After procrastinating to write several album reviews, Jon Grace decided to make a list of our top 22 albums of 2022. This year was a great one of live music. One thing to note is that we didn’t include any EPs. If we had, Drayton Farley, Cole Chaney, Sydney Adams, and Tim Goodin would be sitting near the top of this list with their EP releases this year. If you see an album that you’ve not heard listed on here, hopefully you’ll go and give it a listen! Cheers and hope to see all ya’ll down our way in 2023.
49 Winchester – Fortune Favors the Bold
With each album, Castlewood, Virginia’s finest are honing their craft and showcasing why they’re one of the fastest rising acts in country music. Blending southern rock, country, bluegrass, and soul into a smooth, unique concoction all its own, 49 Winchester are on track to be one of 2023’s must see acts. Going out last year with Whiskey Myers, and this year with one of country’s biggest names (stay tuned), it’s great to see 49 Winchester get the credit they deserve. Their recipe for success is one that more artists should follow: find a great lineup and steadily get better with each album. They’ve maintained steady upward progress through each of their four albums, and their latest shows them at the top of their game. “Fortune Favors The Bold” is a damn near perfect album, with zero skippers throughout the ten tracks. It’s not a coincidence that this record is at the top of everyone’s list – it’s freaking amazing. Better see them in 2023 every single chance you get, because they won’t be doing these smaller venues for much longer. Favorite tracks include “Hillbilly Daydream,” “Neon,” and “Last Call.”
Arlo McKinley – This Mess We’re In
Arlo McKinley returned to Sun Studios in Memphis to work with Matt Ross Spang, who produced his critically acclaimed second album, “Die Midwestern”. That familiarity didn’t lead to a carbon copy of its predecessor, however. “This Mess We’re In” took a huge leap forward in terms of its musical landscape, sounding less like a country record than anything Arlo has ever done before. I really commend Arlo for taking chances on this record. He does sad country songs better than anyone out there, but instead he chose to expand his sound into a much more expansive theater, and oh boy, did it ever work (see what I did there?). The record is a mix of older tracks revamped in new ways along with several newer ones. I once thought that “Die Midwestern” was as good a record as Arlo could ever produce, and yet he found a way to prove me wrong. This record is the perfect follow up and shows that Arlo has no signs of slowing down. Favorite tracks include “Rushintherug”, “Stealing Dark from the Night Sky”, and “Back Home” featuring up-and-coming talent Logan Halstead.
Tiffany Williams – All Those Days of Drinking Dust
Letcher County’s own Tiffany Williams has the voice of an Appalachian angel. Her debut full length release is a mix of folk, country, and bluegrass that is an album I feel really, really deserves to be on more folk’s lists. The instrumentation and production on this album are flawless. It’s got just the right amount of each without cluttering Tiffany’s incredible vocals. Her songwriting also took a huge leap forward on this record, with “The Sea” being my most played track of the entire year. It’s hypnotic, peaceful, yet tinged with sorrow. My own hope is more people give this record a listen, because I think it’s a masterpiece. Favorite songs include “Carletta”, “The Sea”, and “When I Come Back Around” featuring Silas House.
Ian Noe – River Fools and Mountain Saints
Just like the three above it, there is not a skippable track. What I love about Ian’s writing is that it’s so localized. He proves you can write profound stories using only the dialect of his home, which makes everything he does extremely relatable to us who grew up in the mountains. His records are made for us in southern Appalachia, with turns of phrase that only we can understand without googling them. He’s one of the best songwriters alive right now and this record is a strong, strong follow up to his debut. In fact, “River Fools and Mountain Saints” is superior in many ways to its predecessor. It’s broader musically, with tracks going from bluegrass to southern rock to country to folk almost effortlessly. Favorite tracks include “River Fool,” “POW Blues,” and “Road May Flood/It’s A Heartache.”
S.G. Goodman – Teeth Marks
I was definitely late to the S.G. Goodman party, but man am I glad I showed up. I discovered her earlier in the year and, like I often do, didn’t give her as good of a listen as I should have. Then in summer I was down at my cabin and decided to give her last record, “Old Time Feeling”, a thorough listen. Two words: blown away. After listening to it all the way through, I went and gave her latest offering a full listen. Three words: blown away, again. Her ability to craft songs that are hypnotic yet catchy and memorable is as good as anyone, and there’s no one out there doing it quite like she is. She is masterful at knowing how to incorporate atmosphere into genres that usually steer clear of it. The album is a rock record but so much more. It’s beautifully layered to the point where I find something new about it every time I listen, which is one of the reasons I have listened to it more than any record over the past several months. Plus, her songs have such an undeniable groove to them. And seeing her live is a must, too. Probably one of my favorite live acts of the last year. Favorite tracks include “Teeth Marks,” “Work Til I Die,” and “When You Say I.t”
Lost Dog Street Band – Glory
Benjamin Todd is one of the most poignant and powerful writers in contemporary music. That’s not hyperbole or over-exaggeration. No sugarcoating, no BS. Just undistilled truth and emotion in every line. In honesty, this was an album I had much lower on the list but upon a recent relisten, I had to go and re-rank it higher. I think that was because it was released so early in the year, and most of the songs from it had been released via GemsOnVHS well prior to the album. Starting off This album stands right there with “Weight of a Trigger”, which is one of my favorite albums of the last five years. While this is by no means a cheery, feel-good album, it feels way less downtrodden than its predecessor, especially the ending track. Benjamin Tod has found a way to craft his songs into sounding pragmatic instead of pessimistic, and it’s a great fit for Lost Dogs sound. Being this could be the last Lost Dog record for the foreseeable future, it’s a beautiful way to bridge a musical gap in Ben and Ashley’s career going forward. Favorite tracks include “Hayden’s Lament”, “Until I Recoup”, and “Losing Again”.
Eric Bolander – Can’t Get There From Here
I almost forgot that my brother from another mothers’ record came out this year. These January records are ones I almost always leave off because I forget what year they were released in. “Can’t Get There From Here” is Eric’s best work to date. He’s found a way to carve out a sound unlike anything else in our scene right now, blending folk, rock, blues, and country into an incomparable sonic melting pot. Cellist Seth Murphy still adds his signature sound throughout the record, especially on tracks like ‘Window’ and ‘Montgomery Hill’, but the album (like a lot of others on this list, I’ve noticed) is way more expansive sonically than his past efforts. He brings an old, bluesy favorite called “Beggin For Change” done by his other band (Alcatraz Shakedown) onto the record, and then goes full on country for the closer with the appropriately titled “Smooth Finish” featuring Abby Hamilton. Fantastic album by my favorite front porch samurai. Favorite tracks include “Window”, “Cold Men”, and “Smooth Finish”.
IV & The Strange Band – Southern Circus
Coleman Williams, great-grandson of the patriarch of country music, brought out one of the most impressive debuts of the year for me with “Southern Circus”. Taking cues from his father, Hank III, Coleman does an amazing job of combining his love of country, punk and heavy metal into the album (which, in my opinion, are probably some of the hardest genres to combine while still producing something halfway listenable). Knowing just when to showcase one genre, the other, or a mix of them is definitely IV’s strongpoint. Combine that with some strong songwriting chops, and his record is one that may not be at the top of everyone’s list, but if you enjoy George Jones and Slayer, too – man have I found a record for you. Favorite tracks include “Deep Down”, “Stand Your Ground”, and “Filth”.
Red Clay Strays – Moment of Truth
The Red Clay Strays, similar to SG Goodman, came out of the blue for me. I had heard some of my friends form down south put them in my ear over the last year or two, but if I’m being honest, they were a band that kind of slipped through the cracks for me. That finally changed earlier this year when I started listening to their last record, “Moment of Truth”. It immediately started getting repeat plays. They remind me of a band from Knoxville that I used to love (and are now broke up) called the Black Cadillacs. Their unique spin on blending old school sounding elements together into this modern conglomeration makes them one of the most distinguishable listens of the year. It’s bluesy, sultry, and undeniably southern. Couple this album with a live show mentioned among of best going (I’ve yet to experience it, but it won’t be long), and this is a band I can see making some major noise in the new year. It’s evidenced by their extensive festival appearances on some of the best events coming in 2023. Favorite tracks include “Stone’s Throw”, “Doin’ Time”, and “Ghosts”.
Adeem the Artist – White Trash Revelry
I love artists like SG Goodman, Red Clay Strays, and Adeem the Artist. All three are artists I only discovered this year and all three produced three of my favorite albums this year. With Adeem the Artist, I’ll admit I’m only 3 listens into this album. I discovered it back in late fall and have been completely blown away since. Lately I have seen it all over folks’ top albums of the year, and I completely understand why. It’s an amazing spin on traditional country music from a perspective we need to see more often. People look at rural southerners like we are all cardboard copies of one another….that we all believe the same, love the same, think the same. This album displays the intricacies of growing up in the south through exceptional songwriting, from a viewpoint of someone who doesn’t fit the mold of cookie cutter country singer. It’s an incredible offering and deserving of all the acclaim it’s receiving. Another album I’m sure will be much, much higher on the list after a few more listens. Favorite tracks include “Run This Town”, “Baptized in Well Spirits”, and “Middle of a Heart”.
The Local Honeys – The Local Honeys
My buddy John Clay put it best…The Local Honey’s are an American treasure. Their self-titled album is an Appalachian folk masterpiece. They have put their stamp on Kentucky music, and few voices pair together as seamlessly as Linda Jean and Montana’s. The album finds a way to stay true to their bluegrass and roots music core while mixing in some extra instrumentation to give the record a fuller sound without compromising their musical foundation. My sis’s are set to take 2023 by storm and will be featured on a lot of festival bills, including Under the Big Sky in Montana, which I just happen to have tickets to and absolutely can’t wait for. Favorite tracks on it include “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”, “Throw Me In The Thicket When I Die”, and “Better Than I Deserve”.
Caleb Caudle – Forsythia
In addition to being one of the nicest guys in the business, few artists produce as smooth or easy listening folk/roots music as North Carolina’s Caleb Caudle. He produced a gem with his latest offering, “Forsythia”. Recorded in the Cash cabin and featuring contributions from legends like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Elizabeth Cooke, and many more…Caudle’s latest work is a more bluegrass centered album compared past efforts. I always admire when an artist can take such a dramatic left turn with their music and still produce solid gold. In a year filled with exceptional albums, this is one that deserves its place in everyone’s list. This also be Caudle’s strongest songwriting effort to date. The title track is especially a strong point, painting a beautiful picture of growing up in the rural south. Favorites include the title track of “Forsythia”, “Texas Tea” and “I Don’t Fit In”.
Tony Logue – Jericho
The third January album on the list, Tony Logue’s debut album started my year off with a complete bang. If there was ever any worry about filling Chris Knight’s shoes, I think this album put that to rest. Not to say that Tony and Knight are musical twins. Both share a nearby western Kentucky home, have a distinct western Kentucky drawl, and are exceptional country songwriters. Heck, this album even includes a nod to Tony’s musical idol with an accompanying storyline to Chris Knight’s “Carla Came Home” in the track “Road To Richmond”, where he writes the same song from the older brothers perspective instead of the youngers. This album doesn’t miss a beat, and if you’re a fan of well-written country rock…this is gonna be a staple in your catalog. Favorite tracks include “Baptized”, “Calloway County”, and “Road To Richmond.”
Wayne Graham – Ish
Wayne Graham are one of my absolute favorite bands on earth. The music scene here in Kentucky is incredible not just because of the crazy amount of artists producing quality music, but also how diverse that music is. Bands like Wayne Graham (along with a lot of others like Brother Smith, Joslyn and the Sweet Compression, etc) prove that we’re not just making country and bluegrass. Wayne Graham is also always a slow burn for me…their albums literally get better with every single listen. Their latest album, “Ish”, is no different. I almost guarantee that if I was to rewrite this list five months from now, this album will be at the very top. Being that it was just released several months ago, I think I haven’t had time to let it saturate enough to fully appreciate it. Like SG Goodman, Wayne Graham are unmatched when it comes to adding layers and atmosphere to songs without making them jumbled or over-stuffed. Favorite tracks include “How Was Your Night”, “I Fell In Love”, and “Mr. Green Thumb”.
Town Mountain – Lines on the Levee
No one does bluegrass quite like Asheville, North Carolina’s Town Mountain. They’ve became a staple of my playlist over the last six years or so and are always one of my favorite live shows. Their latest offering, “Lines in the Levee”, has several standout tracks on it that I seem to enjoy more and more after every listen. Like Wayne Graham, they’re always a slow burn listen for me. And while I’ve given this album several spins, and while it’s true I’ve enjoyed some of their other albums a little bit more, I’m more than confident that with each repeat listen, this album will go a little higher on this list. Even just now at the time of writing this, I’m listening to “Rene”, a song I’d overlooked by and large the first few listens. And on the fourth or fifth listen I come to understand just how great a song that it really is. Favorite tracks include “Rene”, “Lines on the Levee”, and “Comeback Kid”.
Tyler Childers – Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven?
It seems insane to me that I’m putting the new Tyler Childers album this low on this list. It’s not that it’s not a fantastic record, but rather that, in a year with so much incredible new music, I just haven’t listened to it quite as much as some of the others on the list. I love the concept of the album…despite growing up Catholic, I always enjoyed old time, protestant mountain gospel. But with only eight tracks (even though done three slightly different ways), with a couple being ‘covers’, and the fact that even though I love Tyler’s progression as an artist, I’m having a really hard time with the new, slower tempo version of one of my favorite songs of his (the title track), I didn’t love this album as much as some of the others released this year. I say all that to say this: this is still a fantastic record. I love the fact that Tyler is doing exactly what HE wants to do as an artist. He could easily go out there and put out Purgatory Volume 2 and be at the top of every list if that’s what he wanted to do, but it’s not. He’s blazing his own path for his musical career and that is something I can truly appreciate. Tyler is still one of my favorite artists, one that I see live every chance I get. He’s done more for the Kentucky music than any other artist, and it’s not even close. Favorite songs include “Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven” (even though I still prefer the older live version), “Way of the Triune God”, and “The Heart You Been Tendin”.
Drive By Truckers – Welcome 2 Club XIII
Man, do I love me some Drive by Truckers. The band literally changed my life….not only my musical tastes but my whole adult perspective in some ways. Give me only five bands for the rest of my life and I guarantee they make the cut. When I discovered their music in college, it was like the big bang. Admittedly, for whatever reason, I remain a bigger fan of their earlier work. They have 3 or 4 of my all-time favorite albums in the middle of their catalog, and I’m still coming around to some of the newer stuff. However, I will say that I’ve enjoyed “Welcome 2 Club XIII” much, much more than the prior few efforts. Honestly, some of the last offerings from Truckers just haven’t stuck with me, and I don’t think I’ve given this album as fair a shake as I should’ve. It’s lead single, “The Driver” is one of my favorite DBT songs of all time. I remember seeing it for the first time at Heathens Homecoming (which is becoming an annual tradition for me and several of my buds) and being blown outta my socks. The intro bass line sticks to your brain like peanut butter. And while I think some of the album tends to sound similar to other tracks on it, I am digging it more and more with each listen. Favorite tracks include “The Driver”, “Shake and Pine”, and “We Will Never Wake You Up In The Morning”.
Kelsey Waldon – No Regular Dog
Monkey’s Eyebrow native Kelsey Waldon is one of the premier female acts that is helping put Kentucky music on the map. Her latest release from Oh Boy Records, “No Regular Dog” is a phenomenal follow up to “White Noise, White Lines”. She doesn’t blur the lines sonically…this is a country record from start to finish. But that doesn’t mean it’s one dimensional at all, but quite the opposite. It’s still sonically diverse, has amazing production, and is simple, beautiful record from start to finish. Kelsey has really taken her songwriting to a new level in this release, too. The record has an amazing flow from start to finish, and this record could be what takes her career to the next level. Considering she’s also one of the hardest working musicians out there, touring incessantly this past year, she definitely deserves it. My favorite tracks include “Seasons Change”, “No Regular Dog” and “Sweet Little Girl”.
The Winetree – What I See When I Go Home
This was one of the albums I was referencing in the opening paragraph that I had promised to review and not gotten around to. Ryan from the Winetree was kind enough to send me this album before it was released and I promised I’d review it. Like sometimes happens with me, I get too many irons in the fire and almost forgot to do so. I took this record and relistened to it a few weeks ago, and it’s not left my truck CD player since. This is a roots/bluegrass album that is mainly just an acoustic guitar and fiddle, but still leaves such an indelible mark on this year’s release catalog. The songs don’t need any filler, they’re simple, authentic, well-written folk songs that have an incredible flow and feel to them. This is a record that I listen to a lot down at my cabin on Spruce Creek….the lyrics and instrumentation fit that setting so perfectly. Favorite tracks include “Ramona”, “Kentucky”, and “Coyote Songs” featuring Senora May.
Brother Smith – La Sinfonia del Vaquero Suburbano
You won’t find two harder workers or more talented people in the Kentucky music scene than the Aaron and Wes Smith. I remember watching them in awe at Laurel Cove last year….playing in what seemed like a thousand bands, with a thousand instruments, from the start of the weekend until the last. Literally, they filled in with Vintage Pistol, a jam band from Colorado who was the last band to play. Despite having never played with them before, and it sounded like they’d been in the band for years. They absolutely smashed it. Their newest release, which translates to “The Symphony of the Suburban Cowboy”, is a fantastic record. Combining pop, bluegrass, soul, jam band and a million more elements together can be a daunting task, but not for Brother Smith. Along with Wes and Aaron, Brother Smith the band also includes Trevor Caddell (saxophone) and Amberly Winfrey who provides backing and lead vocals at times. It’s an incredible, eclectic album that takes some time to get accustomed to with a lot of time changes, but the talent is undeniable. Favorite tracks include “Hymn 29”, “Skipping Rocks”, and “Sail On”.
Joe’s Truck Stop – Yonderings
Joe’s Truck Stop is the brainchild of Joe Macheret out of Cincinnati, which has become quite a musical hotbed for our scene over the last several years. The latest effort, titled “Yonderings” is by far my favorite album of theirs yet. It stays true to their sound but takes enough chances to give it really unique vibe. This album is a rootsy, bluegrassy, folky collection of some really solid songs. Joe’s songwriting skills are really impressive, and every track seems to fit perfectly in place on the record. It’s got an undeniably unique feel to it and is one I find myself listening to all the way through, which is one of the strongest attributes an album can have. This is an album that I can see a lot of folks enjoying. It doesn’t venture too far off the track for bluegrass traditionalists but finds ways to inject some bluesy and country elements here and there to give the album some panache. Favorite tracks include “Winter Waltz”, “Wishin’ On A Star” and “Still and Silence”.
Matt Heckler – This Town Is Killin Me
I almost left this album off because I kept thinking it was an EP, and I had decided to make this list for albums only. The album, like all of Matts, is under ten tracks, but it still is absolute fire. Matt Heckler is one of the most insanely talented roots music instrumentalists alive today. Watching him play the fiddle is like watching Picasso paint, and he is a must-see live act. Admittedly, I enjoy watching Matt play live more so than sitting down and listening to his albums all the way through. But not including him on this list would be criminal. He finally included my favorite song of his, “Antietam 1862” on the album, which I was ecstatic over. If Matt comes to play live anywhere near you, I cannot stress enough that you should go. Favorite tracks include “Antietam 1862”, “This Town”, and the franticly mind blowing instrumental “Renfields Cat”.
Guest contributor, Jon Grace, currently serves as Tourism Director with the Bell County Tourism in Kentucky. Jon helps organize the Middlesboro Levitt AMP concert series, providing musical entertainment across multiple genres. In his free time, he enjoys attending concerts with his wife, as well as entertain others with his Audio Outlaws broadcast every Monday from 8-10pm on WRIL. The broadcast features outlaw and classic country, Americana, bluegrass, southern rock and and blues. Jon has contributed several stories to Kentucky Country Music to help highlight the best festivals, concerts, albums, and adventures from here in Kentucky.
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