions and said, ‘I hear you. I understand what you’re saying.’ But sadly, there’s no room on the record for your opinion. We’ll do what we want.”

  • Whitsitt Chapel - Jelly Roll (2023)

    This is the album of the year, and Jelly Roll can take the title of artist of the year, close to his pal Lainey Wilson, who also had an epic 2023. In this journalist’s opinion, the best line in the song this year and maybe forever is, “I only talk to God when I need a favor, God I need a favor.” This project has three number-one songs on it and gave people hope worldwide with Jelly’s message of redemption, love, and acceptance. If the CMA and ACM had been able to name two Albums of the Year, Whitsitt Chapel would have definitely been a winner.

  • Higher - Chris Stapleton (2023)

    Chris has won a lot of Album of the Year awards from the CMA, ACM, and GRAMMY Awards over the years, and there is an apparent reason why: he simply is one of the very best singers and songwriters that country music has ever seen. The album wasn’t released until November of 2023, but the first single, “White Horse,” already showed the project’s power before fans even heard the rest. When the album came out, critics raved about the new work.

  • Gettin' Old - Luke Combs (2023)

    This project from Luke followed less than a year after his third album, Growin’ Up, in 2022 —both albums were recorded together and are intended as companion albums. Combs won a CMA Album of the Year award for Growin’ Up and was nominated for a CMA for Gettin’ Old, only to be edged out by Lainey Wilson’s Bell Bottom Country. The album also featured his much-anticipated cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” which did win CMA’s in 2023 for Single and Song of the Year, giving Chapman her first-ever CMA Award.

  • Rolling Up the Welcome Mat - Kelsea Ballerini (2023)

    Kelsea really outdid herself on this amazing and honest album. She released the project shortly after telling her record label it existed. The project, which covers her feelings and thoughts after her divorce from Morgan Evans, is nominated for Best Country Album at the GRAMMYS in February, and it should be. Ballerini even made and directed a short film of all the songs on the project.

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