American Songwriter’s Top 24 Albums of 2022

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After an ever-changing pandemic shut us all down for what seemed like an eternity, a bright spot opened up in 2022. Artists began releasing a plethora of new music to help us cope with our unprecedented experiences. The downtime allowed the creative minds time to work. And work they did. New album after new album was released in 2022 and we were the fortunate beneficiaries.

The team at American Songwriter listened to and wrote about hundreds of new albums this year. From those, we managed to narrow it down to the Top 24 albums of the year. Our picks are impressively diverse with a range from the mainstream to discovery opportunities.

Take a look at our selections — which are in no particular order — and maybe add some new music to your playlist.

Here are American Songwriter’s Top 24 Albums of 2022:

 

Picks from Alex Hopper:

1. Un Verano Sin Ti – Bad Bunny

2022 saw Latin artists dominate the Billboard charts, with Bad Bunny arguably leading the pack. For his fourth effort, Un Verano Sin Ti, he meditates on love lost, but with enough groove from the Caribbean that you’d never know he was nursing a heartbreak. He expertly melds the hallmarks of Latin music with something that is recognizable to a less-well-versed audience. Songs like “Me Porto Bonito” and “Títí Me Preguntó” are undisputable bangers, as evident by their week-long stints in the Top 10. Though Bad Bunny has been in the game for a number of years now, his star power is starting to seep into the corners of the world that thought reggaeton would never be a part of their mainstays.

2. Being Funny in a Foreign Language – The 1975 

As frontman Matty Healy put it, “Being Funny In A Foreign Language, isn’t our War & Peace. This is our collection of polaroids.” In contrast to their previous effort, Notes On A Conditional Form (a radical epic that ping-pongs genre across 22 tracks), Being Funny breaks The 1975 mythos down to its bare basics: schmaltzy, ‘80s-Esque hooks that somehow work as both dance floor anthems and societal broadsides. Healy dares to be earnest on this one, declaring love as the basis for humanity. While that thesis might seem a lofty goal, they manage to elucidate it perfectly in just 11 tracks with “About You,” “Looking For Somebody (To Love)” and “All I Need To Hear” being standouts. The band has dubbed this era, as “The 1975 at their very best” – an edict we can’t disagree with. 

3. Renaissance – Beyoncé

The anticipation was mounting as Beyoncé announced the release of “Break My Soul.” After it reached the world’s ears, the opinions quickly became split: those who got it and those who didn’t—but that was kind of the point. The house-infused track was an inside joke, a secret language for ball culture and the Black and LGBTQ+ artists that have long dominated that space. The rest of the album followed suit with enough splashy production that you could listen to it 100 times and never run out of glimmering moments to uncover. In recent years, Beyoncé has gradually begun to distance herself from the pristine pop image she once wore without question. She has always been a cultural force, but, with Renaissance under her belt, she is taking her throne as a prophetess—a deity of those marginalized by society. 

Picks from Lee Zimmerman:

1. 67,000 Miles An AlbumRichard X Heyman

Several decades on in a career that has made him one of the leading lights of America’s indie scene, Richard X Heyman continues to stun and surprise. His expansive new opus, 67,000 Miles An Album, offers another stunning example of his remarkably prolific prowess and amazingly expressive abilities, courtesy of 18 multi-textured, lavishly arranged songs that find Heyman writing all the songs and playing practically every instrument. The result is nothing short of an audio extravaganza, with songs that literally seem to be swept along on dense layers of melody and mystique. Ultimately, 67,000 Miles An Album is another outstanding example of Richard X Heyman’s dedication to form and finesse, and one which ensures his status as one of power pop’s prime movers. Here again, he goes the distance

2. Witness – Angela Easterling

Angela Easterling’s latest album strongly suggests she’s well worthy of wider recognition. The songs vary in tone and tempo, from the sublime sentiment of “California” and the reflective emotions of “Home,” to the steady stride that underscores “Little Boy Blues” and the echoes of bluegrass shard in “Middle-Age Dream.” Yet she doesn’t shy away from more troubling topics as well, be it gun violence, gender discrimination, or in a telling replay of the Woody Guthrie classic folk narrative, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” the tragic consequences of a failed immigration policy. Decidedly assertive, Witness is an implicitly energized set of songs, and as a result, absolutely essential.

3. Now and the EvermoreColin Hay

Colin Hay has long since abandoned his proviso as a Man at Work and focused his labors instead on a stunning solo career that’s found him sharing his skills as an astute singer/songwriter and fully qualified Americana insider. His latest, Now and the Evermore, is yet another evocative effort, one that demonstrates yet again the fact that he’s an erstwhile troubadour, whose sunny disposition and ongoing optimism never fails to impress. Coming quickly on the heels of Hay’s last effort, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, a collection of cover songs released barely nine months before, Now and the Evermore is, as its name suggests, an album that carries him forward that much further by reaffirming a style and stance that neatly fits within his own carefully conceived niche. To be more specific, it’s fair to say that Now and the Evermore is, in fact, an album for the ages.

Picks from Jacob Uitti:

1. Some Of Us Are BraveDanielle Ponder

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A voice among the voices. Ponder is the big bang incarnate, the explosion from which stars, planets, and the universe propel out like a breath. It’s sacrilegious to compare anyone to Aretha Franklin, but… Her 2022 record, Some Of Us Are Brave is a masterpiece. Her singing is nimble and cavernous. Just (P)onder humming over a simple piano line or organ chord is a gift. A former lawyer, Ponder took a chance on her talent and it’s paying off, having recently toured with Marcus Mumford. Here’s to much more from the psyche-destabilizing songwriter and performer. 

2. Home, Before and AfterRegina Spektor

Regina Spektor paints little scenes in your mind then splashes them away with even brighter, more elucidating offerings. In one moment, you’re in the sea atop an underwater mountain. In another, you’re learning about “lovology” and in yet a third, you’re bar-hopping with Jesus (and He’s paying). You dance as her fingers do on her piano as she plays and you swell like the lungs of a hefty mountain person as she soars impending atop dazzling melodies. She is a sorcerer and a Mother Goose. She is the diary we all should read. And her 2022 LP, Home, Before and After, is yet another chapter in her epic. 

3. Intakes & OuttakesNHC

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The death of Taylor Hawkins was tragic for a number of reasons. But one at the top of that list, musically speaking, is that his fledgling project NHC is no more. It was fronted by Hawkins, a reluctant center of attention with a voice like a god. and could have been one of the biggest acts in rock music. The group released a four-song EP in early 2022 before his death later in the year. That EP, Intakes & Outtakes, would have been the spark that shook up the rock world. Sadly, it’s not to be followed up with another by the band. Nevertheless, it remains one of the best records of 2022. 

Picks from Alli Patton:

1. Traumazine – Megan Thee Stallion

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2022 was the year of the Stallion. Rap legend-in-the-making, Megan Thee Stallion outdid herself with her sophomore release, Traumazine. An artist who approaches her music with an unapologetic grit and underlying humor, Meg lays it all bare on this album, one that dives into trauma, dealing with anxiety, and expressing the hardest parts of how she feels. The 18-track album finds the star deeply contemplative, talking about self-expression, empowerment, and overcoming on tracks like the biting “Plan B,” the transparent “Anxiety,” and the real “Not Nice.” 

2. Preacher’s Daughter – Ethel Cain

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The gloom-pop debut LP, Preacher’s Daughter, has solidified Ethel Cain’s breakthrough. An album that casts dark shadows while shedding a pointed light on America, religion, and coming-of-age, Preacher’s Daughter contains dreamy, swirling soundscapes with songs like “Family Tree,” “Televangelism,” and “Strangers.” It’s a head-swimming release that feels both relatable and unboxable.

3. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

The self-titled debut from British duo Wet Leg is a trip down the rabbit hole of glimmering pop, infectious hooks, and unmistakable attitude. Songs like “Chaise Longue,” “Wet Dream,” and “Ur Mum” are all danceable, tongue-in-cheek anthems with fun sounds, a youthful spirit, and a delicious, unapologetic unruliness. A duo with an unmistakable penchant for dry wit against thumping beats, Wet Leg has a sound like no other, one they describe as “sad music for party people, and party music for sad people.”

Picks from Annie Reuter:

1. Humble Quest – Maren Morris

Maren Morris proves why she’s one of country music’s leading women with her third studio album. Humble Quest is a deeply personal and heartfelt project, with Morris co-writing each of the album’s 11 tracks. The introspective LP includes standout tracks “Hummingbird,” a song written with the Love Junkies (Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose) when Morris learned she was pregnant with her first child, the tongue-in-cheek “Tall Guys” and the poignant album closer, “What Would This World Do?” penned in tribute to her late producer busbee. The autobiographical “Circles Around This Town” encapsulates Morris’ Nashville journey so far. A couple hundred songs and the ones that finally worked / Was the one about a car and the one about a church, she sings on the Top 10 hit. On Humble Quest, Morris continues to leave a lasting mark.

2. Bell Bottom Country – Lainey Wilson

Reigning CMA New Artist and Female Vocalist of the Year Lainey Wilson showcases her staying power with her sophomore album, Bell Bottom Country. A mainstay at country radio, Wilson introduced the project with the powerful “Heart Like a Truck,” which is Top 15 and climbing. Filled with vivid metaphors, the song is just a taste of Wilson’s prowess as a songwriter and vocalist. An authentic storyteller, Wilson’s songwriting shines on the emotional “Those Boots (Deddy’s Song),” sassy “Hold My Halo,” and album highlight “Watermelon Moonshine,” a modern-day “Strawberry Wine” that beautifully showcases young love. Yellowstone songs “Smell Like Smoke” and “New Friends” also were added to the release, further upping the project’s ante, and packing a punch for Wilson, who is bound for stardom. (Wilson’s debut album, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin, was also chosen as a Top Album in 2021)

3. firstborn – Nicolle Galyon

After years of writing for artists like Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, and Dan + Shay, Nicolle Galyon finally shares her story with the world with her standout debut album, firstborn. The 11-track project, entirely co-written by Galyon and released on her 38th birthday, details the singer’s childhood, insecurities, love, and loss. At times, the project feels more like a memoir with its unique storylines and relatability. The candid “deathbed” shares the often-difficult realities of juggling motherhood and one’s career while the confessional “self care” takes on society’s preconceived beauty standards. Songs like the autobiographical album opener “winner” and the clever “boy crazy” strike a chord and further exemplify Galyon’s expertise as both a songwriter and a solo artist. With an album as strong as firstborn, Galyon proves that the best things in life are worth the wait. 

Picks from Cillea Houghton:

1. Feel Like Going HomeMiko Marks

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Miko Marks fuses a whole lot of soul into country music with her latest album, Feel Like Going Home. A solid follow-up to her 2021 album, Our Country, her first in 14 years, Marks continues to prove her place in a genre that values poignant songwriting. What makes Home particularly intriguing is the way Marks covers the spaces in between, whether it’s love and loneliness on “This Time,” or in her words of wisdom that show up on “Peace of Mind” as she sings when my soul is on the line/And I want to leave this world behind/Just one thing I need to find/I gotta find my peace of mind. Her enduring voice embodies strength, which shines through on the tribute to her mother’s resiliency in the reflective, yet somber “The Good Life,” and makes you feel cleansed on the haunting “River.” Just as she sings on the title track now the time is coming/To reap what I have sown, Marks is carving out her place in country music – and the genre is better for it. 

2. What Else Can She DoKaitlin Butts

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Kaitlin Butts made one of the most truth-based albums in country and Americana music with What Else Can She Do. With a voice as raw and poignant as the lyrics she sings, you have your pick of seven songs that will leave you gobsmacked with their unflinching honesty, whether she’s singing about chasing big dreams in search of a better life that actually leads to misery, a young woman using anything I can get my hands on to fill the inner voids, or the striking “Blood” where she compares the family bonds to a “merciless flood” wherein God awful things swept under the rug for blood. Butts embodies what it means to be a storyteller, leaving a mark with every word on one of the best albums of 2022.    

3. Teeth MarksS.G. Goodman

Goodman has released two albums in the past two years, both of which have been among the year’s best, and Teeth Marks in 2022 is no exception. Intentional about giving a voice to the rural south, the Kentucky native runs full force at issues ranging from homophobia to the opioid epidemic. Teeth Marks is chock full of realism, as demonstrated on “You Were Someone I Loved” where she addresses the struggle of drug addiction with such blistering lyrics as No need for change/No cause for alarm/Well, it’s not a needle in my baby’s arm/No, I don’t see the man in a long white coat/Holding the poor by their throat. Goodman has a voice that doesn’t sound like anybody else and has the power to send shock waves down your spine. Goodman is one of those artists where if you listen closely, you’ll learn a valuable lesson from her music. On the title track, she suggests oh maybe in time/You’ll see things my way—and we’d all be better for it.

Picks from Hal Horowitz:

1. Welcome to Club XIII

These savvy Southern rockers retreat from the overtly political stance, that informed both releases in 2022, to focus on their history. Any musical outfit still prospering after a quarter century has plenty of stories and frontmen/singer/songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley let fly with tales of their ups and downs. They crank out a few rockers like the Neil Young/Crazy Horse-infused “Every Single Storied Flameout,” but their notoriously fiery style is generally tamped down, even inviting Margo Price for vocals on a track. Welcome to Club Xlll is the reflective yet still edgy yin to the yang of the DBT’s flinty socio-political stance of the past few years.  

2. Angel Olsen- Big Time – Drive-By Truckers

Singer/songwriter Olsen continues her introspection on Big Time, her sixth album. She veers slightly into melancholy country, burrowing into her heart in a beautifully conceived, reflective set that shifts from sadness to regret and sometimes a rosier vision of the future. Producer Jonathan Wilson frames her breathy, emotional voice with subtle strings and enough reverb to make it feel as if you’re in her room eavesdropping as she reads from journals. Drastic life changes like the deaths of both parents and coming out as gay likely inform the title. It also describes meditative songs such as “Right Now” which shift from shimmering to thundering.  A touching, intimate, and intense listen.

3. Dropout Boogie – The Black Keys

From the scruffy, scuzzy riff of the opening “Wild Child” to the deep swamp stomp of the Billy F. Gibbons’ enhanced “Good Love,” and the creeping crawl of “How Long,” frontman Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney combine their love of deep, dark blues with their garage rock background. The follow-up to last year’s grimy Delta covers set marinates in an ominous, bottom-heavy approach for these originals that practically thumb their noses at radio play or anything approaching hit single territory. Tough, tight, and unapologetically gutsy, The Black Keys keep getting bigger, better, and rawer. 

Picks from Tina Eves:

1. How Do You Burn?– The Afghan Whigs

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Marking one of the final recordings by Mark Lanegan before his death on Feb. 22, 2022, The Afghan Whigs’ ninth album, How Do You Burn? —which “basically means what turns you on,” according to singer and songwriter Greg Dulli—was also conceived by the former Screaming Trees frontman. “I think it just kind of popped out of his mouth,” remembers Dulli on how his late friend and longtime collaborator (The Gutter Twins and The Twilight Singers), christened the band’s album. Lanegan is also featured on the chanting “Take Me There” and sweltering “Jyja,” along with R&B singer and multi-instrumentalist Van Hunt, who toured with the band in 2012 and appeared on their 2014 album Do To The Beast. The band’s third album since reforming in 2014 after an 11-year hiatus, How Do You Burn? also features another blast from Whigs’ past with Marcy Mays, who sang on the band’s 1993 album Gentlemen (“My Curse”), on “Domino And Jimmy,” a restless story of a lovesick pair. Susan Marshall, who appeared on the band’s 1998 album 1965, also appears on the tribal “Catch a Colt.” Opening on the combustible “I’ll Make You see God,” Dulli delivers a more soulful croon on pleading “Please, Baby, Please” and contemplative “A Line of Shots.”

2. True North – a-ha

An historic sailing guide, marking the fixed point along the surface of the earth, the meridian, in the direction of the North Pole—and a metaphor for finding one’s inner calling, or true direction in life—the concept of True North served as the nucleus of a-ha’s 11th album. With one-half of the 12 tracks written by keyboardist Magne Furuholmen and the remaining by guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, True North spans the issues facing the environment and finds a greater narrative centered around the often neglected symbiosis between nature and humanity, and finding a central synergy, a True North within oneself and the natural world. Moving around natural and humanistic elements with the pensive “Forest For the Trees” and “Summer Rain” and maritime threads (“Bluest of Blue”) through more sweeping ballads, including the title track, “I’m In” and the uplifting “You Have What it Takes,” True North is also tied to the imagery of an accompanying film of the same name. Directed by the band’s longtime photographer Stian Andersen, the film documents the recording of the album with a full orchestra, 55 miles above the Arctic Circle in the town of Bodø, Norway, interspersed by commentary on the running themes of the album by singer Morten Harket, Furuholmen, and Waaktaar-Savoy.

3. Just Like That… – Bonnie Raitt

Throughout her 18th album Just Like That… Bonnie Raitt was intent on telling stories just like her friend, the late John Prine. “Those story songs was really what I wanted to do on those two songs,” Raitt told American Songwriter, “to come from that fingerpicking simplicity of just a person on the guitar.” Initially touched by a human interest story about a woman who met the recipient of her son’s heart and would hear it beating for the first time since his death, Raitt had the inspiration for the title track, while volunteers who were spending time with terminally ill inmates inspired “10 Down the Hall.” The remainder of Just Like That… is a collection of snapshots of songs Raitt meant to cover over the years, from Toots and the Maytals’ “Love So Strong,” a song she originally planned to duet with her friend Toots Hibbert before his untimely death from COVID in 2020 and her rendition of “Here Comes Love” by the California Honeydrops, which she initially cut during her Dig In Deep session in 2015, through the more uptempo blues of “Made Up Mind” by alt-country group The Bros. Landreth, who she first befriended nearly a decade earlier at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

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