The Year’s Top Southern Albums

Twenty great listens from 2022 that deserve a spot in your playlist

From highly anticipated releases by stars like Maren Morris and Tyler Childers to lesser-known gems from the region’s rising talents, 2022 brought plenty of great Southern music, including an especially strong year for female artists. These twenty albums, across a variety of genres, stood out.

In no particular order:

Caitlin Rose | CAZIMI

It’s been a long nine years since Caitlin Rose’s last album, The Stand-In, and CAZIMI was well worth the wait. Songs like “Getting It Right,” which features Courtney Marie Andrews, display the vocal harmonies and self-deprecating charm that will feel like old friends to fans of Rose’s early work. Other tracks, such as “Modern Dancing,” skew poppier, with space cowboy imagery (“Star-crossed and ridin’ on heaven’s horses”) and a wisened perspective (“I’ve had enough of these cosmic divorces”).  Through it all, Rose maintains a wry down-to-earthness that makes every song feel equal parts thrilling and relatable, with just enough twang and steel guitar to maintain her status as one of Americana’s most convivial talents.

Hailey Whitters | Raised 

The latest from the Iowa-bred, Nashville-based Hailey Whitters offers the lyrical wit and vocal twang that made her debut album, The Dream, a country standout. But Raised brings a deeper dive into the small-town life that built her. “In so many ways, this record is the prequel to The Dream,” Whitters told G&G earlier this year. Whether she’s joking about her eclectic kin on “Big Family” or nodding to her grandfather’s turf farm on “Our Grass Is Legal,” the record provides an endearing look at the roots of a rising songwriting star.

Tray Wellington | Black Banjo 

Tray Wellington wears his Appalachian upbringing like a badge of honor. Taking cues from his musical and geographic forefathers, his take on banjo music blends progressive experimentation with traditional influences, making for a debut album that’s, well…fun. Wellington shows off his instrumental chops at every turn, fusing elements of jazz and bluegrass with occasional bursts of simple, singable lyrics. For a taste of his range, start with “Strasbourg / St. Denis,” a fascinating string cover of the jazz standard from trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

Maren Morris | Humble Quest 

Maren Morris has been an outspoken, unstoppable force in the country music space since she burst onto the scene with “My Church” in 2016. Humble Quest, released in March, continues her domination of the country-pop space. “Circles Around this Town” makes easy poetry from the day-to-day realities of her time as an aspiring Music City star, while the bluesier “Good Friends” offers a reflective, thankful ode to unconditional friendship. The album standout might be “I Can’t Love You Anymore,” a harmony-tinged number that boasts a classic country melody over a catchy enough backbeat to hook her wide range of cross-genre fans, too.

Dr. John | Things Happen That Way 

When the legendary New Orleans musician Dr. John passed away from a heart attack in 2019, he was finishing up an album that would capture his longtime appreciation for country-and-western music. The fruits of those recording sessions finally came to light with September’s Things Happen That Way, a riveting blend of covers from country greats (“Funny How Time Slips Away,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”) and originals such as the stellar “Holy Water,” a flashback to his stint in prison during the sixties.

Amanda Shires | Take It Like a Man 

Amanda Shires has been stealing shows on fiddle for the better part of three decades, earned an MFA in poetry from Sewanee in 2017, and co-founded the genre-pushing, female supergroup the Highwomen with pals Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris. Take It Like a Man boasts the instrumental excellence, lyrical complexity, and thoughtful perspective you might expect from an artist with that resume. “I know the cost of flight is landing,” she sings in the stirring title track, a slow number that shows off her distinctive vocals. On the more forceful, rock-infused “Hawk for a Dove,” we hear a sentiment that rings true for the Nashville changemaker: “Come on, put pressure on me,” she sings. “I won’t break.” Shires continues to push herself artistically with each new album—and with Take It Like a Man, she’s at the top of her game. 

S.G. Goodman | Teeth Marks 

“I laughed a bit when you pulled that card, telling me you’re gonna bless my heart,” sings S.G. Goodman on Teeth Marks’ outstanding title track. “Well it is, oh it already is.” It’s the kind of wry opening line that embodies Goodman’s fluency in Southern-isms—she was raised in Hickman, Kentucky—as well as her ability to transcend the region’s tropes. Whether she’s evoking cicada choirs as a backdrop to loneliness or juxtaposing loss of love with the rural ubiquity of a dollar store, Goodman strings together vivid imagery with poignant firsthand snapshots to yield a deeply personal yet strangely universal reflection on the human condition.  

Adeem the Artist | White Trash Revelry 

Adeem the Artist, who uses they/them pronouns, channels their feelings on family dynamics, sexuality, and general Southern-ness into a sonic blend filled with both humor and poetry. With their self-released Cast Iron Pansexual in 2021, Adeem connected with an audience eager to hear that kind of shame-shucking perspective in country music—so much so that White Trash Revelry was completely crowd-funded in what Adeem has jokingly dubbed a “redneck fundraiser.” Their wit and roistering shines on the raucous “Going to Hell” (“They play country songs in heaven, but in hell we play ‘em loud”), but White Trash Revelry has depth, too. Look no further than “Middle of a Heart,” an examination of violence, love, and the haunting duality of tradition.

Tyler Childers | Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? 

Not every track on Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? will hit all the right notes for every Tyler Childers fan. But with three discs each offering alternate versions of eight total album tracks, there’s probably something for just about everyone. Childers’s takes on Hank Williams’s “Old Country Church” are must-listens in every iteration, and three reimagined recordings of “Purgatory,” a song that first appeared on the Kentucky native’s 2017 album by the same name, will likely thrill longtime listeners. The title track draws a hard line on what he’s willing to give up for eternal salvation—and “runnin’ hounds and treein’ coons” ain’t on that list.

Kelsey Waldon | No Regular Dog

Kelsey Waldon has done some growing up since 2019’s White Noise, White Lines, her debut release with John Prine’s Oh Boy Records. That clear-eyed perspective—she’s been sober for more than two years now—reveals itself in elevated songwriting that stays true to her old-school country roots. On “Progress Again,” Waldon finds “hope in persistence,” while “Season’s Ending,” a tribute to the late Prine, turns to nature as a symbol of renewal. Throughout the album, her traditional country sound shines overtop an enduring theme: the fearless call to persevere through hard times. 

Beyoncé | Renaissance

Whether she was dialing up the dance floor or soundtracking your latest workout, the latest from the Houston-born superstar was hard to avoid this year—and for good reason. From the triumphant “Break My Soul” to the pulsing, vocally excellent “Summer Renaissance,” Beyoncé’s Renaissance is pure energy—an invitation to revel in who you are regardless of outside expectations. 

Marcus King | Young Blood 

Marcus King has been hailed as the future of Southern rock since he was a teenager. But even as the Greenville, South Carolina, native has reached new highs musically, he knows the lows, too. His struggles through a dark period of substance abuse and depression heavily shaped Young Blood, his follow-up to 2020’s Grammy-nominated El Dorado, and it finds the twenty-six-year-old in fine form. Whether he’s opening up about heartbreak on “Lie, Lie, Lie” or soaring on “Hard Working Man,” Young Blood is a beacon for those searching for hope in the darkness, and further proof that King is one of the South’s reigning guitar gods.

Soccer Mommy | Sometimes, Forever 

If you’ve been sleeping on Nashville’s thriving indie rock scene, consider Soccer Mommy your wake-up call. Sophia Regina Allison—the singer-songwriter behind the Soccer Mommy moniker—contrasts big, melancholy feelings with restrained vocals and at times breezy instrumentals, creating a sound on Sometimes, Forever that would be as fitting on a windows-down drive as it would a heartache-nursing night on the couch. “Shotgun” is a clear highlight, with a glowing chorus that softly compares new love to a firearm “waiting to sound.”

Charley Crockett | The Man from Waco 

With a dozen albums now to his name, Charley Crockett is shaping up to be one of country music’s most prolific torchbearers. The Texas native once again lends his deep baritone to traditional country and blues sounds on The Man from Waco. “I’m Just a Clown” shows off both Crockett’s sly humor and the instrumental chops of his band, the Blue Drifters, who joined him in the studio for the first time for an entire album. And don’t miss “Just Like Honey,” a heartbreaker with an irresistible beat, or the catchy closer “Name on a Billboard,” a reflection on the perils of fame. 

Courtney Marie Andrews | Loose Future 

Her fifth release via Mississippi’s Fat Possum Records, Loose Future features the clear, emotive vocals that have won Courtney Marie Andrews acclaim across the roots music community (and there’s plenty of pedal steel, too). But the album also includes bouncier, breezier instrumentals and a more uplifting lyrical outlook. Andrews particularly shines on “These Are the Good Old Days,” an ambling folk-pop gem that takes stock of life’s lovelier moments.

Plains | I Walked with You a Ways 

Katie Crutchfield, best known under the moniker Waxahatchee, and Jess Williamson first gained acclaim individually as indie rock artists. But Crutchfield, at least, had been hinting at a country turn, and the duo cites the Chicks and Dolly Parton as key influences for their debut together as Plains. Those predecessors’ impact is perhaps clearest on “Abilene,” a harmony-washed number that would fit right in with efforts like Trio, Parton’s 1987 album with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. But for all their nods to country music’s past, Plains’s sound doesn’t easily slide into any single genre.

Miko Marks | Feel Like Going Home

Miko Marks made waves at this year’s CMA Fest, earning a standing ovation for her performance at CMT’s Next Women of Country event. But she first made her mark on Nashville nearly two decades ago with her debut album, Freeway Bound. The obstacles she faced as a Black female country singer led her to leave Music City soon after and nearly leave country music behind altogether. Thankfully, she reconsidered. On Feel Like Going Home, Marks shows off the head-turning vocals that should have made her a star long ago, this time with backup from her band the Resurrectors. The rousing single “One More Night” brings elements of blues, Southern rock, country, and gospel, but the glue that makes it work is Marks herself—an electrifying presence with hopefully much more music to come. 

Lee Fields | Sentimental Fool 

North Carolina soul man Lee Fields began his career more than a half-century ago, and on Sentimental Fool, he demonstrates exactly why his classic sound has held strong through the decades. Rife with horns, rich background vocals, and smooth beats, the Daptone Records album boasts twelve original tracks, including “Ordinary Lives,” a wistful stunner about wanting a tender moment to last just a little longer.

Emily Nenni | On the Ranch 

Emily Nenni caught listeners’ ears in 2020 with the streaming success of “Long Game,” a chin-up anthem for anyone still waiting for hard work to pay off. Her Normaltown Records debut, On the Ranch, should earn the California-raised, Nashville-based country singer a wider following. On the opener “Can Chaser,” Nenni lends her twang to an ode to the women of the rodeo—a fitting theme when you consider that she wrote the bulk of the album while living on a Colorado ranch. 

Larkin Poe | Blood Harmony 

Megan and Rebecca Lovell, the Georgia-born sisters at the core of Larkin Poe, have been performing for the better part of their lives, first as members of the bluegrass group the Lovell Sisters before striking out on their own with a blues-rock edge. Whether they’re covering the Allman Brothers or paying tribute in an original track, their devotion to their craft is evident in every performance, and Blood Harmony continues their nod to the greats before them. The bold, guitar-driven “Bad Spell” draws inspiration from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You,” while “Georgia Off My Mind” plays off a classic for a new number all their own.