Favorite Albums of 2013

Photo credit: Kristin Barlowe

In a way, this journey began a decade ago: the one where my world expanded and I discovered a wealth of new country music that inspired me to think deeply about it and gain a better appreciation for it.

There was no way I was going to make that statement sound “cool,” but it’s true. 2013 holds a special place in my heart for how my perspective on country music shifted and how it inspired me to eventually write about it as a passion project. But it’s a weird connection, given that it really all started by reading “best-of” lists for the year, the biggest one for me being Grady Smith’s Entertainment Weekly list. I was a high-schooler who (ironically) didn’t connect much with the bro-country movement, so when I saw names like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Lindi Ortega, among others, my first impression was that I must have had the wrong list or something. But then I scrolled down further and saw familiar names like Brad Paisley and Gary Allan, so I was curious.

In truth, then, as I discovered the greater depth of the country music blogosphere, 2014 acted more as the discovery year for me (as did 2015), but it’s the year I really dove in to a bunch of 2013 releases from names completely new to me, many of which now hold a nostalgic place in my hearts. I’m not going to say I connected to everything right away – some of it felt too alien and not like the country music I had grown up with, but I quickly fell in love with the more introspective songwriting and warmer production that felt connected to past eras but strikingly modern, too.

It’s hard to believe that the following albums are now 10 years old, but I’d like to celebrate by writing about a few of my favorites. Keep in mind that, while this is meant to be somewhat personally nostalgic, this is still the 2023 version of me compiling my list, meaning that some of these are recent discoveries I’ve only just had a chance to hear. It also might scan as “predictable” compared to other year-end lists from this time period, but that’s because independent country in 2013 was in something of a rebirth period as it reshaped itself and paved the way for the insurgence that’s formed today; many albums here were directly responsible for that. Even still, I hope you find at least one or two new discoveries.

So, let’s get started with a few honorable mentions, presented in no particular order:

Tin Star

Lindi Ortega, Tin Star

Favorite tracks: “Tin Star,” “Hard As This,” “Talk About It”

The first of many, many Dave Cobb-produced efforts featured here, and while I will say I prefer the darker, dustier edges of albums like Cigarettes and Truckstops and Liberty, there is a defiant independent spirit here that’s only rung louder with her absence over the years. The title track alone says it all, with its mentions of feeling like a lost outsider in Nashville – especially in this particular era – but it never loses its fight or bravado.

Annie Up

Pistol Annies, Annie Up

Favorite tracks: “Dear Sobriety,” “I Hope You’re the End of My Story,” “Don’t Talk About Him, Tina”

There’s such a uniform quality and consistency to this trio’s three studio albums thus far, that trying to find the unique conversation point with their sophomore album is, admittedly, a little tough. It’s not as tempered or refined as Interstate Gospel, nor is it quite the fiery, shit-kicking surprise of their debut, but Annie Up finds a respectable middle ground and still works well because of it, where they can just as easily dabble in the mischievous drama that comes with being a woman in a small town as they can mine sympathy from the audience for their plights, too.

Set You Free

Gary Allan, Set You Free

Favorite tracks: “It Ain’t the Whiskey,” “One More Time,” “Tough Goodbye”

Nostalgia has probably made me view this more favorably than I should. Set You Free can, after all, certainly be messy at points in its sonic scope. But as a long-time fan, it was great to hear Gary Allan find a more settled, optimistic outlook on life, brought to life by some great highlights that still showcased the same wit, wisdom, and weathered maturity that’s always made his work sound a cut above his contemporaries. It’s kind of a shame that the comeback success unleashed by “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)” couldn’t have led to more much sooner, but as it is, this is still a winner.

American Kid

Patty Griffin, American Kid

Favorite tracks: “Wild Old Dog,” “Not a Bad Man,” “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”

A veteran singer/songwriter made her return after seven years with two studio albums, with Silver Bell acting more as an unearthed buried treasure from years ago and American Kid acting as the actual long-awaited return. Truthfully, I’m actually still in the discovery process of reaching back through Griffin’s discography, but she’s the sort of songwriter who can pen deeply intelligent, gut-wrenching songs that have no doubt inspired similar favorites today. And there’s something about her voice I love – it has an almost piercing quality that cuts straight to the bone, where even if this album’s mood might fit an older, weathered, and, yes, somber mold, it’s never any less gripping for it.

Build Me Up From Bones

Sarah Jarosz, Build Me Up From Bones

Favorite tracks: “Over the Edge,” “Build Me Up From Bones,” “The Book of Right-On”

The third album from a bluegrass prodigy, and one that felt like a true coming-of-age collection for Sarah Jarosz. Build Me Up From Bones felt like the next step where she came into her own, not just as an instrumentalist but as a songwriter and composer. It’s adventurous and daring right from the start of its excellent opening track, pulling from her bluegrass discipline while showing she had the versatility to pull off whatever she wanted to with fiery aplomb. For me, it’s still my favorite project of hers.

And now, on with the list proper!

Rose Queen

No. 15 – William Clark Green, Rose Queen

Favorite tracks: “Drowning,” “She Likes the Beatles,” “Take Me Away”

It’s always tricky approaching the starting conversation point with this long-running Red Dirt artist’s material, mostly because it’s often reckless and immature; very rarely did William Clark Green make his earliest characters likable or all that sympathetic. And considering so much of what I loved about last year’s Baker Hotel was its steps toward maturity … well, an album like Rose Queen is the sort of downward spiral that preceded that redemption, hard-charged and confessional in its depictions of substance abuse, broken relationships, and depression. It’s not the first album of his I heard, but I think connecting with his work at a younger age offered part of the personal appeal.  

And where Green’s work has always clicked with me is in a sense of self-awareness and wanting to rise above and be better – where the real issue comes in knowing where to take that first step. In a way, it makes tracks like “Drowning” and “Take Me Away” brutally dark and sympathetic despite not really intending to be. And even then, his knack for rock-solid melodic hooks makes even the more flagrantly screwed-up tracks like “Dead or In Jail” and “What It Takes to Be Me” appealing in their own uncomfortable ways. Green certainly dared listeners to enjoy this album, but at least for me, great writing and solid performance chops have kept me coming back long after the dust has settled.

My Favorite Picture of You

No. 14 – Guy Clark, My Favorite Picture Of You

Favorite tracks: “Hell Bent On a Heartache,” “Heroes,” “High Price of Inspiration”

I don’t think Guy Clark albums are supposed to make a person sad. Sure, they’re wistful and poetic and certainly aimed to make one think and observe the world around them, but they’re always warm and inviting in doing so. My Favorite Picture of You still largely stands as a testament to that philosophy, but between this being Clark’s last original studio album and it being partly inspired by Susanna Clark’s own passing, this can’t help but feel … tempered. It still offers that same spry, sepia-toned, conversational songwriting delivery that’s always been his trademark style, but in feeling more deeply personal in confronting mortality and age with a frankly melancholic tone, this feels like an album where even a master of the craft doesn’t seem to have all the answers.

It’s fitting, though – even our favorite songwriters are just humans trying to sift through life’s mysteries with each passing day. So even with the odds stacked against him on tracks like “Hell Bent On a Heartache,” “The High Price of Inspiration,” and the title track – tracks that are brutal to listen back through now, for the record – there’s still an optimistic outlook in what’s ahead and what’s left, all found through the simple, daily observations of watching life happen on a track like “Cornmeal Waltz” or through hearing him recount witty story songs like “Death of Sis Draper” and “El Coyote.” It’s not an easy album to revisit these days, but I gladly always welcome it anyway.

The Bluegrass Album

No. 13 – Alan Jackson, The Bluegrass Album

Favorite tracks: “Blue Ridge Mountain Song,” “There Is A Time,” “Long Hard Road”

You know, despite this being his bluegrass pivot, this is still Alan Jackson’s take on it first and foremost, meaning that instead of fast-picked material, we get an album from a country singer with a measure, controlled delivery. I’m not necessarily going to make direct comparisons to, say, Alison Krauss or anything, but this is cut from that same vein, which favors great songwriting and storytelling and a calmer delivery above anything else.

Basically, it’s a slow, comfortable album, but it’s also one where not only is the instrumental presentation delivered with superb skill, but where Jackson’s emotive and passionate delivery makes his own material stand toe-to-toe with the standards here. I’ve already noted “Blue Ridge Mountain Song” as one of my favorite songs of his, but this is a project that doesn’t need a long explanation for why it’s great: It’s performed and presented with careful consideration and passion, and given that it was the album he had always wanted to make, I’m glad he was able to deliver a late-career highlight in a discography full of them.

Ashley Monroe Like a Rose

No. 12 – Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose

Favorite tracks: “Used,” “Like a Rose,” “She’s Driving Me Out Of Your Mind”

It is a damn shame that Ashley Monroe failed to gain greater attention from not one but two excellent albums. Granted, as far as critical acclaim is concerned, this is still an album I see praised today, and for good reason. It plays in close proximity to her work with the Pistol Annies – what with its confrontations of societal norms, small-town marital discord, and vices used to endure day-to-day life. But in centering this more as a personal sketch where there’s no greater camaraderie to lean on, it feels more desperate and urgent; probably even more depressingly real.

The title track lays out the thesis statement of a young woman who’s been scarred by past events but who uses them as learning lessons to push on ahead, always keeping in mind that there’s more to her than what a troubled past may allow. It’s why even the hokier moments in “Weed Instead of Roses” and the Blake Shelton duet feel like needed moments of levity, even on an album as short as this one. Truthfully, watching her veer away from this rock-solid traditional country vein over time has been somewhat disappointing to witness. But I get it – this is an album meant for healing and catharsis, the sort of project one moves on from rather than makes a second time. I’m just glad she made it out the other side fine.

Whiskey Gentry Holly Grove

No. 11 – The Whiskey Gentry, Holly Grove

Favorite tracks: “Holly Grove,” “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy,” “One Night in New York” (feat. Butch Walker)

The sad part about working on a retro list like this is that you’ll sometimes find yourself promoting an act that’s no longer around. So chalk it up to another case where I just don’t get why a band like this didn’t stick. Lead singer Lauren Morrow’s often introspective writing blended surprisingly well with the band’s fast-paced compositions that featured excellent harmonies and a plethora of fiddle and banjo; Turnpike Troubadours fans should have loved this!

Instead, we’re left with the few hidden gems that The Whiskey Gentry offered us, with this being my favorite release of theirs. And while it is the whirlwind punk-meets-bluegrass-meets-country combination that works for me on a compositional level – especially with the strong Celtic flair to boot – this blended everything together in a way that could feel strikingly personal on its more tender moments and absolutely frenetic on its broader storytelling moments. Seriously, the title track is a gut-punch. I said before that this list probably wouldn’t feature too many surprises or new discoveries: I sincerely hope that this becomes one for someone out there.


No. 10 – Charlie Worsham, Rubberband

Favorite tracks: “Mississippi in July,” “Want Me Too,” “Love Don’t Die Easy”

Funny enough, even despite the era in which this was released, this is still probably my favorite mainstream country music album of the past decade, depending on how we want to define those parameters.

Because even if it did have a few singles scrape the charts, the wonderful thing about Charlie Worsham’s Rubberband is that it felt refreshingly unique from the pack of emerging generic bro-country acts. This is country-pop cut from the same cloth as Vince Gill or Steve Wariner, with a strong melodic backbone supported by equally smart songwriting and a sneakily great instrumental prowess to match. To this day it’s just such a refreshingly breezy, organic listen, with enough touches of bluegrass even thrown in to balance out the sound with songs that should have defined the era over what we actually got. After all, tracks like “Young to See” and “Mississippi in July” are able to be youthful and thoughtful. This list is quickly growing with examples of albums that should led to bigger breakthroughs – one of the detriments of looking at things in hindsight, I suppose – but to think an excellent debut barely caught the attention it deserved … it’s criminal.

Gone Away Backward

No. 9 – Robbie Fulks, Gone Away Backward

Favorite tracks: “Long I Ride,” “That’s Where I’m From,” “Where I Fell”

It wasn’t that long ago I praised Robbie Fulks’ Bluegrass Vacation, and if there’s a reason why it felt like more than just a mere pivot for me, it’s because the seeds were planted long ago on this album. How fitting, too, that this album also feels like a comeback effort, one that piggybacked off projects like … um, a Michael Jackson tribute project (with Fulks, you’re always left guessing, and that’s typically OK).

And yet, there’s no stylistic diversions here like on earlier Fulks albums. If anything, it’s one of his most refreshingly straightforward albums to date, steeped not just in bluegrass but also in old-time traditions, able to conjure nostalgia but never one to indulge in it. It’s more reflective of hardbitten roots in a way that can feel prideful while also acknowledging hard-living ways, where the strong character perseverance is what shines above all. And yet, even despite that older focus, it’s an album that feels strikingly modern in its message, and one that feels fueled by its broken promises and dreams, yearning for simplicity in a way that reflects the modern pressures of a fast-moving world. It’s strange how something so simple and spare can be so profound, but that’s what old-time music like this was built for anyway.

Brandy Clark 12 Stories

No. 8 – Brandy Clark, 12 Stories

Favorite tracks: “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven,” “Stripes,” “The Day She Got Divorced”

It’s fitting that Brandy Clark’s upcoming self-titled album looks to channel the spirit of her mostly spare debut, because it was – and still is – quite the slam-dunk effort. Of course, given her roots as a songwriter for other artists who helped pen hits with an edge like “Follow Your Arrow,” “Better Dig Two,” and “Mama’s Broken Heart,” it’s no surprise that this can feel just as rough-around-the-edges and bleakly direct throughout. And whether it comes from direct experience or empathy for others, she sells uncomfortable subject matter head-on, whether it be cheating, failing relationships, or even pharmaceutical abuse.

It certainly feels like an older album, bolstered not only by Clark’s emotive but weathered delivery but also by the quiet resignation of this album’s scope as a whole, where there’s always a desire for some sort of escape from a dead-end situation that never really comes, at least not in the form we’d prefer. It’s not necessarily dark, just uncomfortably raw and real. It’s the sort of lived-in, singer-songwriter material that’s always welcome but rarely mastered, so to think Clark nailed it from the beginning – for just herself, that is – is still a marvel to behold all these years later.

In the Throes

No. 7 – John Moreland, In the Throes

Favorite tracks: “Break My Heart Sweetly,” “Your Spell,” “Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore”

Coming just off our conversation about a spare, bleak album in Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories, we probably shouldn’t directly pivot to John Moreland’s In the Throes. After all, this is another album where there’s very little room for escape, not just in the mostly spare production that emphasizes Moreland’s drawn-out delivery, but also in the thematic arc. If anything, his deeply personal songwriting full of relentless regret can be hard to revisit if not in the right mood – especially when he offers virtually no quarter or moments of levity. If there are any, they’re subtle and up to interpretation, like the soft piano chimes of “Break My Heart Sweetly” that seem to symbolize that heart continuously cracking.

In other words, it’s an album you feel rather than hear, the sort of late-night listening likely too dangerous to listen to alone, even if that’s the best manner to experience it. That’s the thing, too – this is not an album that ever offers a ray of hope through any song; it should be the big mark against it in never striking a better balance. But damn, nearly every moment here is too powerful to deny, hard as said moments are to confront. And given that Moreland has (thankfully, if only for his own health) long since moved on from this type of spare, morose material, I think it’s helped it age better as what it is and offered that hope anyway – that not all bouts with darkness are meant to last forever.

High Top Mountain

No. 6 – Sturgill Simpson, High Top Mountain

Favorite tracks: “You Can Have the Crown,” “The Storm,” “Water in a Well”

… Yeah, screw it: This is still my favorite thing Sturgill Simpson ever made, not because I’m some country purist or anything, but because it feels like his most well-rounded, complete, and robust collection of songs.

And, though unintended, even despite the strong Waylon Jennings and general ‘70s country influence seeping throughout in tribute to his grandfather, there was a deceptively weathered, devil-may-care attitude and mentality that felt strikingly modern in trying to “make it” in the modern music industry. If anything, that’s a thematic arc that followed the rest of his solo work, and at least here, informs modern classics like “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean” and “You Can Have the Crown,” among so many others. There’s still that quintessential rage here that just feels way better controlled and more unique than what came afterward. All of which is to say that even if we do get another Simpson solo album, I doubt we’ll ever hear anything like this again. And that’s OK, because this has held up mighty well, even atop Shit Mountain.

Same Trailer Different park

No. 5 – Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park

Favorite tracks: “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Blowin’ Smoke,” “Follow Your Arrow”

Again, the funny thing about crafting a retro list is being able to look back on certain projects with a different outlook than what you might have held at the time. For me, that’s a twofold statement. I didn’t initially fully grasp how important Kacey Musgraves’ major label debut was – I blame age and immaturity – but I do remember thinking by the end of that year how the country music industry would likely screw her over the way they did Charlie Worsham.

And, well … yeah, that happened. But she bounced back in ways no one really expected, and I’m thrilled that she did eventually find wider recognition. But I also think there’s a growing legion of fans who somewhat miss this part of her: the artist able to balance out wimsy folk and classic country stories with a sweet delivery that undercuts the darker reality awaiting beneath. It’s stark and challenging, the sort of material I’m surprised managed even the slight success on country airplay charts that it did. After all, it was too damn good for its era, able to balance bleak shots of failed dreams and lost small-town hopes with witty turns-of-phrases and a sharp maturity to help it all land effectively. While mainstream country music pandered and glorified caricatures and fake anecdotes of small-town living, Musgraves pulled back the curtain, with still enough whirling complexity to keep the material consistently engaging. This probably struck the best balance of her best traits, and while it’s not the first album of hers that draws the most immediate attention, it certainly deserves to, through and through.

The Mavericks in time

No. 4 – The Mavericks, In Time

Favorite tracks: “Come Unto Me,” “Born to Be Blue,” “Call Me When You Get to Heaven”

This is one of those unexpected comebacks that shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. The Mavericks were known for a few low-charting hits in the ‘90s that played somewhat conventionally to that decade’s tropes. But Raul Malo’s unique voice lent greater magnitude to this band’s more experimental material that only surfaced after the hits stopped. And given that his solo career took flight after this band’s split in 2004, I don’t think anyone expected a comeback effort on Big Machine Records, of all places – and during this particular era – to reinvent the wheel much for this band.

And yet, that’s exactly what it did, and in a big way. It’s a fun, energetic, bouncy fusion of styles from their Tejano roots to ‘50s and ‘60s-inspired rockabilly and country that only rarely slows down; even then, those moments are among the best on the entire project. It’s a comeback from a band that simply sounds glad to be back, and it’s hard not to ultimately get wrapped in that explosive energy. It really is a simple formula: a knack for excellent grooves, insanely catchy melodies, and Malo’s charisma to carry it all. It’s still an absolute blast to both hear and revisit, sharpening the band’s best elements and featuring career-best performances across the board. It helps that it never takes itself too seriously, though even when it does, it still lands with a lot of impact. In short, it’s a late-career treasure that marked the beginning of a new creative era for the band, and it’s good time and time again.


No. 3 – Jason Isbell, Southeastern

Favorite tracks: “Relatively Easy,” “Live Oak,” “Elephant”

In a way, I get why people have come to see this as overpraised compared to Jason Isbell’s equally excellent 2010s run that included albums like Something More Than Free and The Nashville Sound. It was a rebirth moment for Jason Isbell’s career as he found sobriety and clarity that brought plenty of new fans into the fold – me included – but for those who followed him beforehand, I can see why this felt more like a transitional effort. It did, after all, represent a new chapter in his personal and professional life, and it has been the album to frame his work since: from facing his alcoholism head on through said album, trying to move on from that past on Something More Than Free, and then, as a father and husband, realizing there’s other battles to fight on The Nashville Sound, all while realizing that stability is a shaky, unpromised reward that can easily be snatched away on Reunions.

So, I don’t know if it’s just the foundation for all of it that still grips me most or if I’m just letting nostalgia hinder my critical faculties, but at least for me, Southeastern is still the crowning gem. Yet I’ll also say it’s the album’s very fragmented nature that makes it work best for me in an ironic sense, where individual career-best highlights like “Elephant” and “Relatively Easy” are so strong in their own right in mending broken relationships and connections, that they wind up contributing to that simple core: one of lingering trauma that often showcases how Isbell is simply just … trying to put the pieces back together. If anything, its imperfect nature is why it’s always resonated so loudly for me, feeling frankly human and thankful in its steps to recovery while also feeling starkly confrontational. With that said, it’s another case here where I’m glad to hear the artist in question move on from this particular era, especially when Isbell has remained solid ever since.

The Stand-In

No. 2 – Caitlin Rose, The Stand-In

Favorite tracks: “Only a Clown,” “Waitin’,” “Everywhere I Go”

The thing with the top four albums on this list is that I’ve actually written about most of them at length before, as part of my 2020 series where I reflected on my favorite albums of the 2010s. This, sadly, remains an exception, mostly because I discovered it shortly after the fact and am still kicking myself for doing so. Granted, given that Caitlin Rose’s follow-up to this album came just late last year, I had plenty of time to catch up, but if there’s another potential discovery waiting for someone reading this list, I hope it’s this one.

I could say it’s the deeply infectious and engaging melodic hooks and riffs that hooked me – because they did – but what kept me coming back was the dramatic urgency laced beneath them. It’s brash at times and vulnerable at others, yet always stirring and emotive in its youthful energy and failed attempts at love and a deeper connection. Whether it’s that rounded bass and brash kiss-off energy of “Waitin’” in all of its predictable fluster at a significant other’s flightier tendencies, or that same energy that relies on pop perfection for “Only a Clown,” this is an album that performs best when informed by its energy and tireless spirit. It’s full, bold, and perhaps a tad too heavy handed at points, but never to the point where it feels like it distracts from the material at hand; it only elevates the dramatic impact, really. And yet, there’s that album title that alludes to Rose’s unease as a lead singer – a fear that showed in the long wait for a follow-up afterward and on the album itself through its frantic energy. Understandable, though, to me, it’s an album like this that cemented her as a star worth following.

The Highway

No. 1 – Holly Williams, The Highway

Favorite tracks: “Railroads,” “Giving Up,” “Gone Away From Me”

Of course, speaking of long waits, none have stung quite like this one. Even today, while we’ve heard various loose contributions from her on other works over the years, this is Holly Williams’ most recent studio effort.

In a way, I get it. Part of this album’s nature was Williams confronting the Hank Williams family legacy, honoring it while also finding her voice along the way, too. And even it came after a long absence and projects that didn’t suit her artistically.

And yet, this is a comeback effort that subverts expectations. Because in stumbling toward a sense of self-identity, Williams is but one of many misshapen antiheroes featured here. She wants to honor that aforementioned legacy, but there’s a part of her, like on the title track, where she struggles with the common guilt of leaving her family behind to chase that dream. And even though she does love touring and the music-making process, she’d rather do it on her own terms than try to live up to any expectations.  

And she does: impressively well, at that. It’s not just the weathered, direct framing that lends this album its hangdog, road-weary charm and slew of sympathetic and emphatic characters, but also a rich level of detail that shows through her songwriting and the general simplicity of this album’s production, shaded in just enough for the warmth to shine through and the cracks to still show. It’s an album that yearns for freedom and independence – the chance to prove that one can stand for themselves rather than in the shadows of others. And as for why absence only makes the heart grow fonder with each year that passes with no update from Williams, it’s because she found her voice here. I suppose I’m comfortable calling it a magnum opus for now – songs like “Gone Away From Me,” “Giving Up,” “Drinkin’” and especially “Railroads” really are career-best highlights, after all – and if this is the end note, I can’t think of many better. I’m just saying I wouldn’t mind hearing where else that highway has taken her ever since.

5 thoughts on “Favorite Albums of 2013

  1. I really struggled with the Gary Allan album that year. I deemed it to be a lesser effort from him but listened to it again and it’s better than I remember although the last 4 songs on the album brought the album down for me. “It Ain’t The Whiskey” should’ve been a huge hit and I feel like “You Without Me” or Hungover Heart” would’ve been better than “Pieces”.

    This list brought back a lot of Nostalgia. I remember being blown away by Brandy Clark and couldn’t believe she wasn’t a huge star as it was one of the best country albums I heard for a long time and wish she had a Chris Stapleton Moment.

    I got into Lindi Ortega much later but remember being blown away by her voice. The terms Hypnotic and seductive come to mind.

    The most listened to album would be Ashley Monroe’s “Like a Rose”. I really enjoyed her next album and didn’t mind a few songs being poppy because like Brandy Clark I was hoping she’d get a hit even if I didn’t think “On To Something Good” was a good choice for a single. She lost me on her 3rd and 4th album ad hopeshe returns back to this sound.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s one of those albums I have fond nostalgia for, but kind of faded on me over the years as the flaws started to show. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to revisit it with newer appreciation – especially given that I definitely didn’t love his last album…

      Otherwise, yeah, it’s strange to see just how much has changed and which names have and haven’t (sadly) progressed over the past decade to greater stardom and/or recognition. Guess it goes to show that even during the height of the bro-country era, there was still greatness to be found!


  2. This is a really interesting year for me. I had long since lost interest in mainstream radio, so I mostly listened to those artists that I was familiar with (eg. Alan Jackson), but I had also not yet discovered the world of independent/non-mainstream country/Americana music. It wasn’t until 2015 that I really became aware of most of these artists, so that would have been the earliest that I listened to most of these albums (with the exception of Ashley Monroe and Alan Jackson).

    Given that I haven’t heard most of the albums issued in 2013 in full (including some on your list), I was only able to come up with a Top 9.

    9. Jason Isbell: Southeastern – I’ve come to the realization that, while I respect and appreciate his talents and I’ll always give his albums a listen, he’s not one of my go-to artists and I rarely revisit his albums in full. I tend to revisit certain songs of his rather than the albums in their entirety.
    8. Alan Jackson: The Bluegrass Album – as you’ve noted, this is a comfortable album with a nice mix of traditional songs, originals and a “cover” of his own previously-recorded song. It’s really well done and always enjoyable to listen to.
    7. Lindi Ortega: Tin Star – I always love getting to include Canadian artists on these lists and this is a really good album (as all of her album are, but I’d classify “Liberty” as great). I don’t know if you follow her on Twitter, but it sounds like she’s working on some new music!
    6. Brandy Clark: 12 Stories – great songwriting, obviously, and really interesting subject matter and variety. Still my favourite Brandy Clark album.
    5. Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer, Different Park – see my comments above re: 12 Stories.
    4. The Whiskey Gentry: Holly Grove – I didn’t discover this band until later than most of these artists (not until 2018, after their last album came out in 2017), but I quickly became acquainted with all three of their albums and listened to them a lot. It’s too bad they aren’t together anymore, but Lauren Morrow has a new solo album out this year that’s quite good.
    3. Pistol Annies: Annie Up – I agree with your point about the consistency between all three of their albums – they’re all consistently great. I think “Interstate Gospel” is a bit better than the first two albums, but not by much. There are some great songs on this album, but “Hush Hush” is my favourite.
    2. Ashley Monroe: Like A Rose – as noted, Ashley Monroe is one of the few artists on my list that I was aware of at the time, so this album got a lot of play prior to me discovering the other artists. She is one of my favourite singers and I think this album is fantastic. I’ve tried, but I haven’t been able to get into her last two albums. When “The Blade” came out, it took me a bit of time to get into it, but it is actually my favourite Ashley Monroe album (and it would likely end up on my list of favourite albums of the 2000s).
    1. Sturgill Simpson: High Top Mountain – I first became aware of Sturgill Simpson when “Metamodern” came out and I likely listened to it before “High Top Mountain” and I still go back and forth between the two in terms of my favourite Sturgill Simpson album. Every song on this album is great and you make a good point regarding the controlled rage behind his singing and playing, which, I think, is what makes this album so compelling and fun to listen to.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your own list, Frank! I do agree that it’s harder to expand our lists beyond what we got. It’s different nowadays, since we both track what we listen to over the course of an entire year and soundtrack it based on what we hear, so it’s different not having that same level of depth with another year’s releases, outside of looking through past “best of” lists and all that.


      1. Yes, it’s different now, but interesting in a different way. That’s part of why I’m looking forward to your Favourite Hit Songs series continuing backwards into the 80s because that was before my time, but I’ve since come to learn about and discover (and love) a lot of the music from that decade (vs. reminiscing about the 90s hit songs that I first experienced when they were initially released).

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