The Saving Country Music 2022 Album of the Year – Saving Country Music

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Similar to the Song of the Year category in 2023, the top finalists for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year were so close, it only seems fitting to count them down from #4 to #1 just to take another opportunity to reinforce the best stuff once again. But there is a #1, and it’s one for the ages, while all of the 2023 Album of the Year nominees deserve top props for making it a great year in country music.
#4 – Ian Noe – River Fools and Mountain Saints
If you’re looking for that most devastating and superbly-written singer/songwriter country/Americana album released in the last year, Ian Noe came out on top on a year when there was incredible competition. Once again the State of Kentucky has turned in another artist and songwriter who far surpasses our expectations, and stuns with the level of songcraft, while River Fools and Mountain Saints also steps up its game musically from Ian Noe’s debut, making it a well-rounded release.

Ian Noe has unfortunately had to cancel out of numerous tours over the last few years, most recently saying he was dealing with some mental health issues and is putting his well being first as he should. Ian Noe may not be headlining any major festivals in 2023 or get played on commercial radio. But unquestionably, we’ve got a keeper in our midst with Ian Noe, and all the more reason as a community to keep him healthy and supported for years to come.

(read album review)
#3 – The Broken Spokes – Where I Went Wrong
Bar none, the album that was just the best to listen to, that was one of the most authentic country releases all year, and that was the greatest specimen of everything country music should be was Where I Went Wrong by the The Broken Spokes out of Houston, TX. The Broken Spokes were also arguably 2022’s greatest discovery, facilitated through the greatness of Where I Went Wrong.

Many of the albums, songs, and artists featured in Saving Country Music’s end-of-year lists were also seen in the end-year tabulations by other outlets and individuals. But along with fellow Texas band Rattlesnake Milk, The Broken Spokes slid scandalously under-the-radar this year. But as we’ve seen in previous years and with previous albums of this caliber, eventually greatness can’t be overlooked forever. The Broken Spokes are ripe for discovery, just ask anyone who listened to Where I Went Wrong this year.

(read album review)
#2 – Kaitlin Butts – What Else Can She Do
What Else Can She Do by Kaitlin Butts was the best of all worlds in 2022 when it comes to what distinguishing country music listeners want from an album. It was decidedly country in its approach, while also not feeling stuffy or routine. The songwriting in it matched any other album released in 2022, and delivered it in a thematic approach about the struggles many women face. It was fiercely personal in the way Butts unburdened elements of her own story in the songs.

And unlike some or many of the most superbly-written albums in the country/Americana space, Kaitlin Butts also happens to be a world-class country singer with incredible range, emotion, and soul in her voice, delivering lines with conviction. Kaitlin Butts is an old school country singer with a new school coolness and approach. Savvy in the social media age, but substantive and mature in her music, she’s like a force of nature that was finally unleashed in 2022.

(read album review)
Is Zach Bryan’s American Heartbreak a masterpiece or a magnum opus from a critical standpoint? No, it is not. Was it the best written album of 2022? It’s definitely has its moments, but that distinction would be heavily debatable. Was it the best-produced album, or the one that illustrates superior instrumental or compositional prowess? Probably not. Is it innovative in any way? Not really. Is it even comfortably presented well within the “country music” genre where it displays a proud example of what country music can be or should be in the modern era? Again, that’s a hard conclusion to come to.

But without question and unequivocally, Zach Bryan’s American Heartbreak has so demonstrably distinguished itself as one of those albums that future generations will look back upon as a landmark moment in country music, it absolutely defined what happened in the genre in 2022, which was the ushering in of independent voices and the return to poetic virtues in country music.

Not dissimilar to the release of Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music in 2014, or Purgatory by Tyler Childers in 2017, Zach Bryan and American Heartbreak have rewritten what we thought was possible for an artist not supported by Music Row, mainstream radio, and big awards shows. But even more so than those previous releases, American Heartbreak isn’t just “disrupting” or “challenging” that power dynamic. It’s downright dominating country music, beating the mainstream at its own game, and forging a legacy that is only fair to characterize as a “phenomenon,” with crowds erupting with enthusiasm for this music in a manner we haven’t seen since Beatlemania, and perhaps ever in the history of country music. Anyone who saw Zach Bryan perform live in 2022 will agree.

And despite American Heartbreak not being especially country, it’s still more country than it is anything else, and fits well within the singer/songwriter legacy of the genre. Despite the 32-song track list invariably including some soft patches and repeated words and melodies, the amount of remarkable songs it does includes still constitutes more than any other artist released in 2022, not to mention Bryan’s 9-song EP Summertimes Blues that includes some more.

There is a major rift within the country/Americana community when it comes to Zach Bryan, and it’s one where age is a significant factor. Either you get him and have taken the time to listen intently to his music to discover those one liners in so many of his songs that are the impetus for the wild loyalty and popularity he enjoys among his fan base, or you haven’t. This is not smoke and mirrors. It’s the sincerity behind Zach Bryan’s music that has lent to its success.

Simply put, there is independent country music before American Heartbreak, and there is independent country music after American Heartbreak. The album has rewritten the rules, opened doors, and ushered in a new era where artists who don’t give a shit about the industry norms and are even willing to curse entities like Ticketmaster in open rebellion are becoming the mainstream.

2022 began a new era in country music where the power shifted away from Music Row and back into the hands of the fans and artists themselves. Helped by technology and Zach Bryan’s predecessors who built the bridges he crossed over and the communities he enjoyed, an artist not supported on mainstream radio and Music Row finally ascended the mountaintop, and that action has helped raise awareness of all independent country artists, from Tyler Childers, to the Turnpike Troubadours, to the other Saving Country Music Album of the Year nominees like Ian Noe, The Broken Spokes, and Kaitlin Butts, as Zach Bryan fans search for similar artists, and the entirety of the listening public wakes up to the fact that there is an entire other world of country music out there that the mainstream industry has been hiding from them.

There are still so many artists not named Zach Bryan worthy of attention and struggling to find support for their careers. Our work is not finished. But at the same time, the challenges moving forward for so many of independent country’s top artists will not be finding gigs or fans, it will be facilitating all the fans that want to see them as they transition from vans to buses, clubs the theaters, and theaters to arenas.

Is Zach Bryan and American Heartbreak solely responsible for this phenomenon? Absolutely not. We all are—the supporters of independent country music who’ve been soldering for years for the cause, buying T-shirts, telling friends about our favorite artists, frustrated that they can’t find traction. But now they finally are, and in numbers we thought we would never see. And no, these are not fans that are just here for the party—interlopers who will leave when the party is over. These are people who know every single word to every single song Zach Bryan has ever released, despite his insane amount of output. And in 2022, American Heartbreak was their rallying cry.


Coat
January 2, 2023 @ 10:15 am
Trigger, thanks for producing my favorite website on the internet. I appreciate you. Keep it up!
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Jack Young
January 2, 2023 @ 10:17 am
A lot of your readers will not like it, but you got this right.
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hoptowntiger94
January 2, 2023 @ 11:09 am
I commented this on a previous article and I’ll repeat it here: If Trig polled his readers and they all only voted once, I’d bet the farm 75-80% of SCM have a very favorable opinion of Zach Bryan. It’s the miserable, jealous minority repeating the same comment on every Zach Bryan post that makes the average SCM reader think otherwise.
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Jack Young
January 2, 2023 @ 11:12 am
That’s a fair assessment.
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Blackh4t
January 2, 2023 @ 12:04 pm
I’m neither miserable or jealous. He just sounds particularly grating in my ears.
And then its like watching the charismatic jerk at a party who hasn’t really done anything but somehow manages to steal all prettiest girls. And wins album of the year.
Anyway, glad you enjoyed it. Happy new year 🙂
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King Honky Of Crackershire
January 2, 2023 @ 8:21 pm
Calling someone “jealous”, when they criticize someone you admire, is a classic scrote-gobbler move. Scrote-gobblers worldwide deploy this attack when coming to the defense of a performer, celebrity, politician, etc. they adore. Legend has it, that the moment of attack, is the only time their mouth is free of scrotum.
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Blackh4t
January 2, 2023 @ 9:06 pm
Nah, thats uncalled for. I may dislike the music and insidious publicity of Zach Bryan, but personally he could be a nice guy. And Hoptown definitely seems like a nice guy.
People are happy listening to ZB. I only post occasionally because I don’t want the people who dislike him to feel alone. Otherwise, listen to what makes you happy.

Trigger
January 2, 2023 @ 9:10 pm
Generally speaking I would agree with you about “jealousy” being over-deployed as a comeback. But having followed Zach Bryan’s career very closely, I can say I have definitely seen what I would consider jealousy coming from some of his fellow performers.
I’ll also say that in some respects, I understand it. In country music, you’re supposed to pay dues, and I wouldn’t say that Zach Bryan didn’t pay any dues, but if you’ve been hitting the road and performing for years and barely scraping by, and then some amateur performer comes by and hopscotches the whole scene to become super popular, it would be hard to not take that with an element of envy and spite.
Zach Bryan paid his dues serving in the Navy, and spent around 2 years after he’d already blown up fulfilling those commitments before doing music full time. Are many of the people who criticize him “jealous”? Probably not. But for some in the industry themselves, I do think this is a factor.

thegentile
January 3, 2023 @ 6:58 am
dang. you sure know a lot about gobblin’ scrote.

Doug Carter
January 3, 2023 @ 8:30 am
I’m certain that all of you saying people are “jealous” of Zach Bryan, mean “envious”. They are not synonymous. I’d wager you all mean that the critics want what Zach Bryan has, not that they are worried he’s threatening their position or what they have. DougCarter@pedanticasshole.com

Yo
January 2, 2023 @ 10:19 am
Yep.
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Doug
January 2, 2023 @ 10:20 am
Hard to argue with the conclusions here. While 2022 had some really good stuff I cant help but look ahead to 23 when we are likely (hopefully) going to get new Jinks and Turnpike, Then probably some more Bryan (maybe 2 or 3 who knows). Great job on the year end stuff Trigger.
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Wes
January 2, 2023 @ 10:36 am
It’s the biggest thing around and it’s changed the game. Zach Bryan has done amazing things. But #1, #2 could almost be interchangeable in my opinion. Both Absolutely fantastic.
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Strait86
January 2, 2023 @ 10:43 am
I like that Zach releases albums and EP’s without pressure or obligation to produce something so polished that it lost it’s heart. It’s a good course correction for music.
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hoptowntiger94
January 2, 2023 @ 11:02 am
The State of the Union is Strong.
Years ago, when I worked at National Record Mart HQ and then Handleman, we’d circulate our end-of-the-year lists through email and mine would be an all-genre, expansive 100 albums. Throughout the years, as my musical taste have narrowed, that list has dwindled down to 20. The last few years, it’s been hard to field 20 albums. This year, my list includes 21 solid albums that I absolutely love.
As the Nashville monopoly falls apart and corporate radio influence fades, the state of country music has never been stronger. Streaming services, social media, video sharing websites, and exceptional, influential country music blogs like Saving Country Music have leveled the playing field for independent and DIY artists and transmitted outstanding country music to all corners of the world.
Thank you, Trig, for the endless work that you do year in and year out to save the genre that was on life support years ago and continue to promote independent deserving artists ignored by the big machine.
It was a great year, the greatest in over a decade and I’m looking forward to 2023.
(my) Country Music Albums of the 2022 Year
1. American Heartbreak / Summertime Blues (EP) – Zach Bryan
2. Tornillo – Whiskey Myers
3. A Beautiful Time – Willie Nelson
4. Me/and/Dad – Billy Strings
5. Glory – Lost Dog Street Band
6. River Fools & Mountain Saints – Ian Noe
7. Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing – Benjamin Tod
8. Lines in the Levee – Town Mountain
9. Rich White Honky Blues – Hank Williams Jr.
10. 100 Proof Neon – Ronnie Dunn
11. Jericho – Tony Logue
12. Fortune Favors the Bold – 49 Winchester
13. Flyin’ High – The Wooks
14. Crooked Tree – Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
15. Co-Starring Too – Ray Wylie Hubbard
16. The Latest Adventures of the Franklin County Trucking Company – The Franklin County Trucking Company
17. what else can she do – Kaitlin Butts
18. Alpenglow – Trampled by Turtles
19. Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver – Various Artists
20. The immortal Hellbound Glory: Nobody Knows You – Hellbound Glory
21. Enjoy the Ride – Vince Herman
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wayne
January 2, 2023 @ 1:41 pm
hoptowntiger94,
Corporate country is not fading as much as you wish, though I would be glad if it did.
It’s just that the independents are emerging stronger and getting more visibility. And they are gathering a stronger base.
Americana has tried to do this for years, but they are into more “messaging” more than ever. And they continue to languish and appeal to a minor audience.
This move in, shall we say, the independents and DIY’s, is gathering an increasingly stronger base. Yes, I admit there may be some overlap.
But if there is one group that stands to be left in the shadows, it is Americana more so than corporate. Because corporate is a chameleon, and they will jump on the bandwagon and it has already begun with a more traditionalist turn. They will follow the money, eventually. Americana, they follow a message, subtle though it be at times. They will continue to be a niche, and it may decrease as the independents kick down more doors.
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Cool Lester Smooth
January 2, 2023 @ 7:29 pm
This comment spends an impressive amount of time going after a “scene” that doesn’t actually exist.
Americana doesn’t collectively “try” to do anything, haha. It’s just a bunch of independent singer-songwriters doing their own thing…and Zach’s ascension is absolutely fantastic for them, because he sounds a hell of a lot more “Americana” than “country.”
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Rich
January 2, 2023 @ 11:20 am
Very happy to see Kaitlin up here and to think without Zach she would have taken the top spot. She is just a class act and ridiculously talented. I have to believe Something in the Orange will become the next Tennessee Whiskey. The song that every country and roots cover band will have to play and it will permeate the ethos in similar fashion. Fantastic write ups Trigger and a phenomenal year for the SCM community. Keep up the great and important work!
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Strait86
January 2, 2023 @ 11:39 am
Zach is gonna need to adopt some brevity in his songwriting before he is able to create the next Friend’s in Low Places, Neon Moon, Long Haired Country Boy, Dixieland Delight or Tennessee Whiskey equivalent.
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Strait86
January 2, 2023 @ 11:40 am
His music has heart and is fresh, but his songs are still too wordy.
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Kevin Smith
January 2, 2023 @ 5:43 pm
Strait86
Ive been talking about his song structure and peculiar style which follows folk music and Dylan more than anything in hits-ville. He often does the Verse-Verse-Verse-Verse continual loop structure, rather than a more standard intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus etc pattern that makes for catchy ear-worms that end up as hits. Hes super wordy like his hero Evan Felker, and perhaps wordy like Dylan a bit. I really don’t see it as “Country” music in style, though maybe a bit in sound. BUT THE KIDS LIKE IT. So that’s all that matters to him, as it tends to fill 55 gallon sacks of $$$$. Fortunately, he will never listen to advice from me as I would want him to change everything. HA-HA! And that would be catastrophic from an economic point of view. But, I hear you and agree. And we are in the minority, and that’s ok with me. I guess my conclusion is, the guy has a talent and a certain amount of business saavy and an unorthodox marketing plan, which all seems to work for him.
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Strait86
January 2, 2023 @ 8:30 pm
He’s got a long career ahead of him. Who knows, maybe his next album will be his ‘Born in the USA.’
Country music is better off claiming him than rejecting him. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Nancy Griffith and her music is not pure country either.
I don’t mind altered song structure. Many of my favorite songs don’t follow basic song formats. I think it’s just some of his popular lyrics are descriptive but lack poignancy. Such as in ‘Going South’: “cause they let you play your music real damn loud.” They allow that in the north too…. Or in Oklahoma Smokeshow his please for the love of this small town girl seem very teenager’ish. None of this is to discount his relevance or claim that he doesn’t deserve his success. He absolutely does. I’m just airing my thoughts on some of his music in a forum he hopefully never reads. A friend even recounted a story of meeting him in a bar and according to him he was a legit dude.
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Cool Lester Smooth
January 3, 2023 @ 9:20 am
I mean…I’m pretty sure that he likes the music he’s making, and the way he structures his songs, quite a bit more than he does “catchy ear-worms” from “hitsville.”
I do think American Heartbreak was a step back from Elisabeth, and that it would have worked better as two 13 songs albums rather than one 32 giant (his lyrical tics are a little more apparent when he’s got so many songs to write), but he’s gotten this far by being exactly himself, and writing and recording the songs he wants, the way he wants them.
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Strait86
January 3, 2023 @ 9:31 am
Absolutely. The most I listen to him the more promise I see with him as an artist. It used to be that country songs were recorded with minimal takes and imperfections were left in. Somehow Zach is capturing that essence while being commercially successful.
His music and career is good enough to where nitpicking isn’t meant to take him down. No one is discussing fine points with Walker Hayes’s music.

thebugman10
January 3, 2023 @ 11:13 am
American Heartbreak was bloated for sure, and I agree Elisabeth was better I think.
I noticed his “lyrical tics” on American Heartbreak when he rhymed “bronco” with “tobacco” on back to back songs.
He did something similar on DeAnn where he used the line “squeeze you til your little lungs turn blue” on two different songs.

Strait86
January 3, 2023 @ 1:23 pm
“lyrical tics” ….Hahahaha
And that is amateurish to have those back-to-back rhymes.
I really don’t know if having a good co-writer would ruin his appeal but I’d like to see him have some songs that lyrically rival the hit’s of the 80’s and 90’s.

Cool Lester Smooth
January 3, 2023 @ 3:09 pm
For me it’s getting a variation of “High Hopes” in every other song, haha.
Now that he’s properly “arrived,” I hope he’s a bit more intentional on album-writing going forward, rather than knocking out batches songs, recording them, and releasing any and every one that meets the cut.

WuK
January 2, 2023 @ 11:40 am
Some brilliant albums this year so it cannot have been easy to choose the winner. It is both an interesting and a good choice and your reasons for choosing it are well thought out. Whatever Bryan is, his music does have sincerity. It’s a good album with some very good songs. Your website has introduced me to so many artists I probably would never have heard of. Great website, Hope you and all your followers have a great 2023.
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Jason Adam
January 2, 2023 @ 12:01 pm
Definitely the right pick for all the reasons given. The selections of Album, Song, Single, and Artist of the Year tell a great story of real country music in 2022. 2023 is going to be fun. Hoping for new TT, Bingham, CWG, and maybe a bounce back effort from Tyler Childers.
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Puncheon50
January 2, 2023 @ 12:05 pm
Spot on Commentary on American Heartbreak. I am on the older side of Gen X and have a Love Hate Relationship with American Heartbreak based on many of the points outlined in this article. I don’t believe American Heartbreak is really meant for me and my generation but I still enjoy listening to it and I can even sing along on a few songs with my son. Just the other day I dug into the song Open the Gate. Here I thought it was another kid with Daddy Issues song but it fascinated me to find out it boils down to riding a Bull. Discovering little nuggets like that is what makes me keep listening.
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Jjazznola
January 2, 2023 @ 12:12 pm
I’ve tried but find him and his generic music totally boring.
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wayne
January 2, 2023 @ 1:32 pm
Although I am in the minority here, he doesn’t ring my bell as he does most others.
That being said, I am in 100% agreement for this being album of the year because of its impact, regardless on the genuineness of some of his fans. By that I mean the “cool hipster” makeup of some of his fanbase, of course in my opinion.
There is no denying the albums success. The impact of Zach is not based upon my personal preference. There really was no other choice than his. I think this is probably the easiest year for Trigger picking AOTY.
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Danielle
January 2, 2023 @ 2:19 pm
It took me 3 months to get into Zach Bryan. Don’t know why, but one day it just clicked— over an older song of his too, Oklahoma City.
Now I can’t stop listening to American Heartbreak. I imagine if the album was able to pull me in, albeit late, than it will probably do the same for new fans. Which is almost always a good thing.
Anyway, been reading this blog since I was 15. I turn 27 tomorrow. Never commented, and I haven’t said anything profound here, but just wanted to say thanks. Most people give credit to their parents for developing some kinds of music taste— I credit this blog. So here’s to more years of reading a lurking.
Thanks Trigger!
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Trigger
January 2, 2023 @ 2:26 pm
Thanks for reading Danielle!
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Strait86
January 2, 2023 @ 3:06 pm
I am 36 and growing up my parent’s only played Christian contemporary music with a few terrible secular exceptions (Neil Diamond, Abba, CW Mcall, Ray Stevens..Not joking) Terrestrial radio at night was how I found country early on.
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Yo
January 3, 2023 @ 9:54 am
Ray Stevens is great.
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Di Harris
January 2, 2023 @ 9:46 pm
Happy Birthday tomorrow, Danielle!
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Kenny M
January 2, 2023 @ 2:59 pm
A couple of Tulsa kids are number 1 & 2. I’m very proud of them.
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Ian
January 2, 2023 @ 3:39 pm
Not something I would turn on or something I would turn off. Seems like the zeitgeist makes this the right choice because he’s so popular that Obama listed him as a favorite artist! Personally I kind of put him more in the Mumford and Sons/Avett Brothers part of my filing system which is not a bad thing. I would rather be at a party playing those guys than for example some total pantload band like Staind or Creed. Popular music has been in worse spots.
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Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 2, 2023 @ 3:54 pm
If only Kaitlin had included all the demos in her album too……..the woman has been robbed of her trophy.
Even with all the gaudy numbers Zach enjoys on Spotify, when you listen to his live album it’s a strangely pedestrian crowd. Listen to the opening for “Something In The Orange”. For a song that has almost a quarter billion streams, you would expect a bigger pop from the audience. Zach actually asks if they’re doing ok in the intro. Granted, it was really cold, but idk. It just seems like to me there’s “Something Rotten In The Orange.” But I guess I just don’t get it, because I’m not the right age — whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.
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jeepjeep
January 3, 2023 @ 11:09 am
“get off my lawn”.
Time for your generation to kick the bucket.
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Di Harris
January 3, 2023 @ 12:22 pm
“Time for your generation to kick the bucket.”
I absolutely love this.
Pretty sobering to know that a lot of us out here, are more cool, & having a great life.
We have worked hard, & a lot of us play hard.
By play hard, mean spearfishing/scuba diving, at places like Fort Jeff. in the Dry Tortugas.
Diving/spearfishing in the Keys.
Eating that freshly caught fish, a few hours later with a big salad, and fresh pineapple for dessert. Laughing, & enjoying, savoring, the company of amazing friends.
Getting together with friends around the country.
Traveling to see local musicians in their neck of the woods. Pouring money into the local economy.
Know you were teasing with that statement, & i wish you a great life, as well
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Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 3, 2023 @ 6:13 pm
Dude I still got about 40 years left of not understanding why people like his shitty music.
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Euro South
January 2, 2023 @ 4:18 pm
Can’t say I saw this coming. My problem with Zach Bryan is that I simply find myself never going back to any of his songs. Thus, all the merits he undoubtedly has are of no use whatsoever to me. There’s something annoyingly juvenile in his manner of singing, which, I guess, is why juveniles like him. Well, more power to both him and them. Happy New Year!
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Nick
January 2, 2023 @ 4:34 pm
Ian Noe and Rattlesnake Milk earned the most consecutive spins from me this year. Personally, I’ve suffered from extreme Zach Bryan fatigue and can’t bring myself to keep up with his release schedule. Thanks for all you do, Trigger. Been a quiet regular here for over a decade.
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Jobi
January 2, 2023 @ 4:38 pm
TRY and Find This, OR His other 2 Recordings On Vinyl LP ! CAN’T BE DONE !! I wish These Artist Would Realize, AT LEAST IN FLORIDA, MUSIC Has Gone Back To Vinyl Records !
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Strait86
January 4, 2023 @ 6:06 am
Vinyl records are mainly about aesthetics. Unless the vinyl was directly made from analog recorded master tapes, there is no improvement of sound quality over cd.
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JF
January 2, 2023 @ 5:26 pm
I would probably not put Zach amongst my top ten favorite artists. But he was my most listened to artist of 2022 and “American Heartbreak” my most listened to record. It’s just great. And I am an old fart. Speaking of which, my 19-year-old son lives and breathes Zach Bryan. My son got to meet Zach and said he was the nicest damn guy in the world. Refreshing when so many of my fave artists have turned out to be kinda dicks.
Oh and this is also Kaitlin’s time. She is gonna have a hell of a career. The real deal.
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Steverino
January 2, 2023 @ 5:37 pm
I’m not going to argue the importance of this album in the grand scheme of things. But for me, my favorite albums of the year were:
1) Lindeville by Ashley McBryde
2) Peculiar, Missouri by Willi Carlisle
3) Southern Currency by Jefferson Ross
4) Crooked Tree by Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway
5) Too Many Days Like Saturday Night by Aaron McDonnell
6) A Beautiful Time by Willie Nelson
7) Neon Blue by Joshua Hedley
8) Bronco by Orville Peck
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King Honky Of Crackershire
January 2, 2023 @ 6:34 pm
One would think, that if C(c)ountry music were not only alive and well, but coming off its best year in over a decade, as Trigger has repeatedly proclaimed, that it would be very easy to find a legitimate C(c)ountry music album to hold up as the “Saving Country Music Album of The Year”. Strange, that we end up with a Folk Rock album instead.
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JCC
January 5, 2023 @ 4:41 am
Totally agree! I don’t see how a folk-pop record can be album of the year on a country music website. Looks like Saving Country Music is waving the white flag.
If people enjoy folk-pop I have no problem with that. Listen to what makes you happy.
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Jake Cutter
January 2, 2023 @ 6:48 pm
No brainer.
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Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 2, 2023 @ 7:50 pm
I recall you having a pretty different take when you were saying on the Song of the Year that you were disappointed the winner wasn’t very country…
Wtf is going on with everybody that we’re letting an amatuerish Eric Church-esque heartland rocker be the Country Music Jesus pretender?
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Jake Cutter
January 2, 2023 @ 9:31 pm
Maybe I think there’s a difference between sounding country”ish” and sounding like Passenger or pure folk.
If you want my vote for pure twangy country sound then I would probably say “Piss-Hot Freightlining Country Music.” But there’s enough fiddle and twangy guitar in American Heartbreak to say, that while it has other elements in it for sure, it sounds more like country to me than anything else. Also, I would suggest taking Danielle’s advice above.
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Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 2, 2023 @ 9:53 pm
If by her advice you mean giving it time, then I’ve given it a lot more than 3 months. I’ve listened to everything he’s put out.
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Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 3, 2023 @ 9:15 pm
“it sounds more like country to me than anything else”
I just came back here and realized you actually said this. Could you please elaborate? Anything else on this list, or anything else in general?
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Matt F.
January 3, 2023 @ 10:27 pm
I think he means it sounds more like country than any other style. He’s not saying it sounds more country than other records do.

Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 3, 2023 @ 10:37 pm
Yeah I think you’re right. Thanks Matt.

Jake Cutter
January 4, 2023 @ 8:35 am
Bingo

Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 2, 2023 @ 7:51 pm
The wheels on this wagon are buckling from all the people jumping on it.
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Daniele
January 3, 2023 @ 3:52 am
He’s not for me but he undoubtely changed the game! More power to him and his fans!
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Cosmic Cowboy
January 3, 2023 @ 6:28 am
What a sell-out – maybe you should rename your blog – “save folk-grunge” – “American Heartbreak” ain’t country. Zach Bryan is nothing but a fad, appealling to a younger generation (z), like Nirvana appealed to (x) some decades ago. Too bad the songwriting is inept, and even though with fiddles and occasional steel guitar, the instruemtnation delivers a hint of country, but can’t convince me.
If you really want to save Country Music, then an album like Melissa Carper’s “Ramblin’ Soul” would be the winner, not some fad kid with no clue what country music is (or was)!
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Trigger
January 3, 2023 @ 9:05 am
I understand that this is a controversial pick. Understand that it would have been even more controversial if I didn’t pick Zach Bryan. Sometimes that’s how these decisions shake out, and you just have to do your best. I respect everyone’s opinion on music. That is why I offer a forum for everyone to share them. Sometimes or often, I will debate or disagree with folks who have a differing opinion, but I still respect it. For this, I have not debated anyone on the merits of Zach Bryan because as I said in the article itself, this is not some slam dunk country record, or some sort of “masterpiece.”
But saying that I’m a “sell-out,” or that I should rename the site, that ain’t it. This article isn’t getting any more traffic that any of my other end-of-year posts just because Zach Bryan came out on top. He’s not linked to it via his socials or anything. Even if you disagree with my decision, I think I made salient points as to why I picked him. You disagree, then debate that. Please don’t call into question my credibility. A “sell-out” doesn’t have barely any ads on their site, and refuses to sell merch for going on 15 years.
Melissa Carper had a great album too, and it was featured twice in dedicated articles, on the Top 25 Playlist, as well as the Essential Albums list. Just because her title or anyone else’s didn’t win Album of the Year doesn’t mean they’re being snubbed.
Thanks for your understanding.
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Cosmic Cowboy
January 3, 2023 @ 1:30 pm
The sell-out is not towards receiving clicks (I really don’t give a shit) but against what country music is, was, will be (I do care about that) and therefore to your own mission statement that gives this blog its name.
You wrote: “I understand that this is a controversial pick. Understand that it would have been even more controversial if I didn’t pick Zach Bryan.”
Did you choose it because it’s controversial? Or were you afraid to not choose it, because it would have been even more controversial? Afraid of whom or what? I thought you are the benevolent dictator of this mission.
AmH has a couple of twang moments, but it ain’t a country album, and therefore my critique on changing the name of “Saving Country Music” to what this album truly reflects – folk-grunge for generation z! Maybe in the name of “Saving CM” you could have had the balls to call AmH what it ain’t, right, it ain’t country. Is it really bad, no, there is much worse – but it ain’t good either – it’s simply a huge seller to a demographic who has no clue what country music is.
Then there is the authenticity problem – you know the one thing you accused Midland of not having. Where’s Zach’s get-out-of-jail-card here? Out of the Navy as an amateur right into the big leagues aka charts, is that paying dues as you constantly preach in your sermons here? (And as a side remark even Last Resort is more country than Zach)
But on a positive spin, imagine if you would have put Noe upfront or even better Butts. Both are more country than Zach’s efforts and way closer to the mission statement you pledge to. Or why not take the Broken Spokes and lift them up into the well-deserved neon glory? A country dance band delivering a country album of the year – what a concept! Or a concept like Lindeville. There were so many albums this year, that are more country and more important to your mission statement (and yes I too, do believe in Saving Country Music) than American Heartbreak.
As Hoptowntiger wrote, I’m part of the “minority” – miserable (maybe) but jealous – I wouldn’t know of what? Is AmH and Zach a phenomenon this year? Certainly! Does it deserve a mention, definitely, it’s almost cultish! Is it country – no! Will it therefore Save Country Music – I doubt it. The only positive impact I can see, is that as a headliner at some festivals, he may make his fans listen to some real country artists who open up for him. But I’ve been here, done that 35 years ago, saw the rise of Garth – the result, was the start of the end as we knew it. But hey, without Garth we wouldn’t be here, reading “Saving Country Music” and actually worrying about great music.
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Trigger
January 3, 2023 @ 2:31 pm
Whether selecting “American Heartbreak” for Album of the Year was controversial or not did not factor into why it was chosen. I do stuff all the time that is controversial, or poorly received by elements of the public because I believe it’s right. All I was trying to point out was that it was not the safe or easy pick. No matter what I picked, people were going to be angry at me.
I’m not going to debate you on how country this album is. As I said in the article, it really isn’t that country, though it fits the genre well enough for me to not be a concern. Were there more country sounding albums? Of course.
As I said in another comment, I also agree that the lack of Zach Bryan spending years paying dues has resulted in some of the criticism for him, and that it’s a valid criticism too. That said, I can attest that Zach Bryan’s rise was completely organic, because I was a direct part of it from the very beginning. I was the first guy to ever interview him, and one of the very first to feature his music. And I don’t interview anybody. But I saw what was happening with Zach, and that he was going to be huge. After that interview, I had the CEOs of labels, booking agents, managers, publicists, etc. contacting me directly, trying to get Zach’s phone number, trying to get advice of how to woo him.
And similar to my pick for Song of the Year, reader feedback measured in this decision greatly. Aside from Drake Milligan who got the fan army to show up, Zach Bryan received the most votes. In a very tight year, I weigh these things more heavily in the final decision.
Again, I respect you and anyone else who disagrees with this decision because I see the validity in the arguments. But I respectfully disagree that I’m being ruinous of the Saving Country Music mission with this pick. If I had NOT picked Zach, people would be saying the same thing, just on the opposite side.
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Cosmic Cowboy
January 3, 2023 @ 7:17 pm
You – “I’m not going to debate you on how country this album is. As I said in the article, it really isn’t that country, though it fits the genre well enough for me to not be a concern. Were there more country sounding albums? Of course.”
Well that’s exactly the core of the arguement, ain’t it? Also, why I accuse you of selling out – this album will not save country music.
So where do I actually go to find the country album of the year, if I can’t get it here?
That last sentence was facetious. I can make my own damn list and save my own country music without gen-z hipsters. Just give me a shuffle and let’s shine some belt buckles…

Scott S.
January 3, 2023 @ 6:36 am
This album wouldn’t have been my personal choice, but you can’t argue with Zach’s success this year.The overload of music has been more than I’ve been able to consume past a listen or two, but i’ve listened more than I probably would have with my wife and daughter playing his songs all summer. You have to wonder what Zach’s staying power will be as he continues to flood his fans with more and more music though. Fan burnout may come as fast as success.
Congrats to him on album of the year.
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Capn
January 3, 2023 @ 8:02 am
Yep, makes sense. What a tremendous year for him. I hate tiktok and all that, but that Something in the Orange song apparently was (and still is) all over that platform and various other social media sites. He undeniably tapped into something, and while in general it may have been something more high-schoolish and not all that old and wise etc, it’s great to see this kind of impact and success coming from an artist like him.
I’m hoping Turnpike and CWG put out some more music this coming year! We’re in need of more ‘meat on the bone.’
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PeterD
January 3, 2023 @ 8:24 am
Its not for me, its too one note, I like light and shade on a record and for me at least Zach stays in the shade. Not to say its poor, or not worthy of its accolades, but for me at least it doesnt set my world on fire and if the follow up is more of the same I feel people will start pointing.
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thebugman10
January 3, 2023 @ 11:07 am
I wonder what that age cutoff is for liking Zach Bryan? I’m 33 years old, married, with 2 kids, and still will sing “Something in the Orange” to the top of my lungs. He’s been my top artist on Spotify the last 2 years. I really haven’t been this excited about an artist since I discovered Turnpike Troubadours circa 2015.
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Trigger
January 3, 2023 @ 11:12 am
I think you can be old and love Zach Bryan, and be young and don’t. I just also think there is a clear age discrepancy here, and I point it out to attempt to square why some people seem to not “get it,” while others do. This is most obvious when you see Zach Bryan live.
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Jerry Clower’s Ghost
January 3, 2023 @ 8:54 pm
I hate arguing with you about stuff, but this age bullshit you keep using to dismiss the majority of criticism is getting really annoying. I’m 39. I like artists who are all ages. What serious music fan even considers age as a real factor in whether they enjoy the music? Zach’s a good lyrical writer. He is a true poet. BUT HE CANT WRITE A FUCKING MELODY. He’s an average musician at best, and his guitar work was the biggest criticism you had for him in your early reviews. He ain’t improved much. His voice is weak af and derivative.
“But, wait!” He’s a hero, because he told Ticketmaster to go fuck themselves!”
Yeah, as soon as he finished using them to sell out his massive tour that he obviously made a shitload of money from, you’re right, you’re right, THEN he told them to go fuck themselves. I tell you what. That takes some balls right there. At least now he can conveniently take a break from what had to be an exhausting 2022, and at the same time, grandstand about sticking it to the man. He “did everything he could”. Give him the fucking crown, Sturgill.
I sincerely wish I could join the party. But he fucking sucks.
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David: The Duke of Everything
January 3, 2023 @ 4:14 pm
Bryan wouldn’t be my pick. Maybe Americana album of the year but that’s ok. I liked Ian Noe far as total album. I even thoughts crocketts was a good album but too many misfires for me to be album of the year. Crooked tree was a great one as well. My 4th pick would probably go to hank jrs new album though it’s not country just albums in general since I don’t just listen to one type of music.
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Jeff
January 3, 2023 @ 9:07 pm
American Heartbreak is the no brainer album of the year for this 56 year old. Any other year, I would have said Arlo McKinley’s What a Mess We’re In was the clear choice – every song exquisitely crafted. Stronger melodies than Die Midwestern. And for a rompin good time, I don’t think anything surpassed Whiskey Myers’ Tornillo.
Thanks for another great year Trig.
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Mike
January 4, 2023 @ 7:26 am
Not a big fan of American Heartbreak. I think the music isn’t bad and at times very good but as an album it’s much too long and you end up feeling like you listened to a playlist rather than a cohesive project. That being said – it was completely right for this to be the album of the year.
The first paragraph had me absolutely rolling laughing. Perfectly reflected my feelings. Pretty much Teague Brother’s “Pretty Ugly” in a review.
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Colton
January 4, 2023 @ 11:35 am
My list would be almost inverse: Ian Noe number 1, Broken Spokes 2, Tyler Childers at 4, Kaitlin Butts, Ashley Mcbride at 5, and I guess Zach Bryan or Willie Nelson at 5 . Zach is a good and soulful songwriter, but I can’t help but get a little bored with his sound after a bit and dont find myself wanting to return much. I know its been said before but he just gives me a feeling of trying to do Bottles and Bibles and Red Barn-era Tyler Childers but not as well.
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Stringbuzz
January 5, 2023 @ 10:26 am
Can’t fault the choice. It was a no-brainer.
I think the Arlo album would be my second ranked. I just think I am going to be listening to it for years to come.
Love Ian Noe as well, this album did not resonate with me as much as the last.
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CG
January 5, 2023 @ 2:41 pm
We all have our own perspectives and hear things in our own ways. The Broken Spokes and Ian Noe albums are my personal favorites from 2022. Glad those two great albums are represented on this list.
Keep up the good fight, SCM!
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