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Burgo’s Top Albums of 2023

Yes, I’ve been absent again. 2 years since my last post. Sorry about that.

I did actually put together a “Burgo’s Top Albums of 2022” with all the intent of posting here last year, but life got in the way. If you’re interested in what made the cut, you can still find the playlist on Spotify here. It was actually a pretty good year, and Anaïs Mitchell’s self-titled album was a thing of friggin’ beauty. Listen to it, if you haven’t already.

But… time, she waits for no man, and the next thing you know, it’s 2024. Your kids are growing up, both at school now. You find yourself smoking meat overnight in a weber kettle. You’re really getting into perfecting your neapolitan pizza bases. The arthritis in your hands is starting to play up, but you’re trying to ignore the fact that it might spell the end of your guitar playing. You’re having to come to terms with the fact that your best friend, your sidekick, your shadow… your little puppy dog… is slowing down and entering her last few years. You’re coming to terms with your own mortality, and thinking about your own legacies. You’re…

Oh. That’s just me?

Anyway, here’s my top albums of 2023… even if a couple of months late.

16. Bill Orcutt – Jump On It

I find Bill Orcutt endlessly fascinating. One-time member of the ever-noisy Harry Pussy, his path to becoming one of the leaders of traditional American guitar is just bizarre, but wonderful. 

This is an album of contradictions. It’s quiet; but loud. It’s soothing; but dissonant. It’s airy; but urgent. It’s all of these things, but none. Make of that what you will. 

And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better album closer than the snap of the guitar string on “Before I Go”.

Standout track: What Do You Do With Memory (but honestly, this is an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety)

15. Lori McKenna – 1988

Just a beautiful, beautiful album. Lori McKenna is a songwriter’s songwriter, and whether you like country or not, I defy you to not feel something, identify with someone when listening to this album.

Jangly guitars abound throughout, and I am here for it.

Standout track: Letting People Down

14. Fenne Lily – Big Picture

An album you can just sink into. The vocals here are comforting, soft, soothing. But there’s a bite to the lyrics that you won’t catch, if you aren’t paying attention. My favourite track off the album, “Lights Light Up”, is just this mass of the conflicts that come in relationships, and it’s heartbreaking but oh-so pretty.

Standout track: Lights Light Up

13. The National – First Two Pages of Frankenstein

I’ve had a long love-affair with The National, going all the way back to 2005’s “Alligator”, but I’ll admit that 2019’s “I Am Easy to Find” left me wondering where our relationship would go next.

“First Two Pages of Frankestein” brought me right back. Sparse, hushed, weathered and full of that “National glow“, I just love this.

Standout track: New Order T-shirt

12. Wilder Woods – FEVER/SKY

Bear Rineheart has one of my favourite voices in music today (and that’s been the case for over 15 years now!) and FEVER/SKY showcases his absolute roar of a voice throughout. Standout track contender, Patience, in particular. Man, I love hearing Bear just let loose like this.

Just an album of rollicking tunes.

Standout track: Be Yourself

11. Jess Williamson – Time Ain’t Accidental

Alt-country? Indie-country? I suck at labels. I’ll just say this is a very, very good album.

And honestly, anyone who writes lyrics like “My love is pure as the universe/ Honest as an ashtray” has me captured.

Standout track: Hunter


Cheating, because here’s our man Bear again in his main outfit, NEEDTOBREATHE.

To my ears, this is probably their most radio-friendly album that I’ve heard from the band; it’s certainly one of the catchiest. While some listeners might be put off by that comment, I’d still urge you to give this album a listen. It’s chock-full of stadium-sized barn burners.

Standout track: When You Forgive Someone

9. Darlingside – Everything is Alive

Just a beautiful, pretty album. Almost every song on here is gorgeous. Lush arrangement and (as always) beautiful harmonies… although the band are stepping out on their own on individual tracks, more and more.

I just wish it made me feel something more. But for execution alone, “Everything is Alive” makes it pretty darn high on this list.

Standout track: How Long Again

8. Gregory Alan Isakov – Appaloosa Bones

Despite the fact that Gregory Alan Isakov was born in South Africa, it’s hard to deny that his music has become synonymous with his home, Colorado. This album was made to listen while under big skies, gazing up at the stars at the foot of the Rockies.

Of all the artists on this list, GAI is the one I’d most like to hole up for an evening with and share drinks over an old wooden table as we talk about life. His albums are always so richly textured, so full, but at the same time so unhurried, understated and patient. I think we could all learn a lot from that.

Standout track: Before The Sun

7. The Gaslight Anthem – History Books

The Gaslight Anthem made one of my favourite albums of the 00’s decade, and certainly one of my top 2 albums from 2008, with absolute classic “The ’59 Sound”. I can hand on heart say that, nearly 20 years later, I’m still not sick of that album.

Which is why I was nervous about this, the band’s first album in the nearly decade since 2014’s pre-break up “Get Hurt“. And I won’t lie, the album took a few spins for me. But the more time I spend with it, the more I find myself singing along with some old friends.

Standout track: Positive Charge

6. Gracie Abrams – Good Riddance

I’ve pretty much only seen snarky reviews of this album, with adjectives like “derivative”, “cliched” and (in one particularly mean case), “Not Reinventing the ‘Indie Sad Girl’ Wheel” being thrown around.

Which boggles my mind. This is such a good album, particularly when you consider it’s Gracie Abrams’ debut full-length release (?!). Honestly, I feel like Gracie fell victim to the almost impossible “hype to live up to” that comes from personal endorsements from Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo.

Anyway. I really enjoyed this.

Standout track: I should hate you

5. Noname – Sundial

Just effortless flow. Wry. Angry. Frustrated.

No one is safe from Noname. Not even Noname herself.

Takedowns have never been so eloquent.

Standout track: namesake

4. Zach Bryan – Zach Bryan

Although I never published the post, Zach Bryan’s 2022 release, “American Heartbreak”, was one of my favourite releases of that year, and made my Spotify “Albums of 2022” playlist. The dude is so serious, but also so sincere. And when his voice breaks, as it so often does in its plaintive tones? I break, each time.

Is this album without faults? Nope. Does that matter? Nope. Because then Zach Bryan lets loose with one of his heart-breaking lines, and everything else fades away. Bryan writes the songs you feel in your heart, the stories you wish you could tell.

Standout track: Such a tight call on this one, and it ended up a coin-flip between spoken word opener “Fear and Friday’s”, “I Remember Everything” and “Tourniquet”… with “Tourniquet” winning by a hair.

3. Ilsey – From the Valley

For the last decade of so, Ilsey Juber has been a pretty major force in the music world, although most would have no idea. That’s because, until the release of “From the Valley”, Ilsey was mostly known as the writer behind major hits like Beyonce’s “All Night”, Miley Cyrus’s “Midnight Sky”, Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” and more.

All that has changed with “From the Valley”. Ilsey steps into the spotlight, and man, does she do it in style. An album full of longing for something more, somebody else, this is breezy road trip music… and I mean that in the best way.

Standout track: No California

2. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Weathervanes

Regular readers may not be surprised by this choice… after all, Jason Isbell has had a few appearances on my “Best of the Year” roundups.

Over the years, I’ve named two artists as my favourite lyricists of our generation: Josh Ritter and John Darnielle. Jason Isbell has skirted around that line before, but with Weathervanes I think he’s firmly expanded my previous views into a solid triumvirate.

Such great, great writing on this album. Isbell wrestles with the world around him, and his own place in it… and while there’s not necessarily a resolution, there’s a distinct sense of raging against the light here.

And the 400 unit are just so tight, it’s ridiculous.

Standout track: Save the World

1. Tommy Prine – This Far South

It was always going to be Tommy Prine’s “This Far South” for me. Ever since I came across Tommy Prine back in 2022, the dude has been soundtracking much of my life. While I viewed “Ships in the Harbor” (about the passing of his father, John) as a definitive declaration of a legacy continued, wow was I unprepared for the songwriting that would follow it.

Blending genres from folk, country, americana, punk, southern rock and grunge and more… Tommy Prine’s songwriting capabilities are just sublime. It is absolutely wild to think this kid is 28.

In that short life though, Tommy’s been through a lot. The album seems a reflection of this, with a lot of introspective writing and, yes, anger.

In album opener, “Elohim“, Prine pretty stridently declares that there is no God… and while that’s something most who know me will know is not something I subscribe to, it’s also easy to see the plaintive cry of frustration from an angry young man who’s lost not only his father, but best friends in a relatively short amount of time.

Throughout the album, Prine talks about personal experiences on a songwriting level that is just truly gut-wrenching. I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

Standout track(s): Honestly, I couldn’t pick. Elohim, the aforementioned rage against the loss he’s endured; or By the Way, another heartbreaking song dealing with his father.

And there you have it, folks. See you in a few years, maybe?

Full album playlist below…