Best Albums of 2023 (So Far)

It’s six months into 2023 and the perfect time to look back on ALL the great music that has come our way in the first half of the year.

We’ve compiled our 10 Best Albums of 2023 (so far) plus individual “favorites” lists from Folk Alley host too. The picks are as eclectic as the music mix you hear on Folk Alley everyday.

Dig in, enjoy, and support these wonderful artists!

For more of the Best of 2023 (so far,) listen to the Fresh Cuts stream here on the site, via the Folk Alley app, or ask Alexa to “play Folk Alley Fresh Cuts.”

Ali Farka Touré – Voyageur

Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer – As We Speak (featuring Rakesh Chaurasia)

Iris DeMent – Workin’ On A World

Joy Oladokun – Proof of Life

Mark Erelli – Lay Your Darkness Down

Mighty Poplar – Mighty Poplar

Natalie Merchant – Keep Your Courage

Tinariwen – Amatssou

Various – I Am A Pilgrim: Doc Watson At 100

William Prince – Stand In the Joy

Brad Kolodner’s Favorites (so far)
Celebrating the innovative side of roots music is one of my favorite parts of hosting at Folk Alley. I love shining a spotlight on artists who are steeped in tradition but sculpt something new. Here is a list of some of my favorite new releases thus far in 2023 from the Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Roots realm.

Sami Braman – Riveter
The mighty-talented young fiddler Sami Braman (The Onlies, Willie Watson) has officially burst onto the scene with her stellar new collection of original fiddle tunes. There’s a real art to writing new tunes that sound fresh and timeless – and Sami has nailed that balance.

Mighty Poplar – Mighty Poplar
This Bluegrass supergroup has created something more than just the sum of their parts. An instant classic that I’ll be spinning for years to come.

Cinder Well – Cadence
The soundscapes on Cinder Well’s latest record are transportive, enchanting and lush. For me, the album evokes images of misty seashores and rocky cliffs.

Larry & Joe – Nuevo South Train
It seems anything Joe Troop touches becomes gold. Following his Grammy-nominated run with Che Apalache, Joe is back it with the mighty talented Larry Bellorin, a multi-instrumentalist from Venezuela who is seeking asylum in America. The fusion of Venezuelan and Bluegrass music is infectious, joyful and explorative.

Bella White – Among Other Things
There’s a wisdom and maturity in her songwriting that can be hard to find in today’s Country/Americana landscape, and she’s still in her early 20’s! I’m excited to see where Bella White will go with her music.

Cindy Howes’ Favorites (so far)
Halfway through 2023, I am really thrilled to see a wonderful mix of diverse folk musicians releasing killer music. This is also the first year that I’ve had two instrumental albums on my list! Seems like I am evolving right along with folk music. Let’s keep it going!!!

William Prince – Stand In The Joy
William Prince’s latest album sees his already excellent songwriting going to the next level. From playful to reverent, these songs run the gamut of emotions alongside his disarmingly beautiful voice.

Nickel Creek – Celebrants
This new record from Nickel Creek feels theatrical and down-home at the same time. The legendary trio showcase their range in thrilling and unexpected ways.

Hanneke Cassel – Infinite Brightness
Hanneke Cassel’s new record shows the Boston fiddler’s love of collaboration and exuberance. The energy is palpable on songs like opener “Evacuation Day.”

Bella White – Among Other Things
The songs on Bella White’s second record are irresistibly wrapped up in her deep and rich voice. She’s branching out beyond bluegrass with this record with songs like “Break My Heart,” of which she shares “… once we got into the studio, it grew into a bit of a rager—it’s a heartbreaker, but it’s also so fun and epic.”

Natalie & Brittany Haas – HAAS
The sister collaboration the fiddle world has been waiting for is finally here! Natalie and Brittany Haas have played together all their lives, but their first recording together does not disappoint with expert cello and fiddling from the Haas sisters.

Elena See’s Favorites (so far)
6 months into 2023? Say it ain’t so! Lots of good music has made its way into my ears at Folk Alley; I hardly know where to start when it comes to picking favorites so far of the year. Suffice it to say this list is NOT all-inclusive, but here are five albums that have resonated with me most so far in 2023.

Mark Erelli – Lay Your Darkness Down
I think, for me, it’s mostly about how Mark Erelli talks about this album that really hits me hard. Recently diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition (retinitis pigmentosa), Erelli’s thinking about things in a new way. All told, it’s an album about acceptance and it’s an album filled with great songs.

Annie Bartholomew – Sisters of White Chapel
Alaska musician Annie Bartholomew is doing some interesting historical work which she’s combining with her musical talent. Her album Sisters of White Chapel explores the incredible true stories of sex workers in Victorian-era Alaska.

Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer – As We Speak
I’m a sucker for musical mashups and when you’ve got three super talented musicians who all come from different musical backgrounds to find common musical ground together well…it’s hard to resist.

Leftover Salmon – Grass Roots
This incredible band has been making music for a long time and this latest effort features some jammy bluegrass versions of some of their folk favorites. I love it when musicians take songs they love and try to recreate them – it’s the ultimate expression of respect, in my opinion. Clearly, Leftover Salmon has a TON of respect for their favorite musicians.

Joy Oladokun – Proof of Life
Simply put – this singer songwriter puts feelings to words and sounds in a way I haven’t experienced before. She is…impressive.

Matt Reilly’s Favorites (so far)
Lists are hard if you like a lot of things. I’m also a little scatterbrained so organizing something like music coherently is a fun challenge. With that, I give you my best stab at the best of 2023 so far.

Ali Farka Touré – Voyageur
This collection of songs, recorded between 1991 and 2004 from the late great Malian superstar is an excellent starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Touré’s work. The opening track “Safari” sets the tone for the whole record with its hypnotic virtuosity on full display. “Cherie”, featuring fellow Malian great Oumou Sangare is an intricate duet. This just scratches the surface. Go ahead, dig deeper.

Tinariwen – Amatssou
I’m intentionally putting this right behind Ali Farka Touré. We wouldn’t be talking about Tinariwen here in the States without Touré opening the door first. That said, Tinariwen’s ninth record expands upon their sound. They’ve always melded western rock music and traditional Tuareg rhythms but on this new record they’ve gone deeper. Thanks to super producer Daniel Lanois, this new record has a richness previously unheard on Tinariwen records with the addition of fiddle, banjo and pedal steel. The stew just got better.

Willie Nelson – I Don’t Know A Thing About Love: The Songs of Harlan Howard
America’s favorite son delves into a whole passel of country classics written by one of America’s most underrated songwriters. These songs were hits for artists like Ray Charles, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings and others before he Williefied them. Turns out, Williefication improves quality.

Sunny War – Anarchist Gospel
From L.A. comes Sunny War with an album that is hard to pin down. Is it punk? Folk? Gospel? Fusion? Short answer: yes. This is a fun record because it touches so many styles from song to song. The guest list ain’t too shabby either. Jim James, Allison Russell, David Rawlings and War and Pierce bandmate Chris Pierce all make contributions to the record.

Rufus Wainwright – Folkocracy
Rufus decided that for his 50th birthday he’d give himself a present. That present is an album that puts his unique spin on folk classics plus some of his own material. As Rufus reworks these tunes, he’s helped along the way by Brandi, Byrne, Bird, Crow, Legend and a bunch of other names you know. My favorite is probably the complete dismantling of Cotton Eyed Joe with Chaka Kahn (!).

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