The Best Mainstream Country Albums of 2022
Every year to make sure the best titles in mainstream country don’t get overlooked, and to encourage the quality in the mainstream to rise to the top, we run down the best mainstream country albums to compliment the Album of the Year nominees. Some years there is overlap with the Album of the Year nominees, including this year.
Also in 2022, what is “mainstream” and what is “independent” continues to get more and more blurry as major label opportunities open up for more independently-minded artists, and the mainstream continues to sound more country, as is illustrated in the below titles. If an album was a released by a major Music Row-based label, and saw attention from mainstream radio, it’s being considered “mainstream.”
Country music continues to improve across the board, including, if not especially in the mainstream. These albums tell that story. Happy listening.
(11) – Hailey Whitters – Raised
For her latest effort Hailey Whitters returns home to Shueyville, Iowa (pop. 731) to find inspiration for the 17 tracks of her album Raised. Barring the “Ad Astra Per Alas Porci” intro and outtro, Whitters co-wrote all but one of the tracks, and true to her word, the album takes you right to small town middle America, and like so many of the souls birthed and raised there, it never leaves.
Hailey Whitters proves on Raised that eulogizing small town middle America doesn’t have to be so trite. Whitters and her co-writers like Lori McKenna, Brandy Clark, and Nicolle Galyon know how to take the yearning we all feel for a sense of home, awaken the warm memories of our earlier years, and call to mind the charm of rural life without resorting to the same tired modes, or ignoring some of the hypocrisy and constriction that needs to be referenced to paint the full picture of this life. (read review)
(10) – Miranda Lambert – Palomino
It’s called Palomino, and it’s a Miranda Lambert record. That means it includes some up-tempo sassy songs, and some slow and meaningful singer/songwriter songs. It means it’s more country than most of the mainstream, but not country enough for the independent country snobs. It means Shefani stans hate it no matter what it is, as will a contingent of fans of a band from Oklahoma. But ultimately, what you need to know about Palomino is it’s very much a Miranda Lambert record.
Palomino was recorded and produced more organically, and that comes across in the finished product. Instead of working with some big-named producer, it was produced by long-time Miranda songwriting buddies Jon Randall and Luke Dick, along with Miranda herself. Starting with the song and songwriters has always been what has separated Miranda from the rest of the mainstream. Natalie Hemby and Jack Ingram also make big contributions to this record. (read review)
(9) – Randy Houser – Note To Self
Whether you’re an adventurous traditional country music fan willing to cross enemy lines to seek out some of the best of the mainstream, or the mainstream country fan who insists on seeking out the country music of substance that the radio and awards tend to ignore, both paths will lead you to Randy Houser’s new album Note To Self. Picking up where his 2019 album Magnolia left off by affording more quality in the songwriting, more soul in the vocals, and more country in the sounds, Note To Self is one of mainstream country’s better releases of 2022.
Note To Self just proves why you shouldn’t put that old pair of blue jeans or that printed pearl snap shirt in the pile for Goodwill. In country music, all your favorite styles come back around, and when they do, you’re always cooler when you’re sporting stuff from the original era instead of the retro imitation. Randy Houser did his time chasing trends, and later shirking them with his last album Magnolia. But now his original soulful country sound and the appetite of the mainstream are aligning to make an album like this one that can live in both the mainstream and the more traditional world of country music. (read review)
(8) – Midland – The Last Resort: Greetings From
Midland is most certainly a mainstream country music bright spot, and has been ever since the band’s inception. This new album is no exception, once again taking Midland’s throwback 90s-era style complimented by the savvy writing of Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, and making something not entirely unique or exceptional for those whose country music diet doesn’t consist of corporate country radio, but something world-beating compared to Midland’s peers, and less of a guilty pleasure for indie country and Americana fans.
The new Midland album is anchored by the song “Sunrise Tells The Story,” which is one of the few songs not written by the band and the McAnally/Osborne duo, but by Midland guitarist Jess Carson, along with Jessi Alexander and Aaron Raitiere. You can tell how good this song is by how much it’s struggled at country radio. Even though we consider Midland “mainstream,” they haven’t exactly benefited from the perks of that world. They’re in-betweeners, built top down by Big Machine Records, and supported ground up by more distinguishing grassroots fans. (read review)
(7) – Aaron Lewis – Frayed at Both Ends
It’s too bad that Aaron Lewis has made himself such a polarizing guy in country music—one of those dudes that when you mention his name, many people immediately start making faces like they just swallowed something rude. Because he has released an album here with some really excellent songs that would resonate with people from the underground all the way to the mainstream, and even into Americana with the level of cunning songcraft and sincere emotion. But only Aaron’s fervent fans will hear it. Yet lucky for them, they will hear exactly what they’re hoping for.
For the duration of Aaron Lewis’s now decade-long country music career, it has been punctuated by two primary things: bellicose, politically-charged, and unapologetic patriotic anthems, and chain smoking solo acoustic shows full of earnestness that make them preferable for many fans over seeing a performance with a full band. His latest album Frayed At Both Ends offers the maximal Aaron Lewis experience by combining these two things, and leaning into them unrepentantly. (read review)
(6) – Ronnie Dunn – 100 Proof Neon
Everybody wants to be 90s country these days, but nobody wants to live through an era without the wide proliferation of the internet, and when cell phones looked like carry-on luggage. But if you want the real stuff, you’re always best going directly to the source, and perhaps no country music act personified 90s country more than Brooks & Dunn, and their monster hits like “My Maria,” “Brand New Man,” and “Neon Moon.”
Now it’s not about Ronnie Dunn reaching out of his comfort zone to chase the current trends, it’s the current trends coming back around to embrace Ronnie Dunn, which means all he has to do is be himself and lean into the sound that got him here. That’s what you get a big snootful on 100 Proof Neon. If you like songs about country, heartbreak, booze and neon, that’s what this album is all about. (read review)
(5) – Lainey Wilson – Bell Bottom Country
Not since the emergence of Miranda Lambert have we seen a woman surface in mainstream country music with such promise and passion that carries a wide appeal through an infectious personality, and at an advantageous time when everything is aligning to allow her to be utterly successful, if not dominant for years to come. Lainey Wilson is going to be big, and it’s going to be big for country music, because unlike so many of her mainstream contemporaries, Lainey Wilson is actually country.
Her latest album Bell Bottom Country is an overt and unapologetic establishment of the Louisiana native’s sound and influences. What is Bell Bottom Country? It includes a little bit of classic rock, just a dash of pop sensibility, and a whole lot of unrepentant country. Bell Bottom Country is frisky and cool, while still remaining honest to Lainey Wilson. You cue up the opening song “Hillbilly Hippie” with its “Mama Tried”-style guitar riff, and it immediately sucks you right in. (read review)
(4) – Randall King – Shot Glass
Of all the talk of the traditional country resurgence in the mainstream, of all the praise earned by Luke Combs for being better than his mainstream predecessors, of performers like Jon Pardi, Lainey Wilson, and Carly Pearce instilling more twang and roots into the music, of Cody Johnson dominating the airwaves at the moment with his single “Til You Can’t,” of even songwriters like Ernest putting out surprisingly country-sounding records, still nobody, nobody, is more traditional when it comes to new mainstream country than Randall King.
If you want to hear the continuation of country music that sounds like the stuff George Strait and Alan Jackson released in the late 80’s into the 90’s, Randall King takes the crown. This isn’t “90’s INSPIRED” country. This isn’t some retro gimmick or hipster put-on. Randall King was born and raised on this stuff, and lives and breathes it every day. He knows no different than to perform country music that actually sounds like country music, and is willing to die on that hill if that’s what it takes. But so far, it’s taken him across Texas and to a deal with Warner Music Nashville, and hopefully, now to the masses. (read review)
(3) – Jon Pardi – Mr. Saturday Night
Jon Pardi started his career as the slightly more twangy mainstream guy who would still make you wince with his radio singles. Now, he’s more country then many of your favorite Texas and Red Dirt guys, and is having great success with it. Jon Pardi leans on the fiddle in a way we haven’t heard since the Western swing era. And most importantly, radio is playing it. He also shamelessly leans into the country music tradition of the double entendre, uncaring if some consider it hokey.
Some will say, “You’ve gone soft, Trig! You would have ripped this six years ago.” Maybe so. Or maybe Jon Pardi has gone hard, and is dragging mainstream country with him. This isn’t 2016 Jon Pardi either, and this isn’t 2016 mainstream country music. Country is now more country, and we have Jon Pardi in large part to thank for it. (read review)
(2) – Drake Milligan – Dallas/Fort Worth
Drake Milligan did not win America’s Got Talent. He came in third. Apparently he was good enough to compete and make it to the final, but was too good to win. That’s how you know he’s real. The consolation prize is an excellent new 14 song album called Dallas/Fort Worth, and it’s way better and more meaningful then any silly talent competition trophy. Super country and twangy, with good songwriting and that little dash of swagger from Drake’s Elvis influence, it’s everything you were hoping Drake Milligan’s full-length debut album would be.
Completely co-written by Milligan, sung exquisitely in a voice that is both classic and unique, and named after his hometown region, Dallas/Fort Worth gives you lots of reasons to be hopeful for the present and the future of country music, as long as Drake Milligan is involved in it. (read review)
(1) – Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville
The album came together over a week long songwriting retreat at a cabin just outside of Nashville. It was composed around the characters of a fictional town named after the influential songwriter Dennis Linde, who penned such gems as “Bubba Shot The Jukebox” by Mark Chesnutt and “Goodbye Earl” by the [Dixie] Chicks. For the male characters, songwriters Aaron Raiterie, Benjy Davis, and T.J. Osborne step up to sing lead, just as Brandy Clark, Caylee Hammack, and Pillbox Patti do as well. John Osborne of Brothers Osborne was the producer of the album.
Lindeville is one of those albums that will go on to define a more compelling and atypical career from an artist that is helping to break the mold of what we can expect from major label country. Incidentally, it also helps highlight some important songwriters. But perhaps most importantly, Ashley McBryde’s Lindeville symbolizes that we may be entering an era when artists are allowed opportunities to do things that disrupt the regular rhythms of music production instead of only adhering to them. And that is exciting. (read review)
December 14, 2022 @ 9:23 am
Ashley McBryde forever
December 14, 2022 @ 9:39 am
The Ashley album is my fave
December 14, 2022 @ 9:57 am
Imagine showing this list to somebody a decade ago. We’ve come a long way.
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
December 14, 2022 @ 1:04 pm
eXcUSe mE, DErrICk…. BUt HAvE yOU LisTEnEd to tYlER HubBArD’s EP “dAnCIng iN tHe COunTrY” ?
December 14, 2022 @ 10:04 am
When it’s time to Pardi, we will always Pardi hard
December 14, 2022 @ 12:31 pm
December 14, 2022 @ 10:14 am
Dammit. You’re making me choose – Lainey or Ashley. That’s almost an impossible choice. But Lindeville is quite simply a masterpiece. It demands to be listened to straight through. It creates an entire world and brings it to life. Everything on this list is worthy but other than Lindeville they are collections of great songs. Ashley has taken it next level and runs away with this one by a mile.
December 14, 2022 @ 6:18 pm
As someone from outside a small town (I wince when towns with over 1000 people are called small), I think Lindeville is great but not quite fair. Needs more on the “Play Ball” side of the fence. Less drama, and more relaxation, satisfaction, simple life. To show the duality of a small community.
I still love the album and would like it to.win, but i feel it needs a bit more positive
December 14, 2022 @ 10:26 am
Drake Milligan’s album is my AOTY! Great songs, great singing, nice mixture of slow and fast and even a Western Swing song too! What contemporary artist besides Brennen Leigh is gonna sing a Western Swing song these days? I respect what he has done on this album. Thoroughly enjoyed this one.
December 14, 2022 @ 10:48 am
Good list right there. I lean towards Randall King for the moment.
Lainey Wilson is terrfifc. I think we need a bit more time to see if she stays in the groove or is sucked in by glamour, glitz, and hellywood. That comment does not apply to the album but her trajectory as an artist. So far so good.
Although Justin Moore has caught some crap over the years, his body of work is pretty country for mainstream and he continues to put out pretty good stuff comparably.
December 14, 2022 @ 11:44 am
Pretty good list this year. I would include Whiskey Myers as well. I know it’s pretty hard but still a lot of good themes.
I remember someone reviewed Lindeville on YouTube and said its fine, but he didn’t see himself listening to it after a couple of spins. I couldn’t disagree. I still listen to it a lot. So many great songs.
December 15, 2022 @ 1:31 am
That was probably Grady Smith. He came out with his top 10 albums yesterday and Lindeville didn’t even get honorable mention. Hailey Whitters was #1, Zach Bryan #2.
December 14, 2022 @ 12:05 pm
Miranda’s is one of my favorite albums this year period and I hate most mainstream country. I’ve had this album on repeat since I got ahold of it.
December 14, 2022 @ 12:28 pm
I would take the Pardi from that list for sure. I love Ashley McBride (and Dennis Linde), but for some reason, I find that album about as enjoyable as a kick in the nuts. I can’t listen to it — it is excruciating. Whatever they were going for, I don’t get it.
For me, Luke Combs “Growin’ Up” is the best mainstream country record of this year. I love that thing and listen to it constantly. That and the Pardi are the only 2022 mainstream country records I listen to on a regular basis.
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
December 14, 2022 @ 1:00 pm
It seems as tho Luke Combs doesn’t really care about the album process. Dude seems to record 40 songs and let’s his label craft out a 12 song tracklist from that.
Not much creative passion on Luke’s end for the entire project as a whole.
As a result, I get upset when he wins ‘Album of the Year” at all the major award shows…
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
December 14, 2022 @ 12:55 pm
“This isn’t 2016 Jon Pardi either” — confused by this statement. Are you suggesting that Pardi has become “more country” since his earlier days?
Because 2016 Pardi delivered with Head Over Boots and his previous singles were pretty awesome too – stuff from his 1st album like “When I’ve Been Drinking” and “What I can’t put Down”. Those singles from 2014/2015 were very country too.
Unless you are only associating Dirt on my Boots with year 2016…? But I’ve found Pardi to be incredibly reliable with his albums and singles. Dirt on my Boots and Heartache on the Dance floor being is more pop-ish outliers but still plenty of fun lyrics, good melody and fiddle and steel to satisfy any George Strait fan
December 14, 2022 @ 2:03 pm
I think he’s become more country compared to his earlier days, but I guess that’s subjective.
December 14, 2022 @ 2:31 pm
I had to look up Shefani. I wish I had not. The language has gotten WAY to cute over the past 6-7 years for my taste. lOL!
December 15, 2022 @ 10:28 am
I might be the only person on earth who loves Blake and Gwen AND Miranda, and wish the Shefanis and Ranfans could call a truce, it’s been like 7 years….
December 20, 2022 @ 9:10 am
Have you seen Miranda’s show in Vegas?
Friends met a lot of family & in laws in Vegas, 2 weeks ago.
They said the set was beautiful, and they enjoyed the show.
December 20, 2022 @ 10:08 am
Yes, we saw it a couple of months ago, it was great, considerably better then when I saw her in Laughlin last year. (Someone in my section brought their kids, cue 8 year old singing along to “I’m drunk and I don’t wanna go home…..😁)
December 20, 2022 @ 4:48 pm
: D Too funny
December 14, 2022 @ 2:37 pm
Hey Trig, will you be doing a “most anticipated for 2023” list soon? I have a feeling it’s going to be a big year.
December 14, 2022 @ 3:28 pm
Yes, that will probably come right around New Years.
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
December 15, 2022 @ 6:05 am
Maybe this will be the year that Dierks releases something.
Back on New Year’s Eve he stated on national TV that an album would be coming out in 2022….
December 14, 2022 @ 3:25 pm
Ashley, Jon, Randall, and Hailey are great. Drake’s pretty good too. I’ve listened to “Everything She Ain’t” more than any other song this year, and I’m also very fond of “Reverse Cowgirl”, “New Place to Drink”, “Brenda Put Your Bra On”, “You in a Honky Tonk”, “Raised”, and “Big Family”.
I really, really, really, REALLY want so badly to like Lainey Wilson. She has a few songs that are really good. I really liked Things a Man Oughta Know. However, the only thing from Bell Bottom Country that really stuck out to me was “These Boots”. Aside from “These Boots”, which is a great song, the album was so boring and lackluster. I really wish I could get behind the hype, but man, at the moment, I just can’t.
December 14, 2022 @ 3:41 pm
As I thought about it before this list came out I was fairly certain the only Mainstream albums I’d listened to all year were Combs, Pardi, and of course Lainey. Like you said the times are a changin’ and the lines are a blurrin’??
I love Hailey’s album. She’s like the little engine that could, damn close to gettin there but not quite yet. She’s on the right track and A+ live! I’ve already given my take on Drake and Ashley, 2 incredible albums but only Drakes can really be considered Mainstream in my opinion. Warner ruined the Randall King roll out but he’s great and his new EP which I assume will be half of his next album is good as well. Pardi’s always solid and Midland’s ok but don’t even know how to release and work the right song as a single. Two To Two Step is a hit!!
Which brings us to my favorite and hopefully the winner. Country music’s breath of fresh air Lainey Wilson and her Bell Bottom Country. It’s got everything I ask for in a record. Hooks, sing a longs, and variety. #1 in the rotation. I think Those Boots is a future smash hit. Kind of wish she was taking Drake out with her on her Country With A Flare tour that would be a show!!! Sorry for always being long winded but you all know me by now. I can’t just write one or 2 sentences most of the time. Oh well.
David: The Duke of Everything
December 14, 2022 @ 7:42 pm
You could include Morgan wallens dangerous on there even if it’s from last year. It still has singles on the charts. He just became first person to have top 3 spots at one time on hot country charts. Now most those songs are from other projects but like I said, dangerous is still a great album going
December 14, 2022 @ 8:49 pm
Man my most listened to mainstream album now is still Morgan Wallens Dangerous album and it’s nearly 2 years old. Hate him if you want or say it ain’t Country but it’s still a good album to me. And I think Ernest’s Flower Shops could be mentioned here’s cause I still listen to it and its pretty damn good as well
December 14, 2022 @ 10:15 pm
The good on Ernest “Flower Shops” is good, but there is just way too much pop/hip-hop stuff to include a record like that here. I eeked out a positive review for it, and it would probably be #12 if I had a #12 here, but then the comments would have filled up about how I’m promoting a hick hopper.
David: The Duke of Everything
December 15, 2022 @ 3:04 am
First thing is the title of the article is mainstream country albums. As hard as it is to accept for some, rock n hip hop sounds are part of mainstream country radio at this time. If we were talking traditional then no but that’s not main stream. Secondly the charts and such are used to tout guys like Zach Bryan and say they need to be included more but here you are totally dismissing the charts which say wallens album is still dominating. You can’t pinpoint to charts onetime but dismiss it at others.
December 15, 2022 @ 8:24 am
Fair point that today, hip-hop is part of the overall “mainstream country” sound. But again, I didn’t include “Flower Shops” here because I felt it was on the bubble with my overall take on the album, and this was supposed to be a “Top 10” list that got stretched to 11 already. I reviewed the album, and I reviewed the song, so it’s not like I’m ignoring it. I just personally thought these album were better, and they all received better grades.
As for Morgan Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album,” it was released in 2021 and so it would never be on a 2022 list. I understand that it has been dominating the charts this year, but so has “Purgatory” by Tyler Childers, and I wouldn’t include that on a list either. What makes Zach Bryan so exceptional is that he’s not receiving any radio play or support from the mainstream country industry, his label is not located on Music Row, and he’s still seeing astronomical success. But every time I mention this, I also make sure to mention how Morgan Wallen is still in the #1 spot.
According to Wallen, he’s been taking extra time to make his new album, and I expect it to be released in 2023. I’m sure he’ll get plenty of press coverage at that time.
December 14, 2022 @ 9:05 pm
Their all Awesome..can’t choose
December 14, 2022 @ 11:02 pm
The Midland album is just fantastic. I hope that next year someone will please me also.
December 14, 2022 @ 11:42 pm
Midland is my favorite of all and doesn’t get enough recognition in my opinion
December 20, 2022 @ 7:21 am
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
December 15, 2022 @ 6:03 am
People that visit this site really don’t like or want to support Mainstream artists do they…. 😒
The other posts this week about “The Best Albums, Singles, Songs etc” had over 150 comments within a day. This article from yesterday only has 30 comments as I write this….
C’mon guys, let’s support great Mainstream Country music. It actually exists.
December 15, 2022 @ 8:26 am
One big difference is those other categories are getting put up for a vote, and my “Best Mainstream Albums” is already ranked. That said, there is a general bias from readers around here against the mainstream. That is why I try to do things like this to let folks know where is good stuff out there.
Jerry Clower's Ghost
December 16, 2022 @ 5:47 am
A bias that is warranted more often than not.
December 15, 2022 @ 6:36 am
I simply cannot understand why Midland is unable to get better songs. They have the right sound and industry backing but their songs lyric-wise are average at best.
I can understand their desire to role-play as The Eagles and include their bandmates to sing their own ‘Pretty Maids All In A Row’, but they still need their own Hotel California and Life in the Fast Lane songs.
December 15, 2022 @ 3:07 pm
(3) – Jon Pardi – Mr. Saturday Night
December 16, 2022 @ 4:15 pm
My top 10 has a couple that aren`t really mainstream but they`re included 1 Gabe Lee -Hometown Kid 2 Zach Bryan – American Heartbreak 3 Hayley Whitters -Raised 4 Julie Roberts -Ain`t in no hurry 5 Miranda Lambert -Palomino 6 Randall King – Shotglass
7 Jon Pardi -Mr saturday night
8 Wilder Blue
9Ronnie Dunn -100 proof neon
10 Lainey Wilson -Bell bottom country
December 16, 2022 @ 6:18 pm
So glad to see “Lindeville” at #1. Every song is a gem including the filler tracks. A concept album that really hit home for alot of people for a lot of different reasons.
December 17, 2022 @ 12:33 pm
None of the above, thanks.
December 22, 2022 @ 1:46 pm
There are some real great albums here!
December 27, 2022 @ 3:35 am
Because someone is a snob
December 18, 2022 @ 10:34 am
Hmm…out of all these I guess Bell Bottom Country got my attention never heard of Lainey Wilson, I’m so removed from mainstream country I don’t know any of the artists names anymore. The last time I really listened to mainstream was probably around 2005 Gretchen Wilson was at her height back then & Shooter Jennings was somewhat mainstream outside of them didn’t enjoy many of them Brad Paisley was always alright but I never was crazy about him enough to buy an album of his, but I’ll give this Lainey Wilson a try who knows I may be pleasantly surprised by her if not I just stick with Classic artists.