The Southern Albums of the Year

Jason Isbell, Zach Bryan, Lucinda WIlliams, and more made our top ten listens of 2023

A woman with a beret wears black and holds a guitar


Lucinda Williams, photographed in Watertown, Tennessee, for G&G's June/July 2023 issue.

What a year it’s been for Southern music. 2023 marked the return of beloved artists like Lucinda Williams and Turnpike Troubadours from dire circumstances, and singer-songwriters Jason Isbell, Zach Bryan, and Margo Price all hit high-water marks. Here, in no particular order, are G&G’s picks for the ten best albums this year by Southern artists.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit | Weathervanes

Jason Isbell has proven himself a once-in-a-generation songwriter with a gift for wringing raw-nerve emotions from his characters and finding universal pathos in small details. On Weathervanes, Isbell and 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden bring their masterful interplay from the stage to songs like “This Ain’t It,” while the standout “Cast Iron Skillet” starts with a list of dos and don’ts—a lyrical motif similar to that of “Outfit,” which he recorded with the Drive-By Truckers in 2003—before smothering the nostalgia with startling realism.

Allison Russell | The Returner

While Allison Russell’s acclaimed 2021 solo debut, Outside Child, explored the fallout of childhood trauma, The Returner finds the singer-songwriter in greener pastures. Russell has grown from her roots-folk beginnings and blossomed on a joyful, funkier album without abandoning the organic tones of her debut. It’s not all sunshine—she finds urgency on “Stay Right Here” and sharpens her edge on “Eve Was Black”—but the challenging moments pay off big.

Vincent Neil Emerson | The Golden Crystal Kingdom

East Texas troubadour Vincent Neil Emerson drew on his Native American roots and the 2017 documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World for inspiration on The Golden Crystal Kingdom. Teamed with producer Shooter Jennings, Emerson added some noisy Link Wray–influenced guitar accents to his country rock, but the steady, matter-of-fact singing that binds his catalog remains his greatest asset.

Zach Bryan (self titled)

As country music’s favorite arena-packing Everyman, Zach Bryan has rekindled the genre’s love of story songs whose edges haven’t been smoothed by a team of Nashville writers. Backed by minimal accompaniment, his character sketches are immediate and their troubles and tribulations stark. On his self-titled fourth long player, Bryan also duets with Kacey Musgraves on the hit “I Remember Everything” and shares the mic with Sierra Ferrell, the War and Treaty, and the Lumineers.

Turnpike Troubadours | A Cat in the Rain

The red-dirt country pride of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, returned to active duty after a three-year hiatus, during which frontman and songwriter Evan Felker dealt with the bottle and the fallout that followed. A Cat in the Rain is a declaration of renewed purpose—not just for Felker, but the entire band—and much more than a consolation prize for all the Turnpike fans who never stopped believing. As Felker sings on “Chipping Mill”: “I ran my heart through a chipping mill / Sold my soul for rock ‘n’ roll / But I always kept the best for you.”

Morgan Wade | Psychopath

On her 2021 debut, Reckless, Morgan Wade invoked her self-destructive younger self in songs like “Wilder Days.” On Psychopath, she re-teamed with Sadler Vaden for another trip through her rocky past and wary present. Wade’s frank perspectives on love and life are as keen as ever on thirteen new songs of alt-rock-infused Americana. More than anything, Psychopath proves the breakout success of her debut wasn’t a fluke—she’ll be here a long time if she can keep it between the ditches.

Lucinda Williams | Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart

On Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart, her fifteenth album in forty-four years, Lucinda Williams sings with a newfound zeal, a product of her 2020 brush with mortality when a stroke left her temporarily unable to play guitar and walking with a cane. Recovery and reflection sharpened her observations on “Rock N Roll Heart” and “Where the Song Will Find Me,” while guest ringers like Tommy Stinson of the Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, and Patti Scialfa dial up the energy.

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram | Live in London

Studio recordings of blues music tend to sacrifice improvisation and energy for polish, making live documents like Muddy Waters At Newport 1960 and B.B. King’s Live in Cook County Jail so essential. In such a setting, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram lets go of studio restraints—his signature Fender Stratocaster does the talking on “Mississippi Night,” a twelve-bar blues instrumental that rises and returns over ten thrilling minutes—while his backing band hits as hard as Parliament-Funkadelic. Live in London shows Ingram belongs right alongside his blues forebears.

Margo Price | Strays

The free-spirited psychedelic elements on Strays, Margo Price’s latest album of Americana gems, came naturally. Price and Jeremy Ivey, her longtime husband, bandmate, and co-writer, penned much of the album on a mushroom bender in Charleston, South Carolina, then recorded in Topanga Canyon outside L.A., where artists like Neil Young, the Doors, and the Byrds were once familiar faces. As Price continues to swirl new influences into her music, Strays reveals her versatility and staying power.

The War and Treaty | Lover’s Game

The many seasons of life will test any marriage, and that’s at least doubly true when you add the pressures of a decade in the music business. On Lovers Game, Michael and Tanya Trotter, better known as the rock-and-soul country duo the War and Treaty, accept it all. With the soaring ballad “That’s How Love Is Made,” the album’s emotional centerpiece, they remind listeners that real love is “all or nothing”—and they’ve got the scars to prove it.