WNXP DJ’s Favorite Nashville Albums of 2023

Nashville is Music City and every year some of the world’s best albums are made by the artists who live right here. Our WNXP DJs have put in the work listening to and championing so many great Nashville releases this year, it hurts to pick just one each. But here are some of our favorites.

Celia’s pick – Becca Mancari’s Left Hand

Back in 2020, and as it reverberated throughout “pandemic times,” some of my favorite songs were on the record The Greatest Part by local artist Becca Mancari. I’ve been missing the artist since then, and so when I knew a new record was being made by Becca, not only was I excited but I have to admit the bar was pretty high. The LP released this year, Left Hand, surpassed my expectations. The songs are musically interesting and compelling, of course, but I also find the collection stunning because Becca has clearly developed as an artist in their readiness to take up more space and wrest control. Left Hand covers ground where The Greatest Part left off, including some hard stuff about a denying of their personhood, and struggles as a queer person of color in the South, even in creative circles. And, yet, the record also absolutely insists upon JOY.

Whether underlaid by groovy production elements that jump genres (as on standout tracks “It’s Too Late,” “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and “Don’t Even Worry” with their friend and former bandmate Brittany Howard), or showcased in spoken word form (like on the sultry “Eternity”), it’s Becca’s clear, gorgeous voice that really shines throughout. I believe that Left Hand by Becca Mancari is one of the best records to be released by a Nashville artist in 2023. I expect I’ll keep coming back to this one, like I did its predecessor, again and again. Or should I say “Over and Over,” hm?

Justin Barney’s pick – Peter One’s Come Back To Me

Peter One’s story is incredible in itself. Peter is from Africa’s Ivory Coast. In the 1980s he released an album that was very successful in Africa and had him touring the continent. Then in the 1990s he came to the United States to make music, but found himself in a much more stable career — nursing — here in Middle Tennessee. And in his mid-sixties he released his second album, Come Back to Me, in May 2023.

But an incredible music story would be nothing if the music didn’t back it up. Come Back to Me stands up on its own without the story. It’s a warm cup of coffee on a slow Sunday morning kind of record. There is a kindness in his voice that makes you realize why he made a profession out of caring for people. Throughout the beautifully plaintive album that dips in and out of both English and French while bringing in American and African sounds, you can hear the softness of Peter One’s soul.

Jason Moon Wilkins’ pick – Samia’s Honey

If timing is everything in artist’s career, it feels like the timing might have been slightly off in 2023 for Samia. The formerly Nashville-based artist’s album Honey came out in January, which may have been too long out of mind to make it on as many year-end “best of” lists as it deserves. Outlets like The Guardian and NME gave it high praise upon release, but it didn’t make their 2023 tallies. Or maybe it’s because the world of indie pop was too crowded with other excellent albums mining similar sonic veins. Or possibly, people didn’t dig deep enough to fully appreciate the album’s devastating lyrical supremacy.

But if you missed out, that’s not Samia’s fault. She gave you one of the year’s great pop songs “Mad At Me” alongside aching ballads containing lyrical arrows that hit targets others only aim for. The song “To Me It Was” weaves eternally relevant questions (“How does anybody know when they’re telling the truth?”) into its broken soul narrative and contains an all-time couplet with the ,witty and wise “There might not be a second coming/That doesn’t mean it was all for nothing.”

The Honey Reimagined versions deserve their own praise with Samia’s peers (Ruston Kelly, Maya Hawke, Hovvdy) providing an opportunity to re-listen to songs like “Charm You.” Blondshell’s version helped illuminate what might be the opening lines of the year: “Getting all lit up about the outdoor malls/Baby, let me show you the synthetic pond/Couldn’t we believe it was the hand of God/Making water boogie to a Kesha song.”

Marquis Munson’s pick – Devon Gilfillian’s Love You Anyway

Back in 2021, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Devon Gilfillian performed at the Newport Folk Fest days after being dropped from his label. Turning that hardship into a positive, Devon hit the stage along with special guests Nathaniel Rateliff, Langhorne Slim, Courtney Marie Andrews, and Jess Wolfe from Lucius performing “Love You Anyway,” a song he wrote a month prior and a song the audience hadn’t heard until this moment. With tears flowing from the audience to the stage as everyone reflected on the last few years, it was a moment that would become the flagship for Devon’s second album, Love You Anyway.

A simple message of coming together despite our differences, Love You Anyway captures the feeling of empowerment and enjoyment of life in such a soulful way. You get those beautiful, message-driven tracks like “Let the Water Flow” and the album’s title track while also grabbing feel-good moments on songs like “All I Really Wanna Do,” “Brown Sugar Queen,” and “Imma Let My Body Move.” This album feels like Marvin Gaye’s releases What’s Going On (which, you might recall, Devon covered in full in 2020) and I Want You with a sprinkle of “Got To Give It Up” wrapped into one record.

Michael Pollard’s pick – Be Your Own Pet’s MOMMY

Reunited and it slaps so hard. With their first album in 15 years, Be Your Own Pet are back with MOMMY, a ferocious follow-up to their 2008 record Get Awkward. MOMMY finds frontwoman Jemina Pearl channeling her frustrations at injustices in the world into an disarmingly catchy set of songs addressing topics like authoritarianism, equal reproductive rights, bipolar disorder and maturing out of your friend group with a clear-eyed directness and sing-ability ready to be shouted along with in concert. Musically, MOMMY runs the gamut from the quintessential punk rock that first made them indie-famous, to the glam metal adjacent tones of the penultimate track “Drive,” and the dreamy crooning of the closer “Teenage Heaven”. Be Your Own Pet have all grown as songwriters, musicians and — most importantly — as adults in the 15-year hiatus between albums, with marriages, mortgages and children entering band members’ lives since 2008. Handling some very heavy topics with both the aggression and nuance of a band that has seen a lot, this album is worth the wait and easily my favorite Nashville album of 2023.