The Best Southern Albums of 2018

From well-known artists you’ve been spinning nonstop to newcomers who deserve a listen, get acquainted our favorite Southern albums of the year
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Dirty Computer | Janelle Monáe

Game-changing Atlanta musician Janelle Monáe has always drawn comparisons to late superstar Prince, but Dirty Computer may reveal his influence more than any other studio work to date. Get down to the funky “Make Me Feel,” come to grips with vulnerability on “So Afraid,” or revel in success and independence on “Django Jane”—in every note, Dirty Computer challenges expectations and celebrates individuality.

Essential Tracks: “Make Me Feel,” “So Afraid”

Golden Hour | Kacey Musgraves

Golden Hour is an evolution from the classic twang that kick-started Kacey Musgraves’s career five years ago on Same Trailer, but the Texas native hasn’t strayed from the eclectic influences and clever lyricism that have been shaking up country music ever since. Infusing her trademark wit with elements of disco and floaty pop, Golden Hour is compelling evidence that we’ll be listening to Musgraves for decades to come.

Essential Tracks: “Slow Burn,” “High Horse”

Good Thing | Leon Bridges

For his hotly anticipated second album, Leon Bridges didn’t abandon the vintage soul sound that won fans on Coming Home. He built on it. From the funky, synth-infused “You Don’t Know”  to the swoon-worthy R&B ballad “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand,” Good Thing shows off the Fort Worth native’s versatility—and assures that there’s plenty of innovation left to forge in old-school sounds.

Essential Tracks: “Beyond,” “Bad Bad News”

Historian | Lucy Dacus

On her sophomore release, twenty-three-year-old Lucy Dacus approaches experiences that can feel alienating and earth-shattering—a painful breakup, for example—with a wry sense of humor and a low-key delivery that lighten the mood without trivializing the loss. Expect explosive guitar alongside tender vocals, and plenty of lyrical surprises along the way.

Essential Tracks: “Night Shift,” “Yours & Mine”

May Your Kindness Remain | Courtney Marie Andrews

Released in March courtesy of Oxford, Mississippi–based Fat Possum Records, May Your Kindness Remain is a soulful folk masterpiece in the vein of Linda Ronstadt or Emmylou Harris. Whether it’s the lackluster love interest in “I’ve Hurt Worse” or the imperfect but beloved home in “This House,” Andrews uses small observations to tell bigger stories, and overarching themes of empathy make Kindness a must-listen for our time.

Essential Tracks: “May Your Kindness Remain,” “Rough Around the Edges”

Other Arrangements | Parker Millsap

If Parker Millsap reckoned with religion on previous releases, Other Arrangements is less fire-and-brimstone and more, well, fire, from the building intensity of “Gotta Get to You” to howler “Fine Line.” The Americana darling’s shows have always been pretty rock and roll, and Other Arrangements is a twelve-song testament to those sensibilities.

Essential Tracks: “Your Water,” “Some People”

See You Around | I’m With Her

Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins went viral last year for their three-part cover of Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” but their original material as I’m With Her delivers the same catchy vocal harmonies and much more. Toe-tapper “Waitsfield,” an all-instrumental track, points to the three multi-instrumentalists’ technical excellence, and the album’s single cover song, the previously unreleased Gillian Welch track “Hundred Miles,” closes out the collection, rendering See You Around a portrait of what collaboration in modern roots music should be.

Essential Tracks: “See You Around,” “I-89”

The Future and the Past | Natalie Prass

Lush instrumentals, jazzy piano, and timely lyrics make up the second album from Virginia singer-songwriter Natalie Prass, with Janet Jackson vibes on album opener “Oh My” and an empowering message on tracks like “Sisters.” Backed by the Spacebomb house band and produced by fellow Richmond resident Matthew E. White, The Future and the Past is inherently groovy and a worthy next step for one of indie pop’s rising voices.

Essential Tracks: “Shot Court Style,” “Ain’t Nobody”

The Tree of Forgiveness | John Prine

On John Prine’s first album of original material since 2005, he sympathizes with Pluto over its loss of planethood on “Lonesome Friends of Science,” immortalizes the excitement of new romance on “I Have Met My Love Today,” and even breaks out a kazoo on “When I Get to Heaven.” Equal parts humor, melancholy, and contentment, The Tree of Forgiveness further solidifies the seventy-one-year-old’s status as one of country’s most prolific songwriters.

Essential Tracks: “Summer’s End,” “When I Get to Heaven”

Benton County Relic | Cedric Burnside

“My school was a juke joint,” sings Cedric Burnside in “Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess,” a standout track on the Grammy-nominated musician’s latest album. The grandson of legendary Mississippi hill country bluesman RL Burnside, Cedric began touring with his father and grandfather in his early teens. Now pushing forty, his lifelong education in the sounds of Memphis and Mississippi is obvious in the funky guitar and low, husky vocals.

Essential Tracks: “Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess,” “We Made It”

Girl Going Nowhere | Ashley McBryde

It took a whole lot of yes I wills and I don’t care / A whole lot of basement dives and county fairs…” The title track on Ashley McBryde’s major-label debut is a kiss-off to the teacher who told her to give up on music—and a glimpse at what the rising star has weathered to find success. The song has become an anthem for the Arkansas native as she plays to larger crowds and breakout single “Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” climbs the charts. It’s a great start—and we can’t wait to see where she goes next.

Essential Tracks: “Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” “Livin’ Next to Leroy”

boygenius | boygenius

Individually, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus are three of today’s brightest and most promising songwriters. So naturally, when the trio of solo artists got together, the result was fantastic—”like nineties stars Wilson Phillips if they had eaten at the misfits table in high school,” as G&G’s Matt Hendrickson put it in his profile—and the trio’s swelling harmonies find a perfect home alongside hard-rocking instrumentals.

Essential Tracks: “Salt the Wound,” “Bite the Hand”

Interstate Gospel | Pistol Annies

It’s been five years since the Pistol Annies released new music, and the country supergroup—Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe—continue to deliver equal parts comedy and confession. “Got My Name Changed Back” is an anthem for a long-fought divorce, while “Commissary” laments opioid addiction and incarceration.

Essential Tracks: “Best Years of My Life,” “Got My Name Changed Back”

To the Sunset | Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires has been performing for the better part of her entire life, adding fiddle and harmonies to the sounds of the Texas Playboys, Billy Joe Shaver, and her husband, Jason Isbell. To the Sunset, her fifth album, is instrumentally excellent, but Shires’ lyricism steals the spotlight. “Break Out the Champagne” turns a turbulent plane ride into a carpe diem anthem, while “White Feather” uses rustic imagery like scarecrows, fields, and animals as metaphors  to reveal how fear limits our ability to understand one another.

Essential Tracks: “White Feather,” “Leave It Alone”

Duo | The Watson Twins

Identical twins Chandra and Leigh Watson have lent their voices to such artists as Jenny Lewis, Willie Nelson, and Kings of Leon. On Duo, their first release in five years, the Kentucky-raised, Nashville-based sisters get the top billing they deserve. Rather than standard two-part harmony, the twins sing each vocal part in unison to choir-like effect—made even more powerful when they are joined by fellow sibling duo the Cactus Blossoms on the stirring “Call to You.”

Essential Tracks: “Rolling Thunder,” “Hustle and Shake”

What A Time to Be Alive | Superchunk

In the nearly thirty years since Superchunk began churning out pop-punk anthems, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, foursome has released eleven albums and had a hand in plenty of other indie bands’ successes through their music label, Merge Records. Resume aside, this year’s What a Time is a raucous indictment of the modern age. Here’s to three more decades of a Southern indie rock institution.

Essential Tracks: “What a Time to Be Alive,” “Erasure”

Last Man Standing | Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson released not one but two standout albums this year (one of which was all Frank Sinatra covers), nabbing several Grammy nods. Last Man Standing exemplifies his wit, with many songs cracking jokes about his status as one of the last living country outlaws: “I don’t wanna be the last man standin’…Or wait a minute maybe I do,” he jokes on the title track; “Heaven is closed, and hell’s overcrowded, so I think I’ll stay where I am,” he assures listeners later. Nelson is as strong a songwriter as ever, and by tapping hitmaker Buddy Cannon as his co-writer and producer, plus such talent as Alison Krauss for backup instrumentation and vocals, The Last Man Standing stands tall.

Essential Tracks: “Last Man Standing,” “Heaven is Closed”

Shooter | Shooter Jennings

The son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter has never been one to live in his famous parents’ shadows, bucking expectations by finding inspiration everywhere from Italian dance music to hard rock. But Shooter, theGod’s honest country-rock record,” as G&G contributing editor Matt Hendrickson raved, is the album Shooter Jennings was destined to make. The tender “Rhinestone Eyes” seems right at home alongside upbeat numbers like the horn-heavy album opener “Bound ta Git Down.”

Essential Tracks: Bound Ta Git Down,” “Rhinestone Eyes”

Healing Tide | The War and Treaty

In their debut full-length album, husband-and-wife duo Michael and Tanya Trotter throw the vocal power of two gospel soloists behind eleven songs that each draw from a different chapter in American music.  Opening track “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow” relies almost entirely on their voices a capella. “Hearts” finds them accompanied by piano, while electric guitar riffs punch up “All I Wanna Do.” And listeners might recognize a familiar voice chiming in on “Here Is Where the Loving Is At”—Emmylou Harris joins in on the bluesy bluegrass stunner.

Essential Tracks: “Here is Where the Loving Is At,” “Are You Ready to Love Me”