As we enter this final week of 2023, I am happy to share what I consider to be 20 of the finest Canadian album releases over the last 12 months. This is by no means a comprehensive list detailing the BEST albums of the year – no, I openly admit to having very subjective tastes making impartiality a challenge in itself – this is simply a list of 20 releases that earned many spins here at GDW this year. Don’t expect any apologies for the abundance of country music that made the cut this year…
I shall precede this list with my typical annual disclaimer – that it is an incredibly daunting task to select just 20 albums from the hundreds out there, and the list is finalized based on personal intuition and recollection as opposed to some convoluted and empirical scientific formula. There are bound to be glaring omissions, as I have not kept a running scorecard through the year. No, I’ve relied on a skim through the GDW archives, our concert ticket stubs, and our vinyl crates here at home with recent purchases – so if you’re on this list, you left a lasting impression.
So here are 20 of my personal favorite Canadian albums from 2023. As always, these are not ranked in any order, but simply sticking to the same approach as previous years and listing alphabetically by artist/band first name. The hardest task of all shall follow – selecting my Top Four choices to post later this week, and the announcement of the GDW Album of the Year.
Allison Russell: “The Returner”
If ever there were ridiculously high expectations to follow her 2021 GDW Album of the Year, Allison Russell sure did not succumb to the pressure. This second solo venture will earn plenty of trophies.
Bahamas: “Boot Cut”
Every year seems to bring a surprise (Lisa LeBlanc in 2022). We were shaking our heads in disbelief when soul-pop-rocker Bahamas announced a country album, but several spins later, we’re believers!!!
Bella White: “Among Other Things”
Just barely into her 20s – and with two solid albums now under her belt, when it comes to creating timeless old-school country music, this gal is as authentic as they get. High on our list to see live in ’24.
Brooks and Bowskill: “Too Many Roads”
An outstanding old-school country album from Blue Rodeo’s Jimmy Bowskill and partner (now wife) Brittany Brooks. Both share their love for this music, and it shows. Warning: Contains yodeling!
Claire Davis: “Get It Right”
This debut full-length album is quite simply sublime. Claire clearly respects the R&B/soul genres and pays homage to the pioneers of these sounds convincingly. Prepare for a time-travel adventure here.
Elliott BROOD: “Town”
As huge fans of this trio, this was a lock for this list – but with no free hall pass given here. As the first half of a two-part album concept, the band deliver another solid set of tunes. “Paper Money” is a gem.
Good Lovelies: “We Will Never Be The Same”
This highly sought full-length regular album proved totally worth the wait. The trio’s chemistry shines better than ever – and celebrating 17 years creating music together – made this one a no-brainer.
This dream pairing of Québécois folk artists Mara Trembley and Catherine Durand delivers a mix of acoustic and electrified country folk tunes. Never did I expect a country version of a Bee Gees tune.
Hyaenas: “Little Trophy”
Dang, just typing Hyaenas puts a mile-wide smile on my face. EPs were previously ineligible for this album list, but this one is a legitimate rule breaker. A STUNNING debut from this Vancouver band.
Jill Barber: “Homemaker”
Another GDW Album of the Year alumni (from 2020), Canada’s Sweetheart Jill Barber returned to her folk-roots origins to share this beautiful account of being a wife, a mother, and a homemaker.
Joan Smith & The Jane Does: “Do Me Some Harm”
The sophomore album from the Toronto rockers landed with a resounding thud. Mixing new bangers with pandemic-era singles, this epic collection of alt-rock tunes will happily obliterate your speakers.
Jeremie Albino: “Tears You Hide”
A fabulous second full-length album from an artist that has come a very long way in the shortest of time. Lots of blues and Americana influences meet good old fashioned rock n’ roll – what’s not to love?
Matt Andersen & The Big Bottle of Joy: “The Big Bottle Of Joy”
Rounding up a stellar ensemble for this new project, Matt demonstrates AGAIN why he is THE force to be reckoned with on the Canadian blues-soul scene. A sold-out cross-country tour proved it too.
NQ Arbuckle: “Love Songs For The Long Game”
Who earned the honors of the most long-awaited return to the music scene in 2023? I raised my hand for Neville Quinlan – 9 years since his last album release, and he returned with this absolute corker.
Terra Lightfoot: “Healing Power”
Yet another gem from Terra, who delivered not only what we have come to expect, but much more than we could have anticipated. If there’s a Canadian artist on track for global domination – it’s Terra!
The Night Owls: “The Night Owls”
How has this Montreal folk duo stayed under the radar for so long? Beautiful instrumentation, melodic harmonies, and ethereal sounds. I’m first in line for a vinyl pressing when they arrive, trust me.
The Stephen Stanley Band: “Before The Collapse Of The Hive”
With a release date that JUST made the cut for consideration, we have another long-awaited record from one of Toronto’s finest. Easy listening, yet deeply textured and poignant – as expected! Brill.
Thierry Larose: “Sprint!”
The future of Québécois music looks good when you have artists of this caliber ushering in the next generation. This stunning sophomore album shines from start to finish, more with every listen. Perfect.
Various Artists: “Sonny Don’t Go Away: A Tribute To Ron Hynes”
Kudos to Alan Doyle and Cory Tetford for producing this tribute to a NL legend and recruiting a ton of local talent to contribute. Great job in keeping it a surprise for most of the year too. Essential listening.
Whitehorse: “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying”
Never on my bingo scorecard did I have “Whitehorse” and “Vintage country album” for the win – but here it is. As a sucker for steel and having a thang for twang, this one earned MANY spins here.