After the massive stream of content over the past two years, it’s fair to say that 2022 was quieter on the new releases front (likely due to touring resuming in pre-pandemic levels), but there was still plenty of new music this year to keep me entertained. So, here’s what has helped keep me propped up throughout the mild insanity of 2022.
Hailey Whitters released ‘Raised’, a concept album all about her experience growing up in small town Iowa. Each track is strong, but I think the breakup song ‘The Neon’ might just be my favourite. Speaking of concept albums, the increasingly popular Ashley McBryde proved that you don’t have to sell your soul to the devils of mainstream country to have success when she released ‘Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville’, an album that – as the title suggests – saw her take on more of a guest role than a starring one. All based around an entirely fictional American small town, there is talk of funeral homes, pawn shops, the local diner and strip club, all mixed in with a good dose of heartache and scandal with vocals turns from heavyweights like Brandy Clark, John Osborne, Aaron Raitiere and Pillbox Patti.
With his third album ‘The Hometown Kid’, Nashville native Gabe Lee proved himself yet again as a purveyor of consistent quality, while the ever brilliant Sunny Sweeney went and realised perhaps the best album of her career in ‘Married Alone’; ‘Easy As Hello’ is a clever slice of country tinged with of pop in the best way possible (unsurprisingly as Sweeney co-wrote it with the incomparable Lori McKenna and Heather Morgan – whose only album thus far, 2018’s ‘Borrowed Heart’, deserved way more attention than it got).
My only complaint with Jensen McRae’s first full length album ‘Are You Happy Now?’ is that I simply wished for more new material than we got (five of the 15 tracks were released on her 2021 EP, while another three of them are more bridging interludes than songs that stand-alone), but still it’s an impressive debut with some stunning, highly raw and personal songwriting. In another case of wishing for more content, Caitlyn Smith released ‘High’, only eight tracks total (with one of those being an introduction), but her vocals and songwriting talent shine as ever, especially on the title track (co-written with Miley Cyrus who released her own version in 2020) and ‘In Another Life’, a track meant to be set against the crushingly tragic ending of a Nicolas Sparks movie if I ever heard one.
No new LP from Madi Diaz this year, but she did release an EP of four reimagined songs from 2021’s epic ‘History of a Feeling’ (‘Same History, New Feelings’) with an impressive guest artist on each track (Waxahatchee, Natalie Hemby, Courtney Marie Andrews and Angel Olsen). Emily Scott Robinson (accompanied by Alisa Amador and Violet Bell) released an EP too (‘Built On Bones’), and its theme was everything I never knew I wanted until I heard it: the witches of Macbeth. ‘Double Double’ might just be the earworm of the year for me as I can all too frequently be found repeating “Double, double toil and trouble” to myself.
As far as 00s Americana stalwarts go, both Wade Bowen and Will Hoge released new albums this year. Bowen’s LP ‘Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth’ saw him work alongside some stellar songwriters (amongst them were Eric Pasley, Lori McKenna, Drew Kennedy, and the previously mentioned Heather Morgan) and the results are just as perfectly polished but achingly honest as expected. With ‘Wings on My Shoes’, Hoge showed that he’s peerless when he does what he does best: telling stories with a country soul and a rock ‘n’ roll edge. If further proof were needed, just listen to ‘Dead Man’s Hand’.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sold on Orville Peck previously. I found his first album alright, but not as earth shattering as others seemed to, so I was left wondering if it was a case of gimmick over substance (I mean, the mask was one thing, but it was duetting with Shania Twain that really made me sceptical); but then he went and released ‘Bronco’ and it instantly became one of my favourite things released in 2022.
So in short, what do I know? I’ll see myself out.