No Depression Readers’ Favorite Roots Music Albums of 2023
Readers have really come through for No Depression in 2023.
We asked you to tell us your favorite roots music albums of 2023, and more than 3,000 of you filled out a ballot! With more than 700 options to choose from (plus a heavily used space for write-ins), it was no easy task, we know. The 20 albums that rose to the top are listed below, with our reviews of each one linked so you can read more about any you may have missed.
And that’s the beauty of these year-end polls. It’s fun to see your own favorites listed, to know that many others shared your love for them. But it’s also a great way to discover some other albums you may have missed along the way. We hope you get turned on to something great!
No Depression readers have also been coming through for us in our year-end fund drive, which will ensure we can continue our roots music coverage into 2024 and beyond. If you haven’t yet contributed, we hope you’ll consider it. Any amount — large or small — is greatly appreciated, and goes directly toward the reviews, columns, and stories we produce. All donations are entered to win some amazing prizes: Check those out here. And subscriptions are another great way to show your support. Subscribe now and we’ll send you our brand-new Winter 2023 journal right away (available in print or digitally), and you’ll get a new issue packed with roots music long reads every quarter. Thanks so much for your support of this poll and this publication.
UPDATE 12/27/23: Our staff, writers, and photographers have spoken, too — check out their favorite roots music albums of 2023 in our Critics Poll results!
ND READERS’ FAVORITE ROOTS MUSIC ALBUMS OF 2023
Rather than being formed under pressure of following up previous work, Weathervanes is the sound of an exhale, a settling-in for someone who’s become a master at playing the long game. — Michael Elliott
Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart is music made by the still hungry, by an artist who feels she still has something to prove. Williams’ passion is infectious, spreading to the guests that appear here, including Bruce Springsteen, Margo Price, and Buddy Miller. — Michael Elliott
Allison Russell’s jubilant follow-up to her award-winning solo debut dwells deep in the recesses of the soul. It’s imbued with a radiant spirituality that illumines the liminal spaces of human existence, and it exudes a joy that rides her transcendent vocals and the musical fabric created by her glorious collaborators. — Henry Carrigan
On City of Gold, the second album from Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway, wanderlust is a central theme, as are its consequences, both positive and negative. — Chris Griffy
Changing the world can feel like an impossible mission, and it can be hard to see how one person can ever make a difference. But in the big picture DeMent sees and sings about, there’s a role for all of us, no matter how small we might feel or how hard or uncertain the walk might be. — Stacy Chandler
In pre-release materials, Childers describes Rustin’ in the Rain as “a collection of songs I playfully pieced together as if I was pitching a group of songs to Elvis.” While there are definitely moments that evoke Presley’s earlier years at Sun Records, the album runs a bit deeper than that. — Jim Shahen
This is Giddens’ first album to feature all-original songs, which were written over the course of her career. Her chosen collaborators are also drawn from across her varied musical experiences. Perhaps the biggest clue as to what to expect lies in Giddens’ choice of producer, Jack Splash, whose previous credits include R&B stars Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar. — Chris Wheatley
This full-length release showcases the evolution of the union of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus since their initial 2018 EP collaboration and even deepens that sense of connection. These songs feel like the trio is singing to, and about, each other as much as anybody else. — Kyle Petersen
On Strays, Price demonstrates her shape-shifting musical genius and her restless lyrical spirit. On every song, Price wears her candor on her sleeve, spooling out stories that are emotionally eviscerating and exhilaratingly expansive. — Henry Carrigan
Day of the Doug happened in part because Jay Farrar spent pandemic downtime listening to a box set of Sahm reissues, reminding him of what he loved about Sahm’s music but also turning him on to deeper cuts. As a result, the tracklist here is refreshingly adventurous. — Peter Blackstock
With Higher, Chris Stapleton forges another set of meticulously crafted, adeptly instrumented, and accessible songs. While the Kentucky-born artist continues to mine and rebrand various templates, his voice is undeniably and invariably country, whether he’s invoking Saturday night or Sunday morning. — John Amen
With In the Throes, Buddy and Julie Miller deliver soulful songwriting that arises out an intimacy of two souls sharing pain and hope and love and holding sacred their experience in their warm vocals and music. These two singers and songwriters reveal the depth of their musical and spiritual presence on the album, inviting listeners into its enveloping warmth. — Henry Carrigan
Rodney Crowell working with Jeff Tweedy seems like a match made in musical heaven. Both are meticulous songwriters who spin dazzling tales of despair, loss, joy, and hope, and they both deliver just the right music the lyrics demand. Those strengths combine for something special on Crowell’s new album, The Chicago Sessions, produced by Tweedy and recorded in Wilco’s The Loft studio and space in the Windy City. — Henry Carrigan
Cousin sounds like a band tenderly crafting unorthodox arrangements and layers of sound in direct contrast to last year’s Cruel Country. While still largely reminiscent of 2019’s Ode to Joy in its mixture of low-stakes power pop and avant-folk ruminations, the songs here are peppered with a kind of unsettling darkness, from quietly menacing synths and bits of distortion to electronic processing and slapback delays, all of which play to the band’s avant strengths. — Kyle Petersen
Inspired by the Northern California region where she grew up but left some time ago, Cilker’s sophomore album is a kind of spiritual revisiting of a place stuck teetering on the line between development and preservation. Like this dynamic, her feelings about it are complicated and deeply personal. — Maeri Ferguson
“I recorded this album of songs in over ten different studios, with a couple dozen musicians and engineers. It took two years. It’s not the way to make a record unless there’s no other way. Which there wasn’t because we’re talking 2020 and 2021 here. Because of the way the record was made, the songs on the album are cut from various sonic cloths. Thematically, though, they are interrelated.” — Grant Peeples (from press materials)
A country music warhorse who began playing with Lester Flatt when he was just 14, Stuart has forged a five-decade career in which he has become known for his love and encyclopedic knowledge of country music. But as an artist, he has not let himself be straitjacketed by the music’s traditions. He has stretched country music’s boundaries with terrific results that match his expansive creative ambitions. — Nick Cristiano
This record is a strong return by a consistent country band, one that earned a faithful fan base through hard touring and fiery live shows. This road-tested tightness drives A Cat in the Rain. — Corbie Hill
After two albums touring Western sounds, Leigh turns south for Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet, with 12 original drinking and quick-stepping tunes fit for the beer joint in the title. The backing band is led by Marty Stuart on mandolin and Chris Scruggs on guitar, while Rodney Crowell shows up to provide some background vocals, giving the release an added air of authentic history. — Noah Berlatsky
For the most part these songs are performed with the same barebones intensity that launched him. His unerring consistency in this regard is both his biggest strength and possible detriment, as his seemingly unending ability to knock out hook-littered one liners and tales of regret, romance, and woe remains unabated. — Kyle Petersen
Here’s playlist of songs from albums highlighted in this list as well as the results from our Critics Poll: