Favorite Albums of 2023

Not that long ago, this column was my attempt at a true best album ranking. But with the internet proliferating the number of album releases each year, one writer can’t realistically compile a best album list encompassing every genre (including styles a writer respects more than likes, which for me includes hip-hop, jazz and today’s mainstream pop). So I’ve settled on choosing my favorite albums from 2023, a year that didn’t have a clear best album, but was exceptionally deep in quality releases. Here goes:

Wilco: “Cousin”

Working with an outside producer for the first time since 2007’s “Sky Blue Sky” – Cate Le Bon — this gifted band created a full-bodied work that incorporates a kaleidoscopic range of instrumentation and sounds. The sonic ear candy is fun, but the songs at their core are strong and often disarming, making “Cousin” an excellent addition to Wilco’s formidable catalog.

Jess Klein: “When We Rise”

Klein has been releasing worthy albums since 1998. Now, a dozen albums into her career, she has hit a new high point, with a stellar album that meets at the intersection of rock, Americana and pop. Frisky songs like “Athena,” “Never Gonna Break Me” and the title track are plenty catchy. “Safe Harbor” and “In The Arms of a Song” show Klein also has a way with rich balladry, while her folk roots shine in “That Was My Family” (an at-times wrenching immigration tale) and “Steal Away.” How is Klein not a star?

MARGO PRICE photographed in Ebntonite Hills, Utah 2022

Margo Price: “Strays II”

Seeming less bound by genres, Price readily mixes pop with rock on “The Mountain,” crafts pretty piano-led pop ballads in “County Road” and “Anytime You Call,” along with frisky roots rock (“Strays” and “Burn Whatever’s Left”) and more rustic fare (“Malibu” and “Where Did We Go Wrong”). You’ll want to adopt these strays.

Wilsn: “Those Days Are Over”

This artist from Melbourne, Australia (real name Shannon Busch) sounds like she could have been raised in Memphis, recording during the 1960s for Stax Records. On this 13-track debut, she leans confidently into classic soul, but adds a modern pop accent while offering a nice balance of energetic and hooky songs, percolating mid-tempo tunes and stirring ballads.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit: “Weathervanes”

 Isbell again shows his considerable story-telling talent on “Weathervanes,” whether it’s with the portrait of an unhinged lover (“Death Wish”),” the tale of murder and family dysfunction (“Cast Iron Skillet”) or any of the several other tales of lives on the precipice of defeat or heading down wrong paths. The music is just as impactful, whether it’s light shuffle and soaring vocal that propels “Middle of the Morning,” the lovely violin-accented mid-tempo “King of Oklahoma,” or the sturdy rock of “When We Were Close.” In other words, “Weathervanes” is the kind of fine album we’ve come to expect from Isbell.

Olivia Rodrigo: “Guts”

Coming off a blockbuster debut album in “Sour,” Rodrigo had set the bar high for her sophomore album. But there’s no slump with “Guts,” as she grows bolder with this 12-song effort. The songs are plenty edgy lyrically, but musically they’re generally sweet, as Rodrigo rocks out on “All-American Bitch,” goes a bit old-school pop on “Pretty Isn’t Pretty” and verges on elegance on “Vampire” and the ballad “Making the Bed.”

Foo Fighters: “But Here We Are”

The band’s first album since the tragic death of drummer Taylor Hawkins finds Dave Grohl and company sounding as vital as ever. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here – just more of the smartly crafted robust rock fans have come to expect.

The High Divers: “Should I Be Worried?”

On their third proper studio album, The High Divers show an uncommon ability to craft highly developed, multi-faceted songs that draw from rock, pop and Americana while eluding easy categorizing.

Matt Andersen: “The Big Bottle of Joy”

Andersen may be from Canada, but he knows a few things about Southern soul, blues and gospel, as he deftly blends these influences on a dozen nicely varied tracks that have strong melodies and plenty of tasty guitar and keyboard work.

Iggy Pop: “Every Loser”

The man that 50 years ago helped pioneer punk is up to his usual tricks, cranking out hard-hitting but always-catchy rockers and moodier yet punchy fare.

Honorable Mentions

Here are 30 more albums that make up the next tier of my favorites — and there’s not much separating them from the top 10.

Carolina Story: “Colors of My Mind” (Some of the year’s most melodically memorable Americana songs fill this duo’s third album.); Nick Frater: “Bivouac” (Twenty-three hooky power pop songs – some of which are brief tunes woven into mini medleys or musical transitions — make “Bivouac” a colorful trip.); Miley Cyrus: “Endless Summer Vacation” (Cyrus combines her gift for pop melody with the kind of intelligent lyrics that aren’t that common in top 40 pop.); Mando Diao: “Boblikovs Magical World” (Swedish rockers’ 11th album is an adventurous effort with catchy songs that bend hard-hitting rock and edgy alt-pop in unique ways.); Drayton Farley: “Twenty On High” (Thoughtful folk-rock in the vein of Jason Isbell); Panthervision: “Now in 3-D” (Arguably the catchiest power pop album of 2023, think of a harder rocking Go-Go’s.); Brandy Clark: “Brandy Clark” (Pretty meets gritty on this Americana/country gem with lyrics that range from searing to tender.); Anabel Lee: “Mother’s Hammer” (Ambitious, edgy, catchy and at times quirky rock/pop that feels like Fiona Apple meets Courtney Barnett); Blondshell: “Blondshell” (Sabrina Mae Teitelbaum’s darkly hued, deliberate and frequently tense rock makes for a striking musical combination.); Grace Potter: “Mother Road” (A feisty theme album that’s rocking, funky, soulful, a bit twangy and just plain good.); Danny Liston: “Everybody” (Really sweet Southern blues and soul); William Matheny: “That Grand, Old Feeling” (Thoughtful rootsy rock and pop with sturdy melodies); The Shang Hi Los: “Aces Eights & Heartbreaks” (Sunny and punchy power pop); U.S. Rails: “Live For Another Day” (Tuneful, hearty rocking Americana); Ally Venable” “Real Gone”(This potent effort should propel Venable to the forefront of the blues scene.); Katie Wighton: “The End” (Sweet melodies paired with some biting lyrics make this solo debut feel like the start of something special – not an ending.); Lucinda Williams: “Stories from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart” (Williams rocks out, while mixing in several sturdy ballads on this fun effort); Odds: “Crash The Time Machine” (The reunited band shines with this diverse set of finely developed pop songs.); Mya Byrne: “Rhinestone Tomboy” (Excellent Americana that spans winsome balladry, sturdy midtempo tunes and fuzzed-up rock); Parkington Sisters: “Collide” (An uncommonly pretty Americana/roots rock outing with rich harmonies); TV Party: “Psychic Driving” (Consistently catchy rocking guitar pop with new wave, psychedelic and glam accents); Mothboxer: “Breathe” (Dave Ody and company return with another album of distinctive, highly melodic pop.); Sir Chloe: “I Am The Dog” (A compelling mix of serrated alt-poppish rockers and songs with a softer edge); Ratboys: “The Window” (Ambitious songs like “Black Earth, WI” elevate Ratboys within the punk-pop/power pop ranks.); Super Cassette: “Continue?” (Peppy hook-filled power pop that’s more imaginative than many in the genre. Continue? Please do.); Buddy & Julie Miller: “In The Throes” (The Millers deliver another fine collection of rough-hewn ballads and sturdy rootsy rockers.); Dropkick: “The Wireless Revolution” (Well-crafted pop-rock with some Byrds-ish jangle); Anderson Council: “The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon” (One of power pop’s better acts returns with another pleasing set of crisp and catchy tunes.); Barrence Whitfield & the Savages: “Glory” (Nobody rocks soul music like Whitfield, and he and the Savages gloriously let it rip again here.); Shinyribs: “Transit Damage” (When Arthur Conley sang of sweet soul music, he could have been describing this album.)

Alan Sculley
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