Columbia, Tenn., native Sharon Brown — a mild-mannered, white-haired grandmother — may not look like the typical Jelly Roll fan.
But Jelly’s music is all about facing struggle and adversity, and those topics have resonated deeply with Brown’s story over the past few years.
According to a report from local Nashville station News Channel 5 WTVF, Brown is terminally ill, and she has taken comfort from the singer’s music during a period of mounting health setbacks and challenges.
“She had an aneurysm which caused early onset dementia. She also has renal failure, and she has chosen not to do dialysis. It’s a lot. It’s a lot for her,” Brown’s daughter Melissa explains.
Brown’s Jelly Roll fandom has also been a connection point across three generations: She convinced Melissa as well as her granddaughter, Navaeh, to get matching “Bad Apple” tattoos, an homage to Jelly’s long-running fan club.
The singer is a native of Antioch, Tenn. — not far from Brown’s hometown — so Melissa even drove her mom out to see the real-life Whitsitt Chapel, which Jelly attended as a child and is featured on the cover of his debut country album of the same title.
In late 2023, Melissa and Brown were at one of Jelly’s local toy drive concerts, and Melissa decided to try to make her mom’s ultimate wish come true: To meet the man himself.
“I explained her situation and said her dying wish, her No. 1 on her bucket list, was to meet Jelly Roll,” she recounts in the news segment, explaining that she approached a crew member who was receptive to hearing Brown’s story — and helped them facilitate a meeting backstage.
“He gave me so many hugs,” Brown remembers. “He made me feel like I was so special. He told me I only looked 50!”
Jelly is known for going above and beyond to forge connections with his fans. From meeting people facing terminal illnesses to performing special shows in prisons and rehab centers, he always makes sure that stardom goes hand in hand with giving back.
Speaking of giving back, the toy drive that Jelly was promoting when he met Brown was an initiative first inspired by his teen daughter, Bailee Ann, who keeps an annual tradition of collecting toys for local children at the holidays. Not only did Jelly set out to turn that dream into the biggest toy drive in Nashville history, but he also personally donated a semi-truck full of toys to the Last Minute Toy Store, an organization that distributes donated toys to children across middle Tennessee during the holidays.
In 2023, the album format was much more than just a way for artists to collect and organize their songs. In fact, the best albums of the year often doubled as diaries for the artist’s journey through a new life stage or personal evolution.
So many artists upped their game that it was impossible to include them all in this list. Luke Combs’ Gettin’ Old and Hardy’s The Mockingbird & the Crow only made it to honorable mention status, which says a lot about just how high the bar was for great, transformative albums in 2023. Special shout-outs are also due to self-titled records from Zach Bryan and Brandy Clark, who released excellent personal statement projects this year, and Dustin Lynch, who delivered unflinching honesty in his album, Killed the Cowboy.
But ultimately, the Top 10 albums of 2023 were master classes in self-reflection and growth; the artists who made them have hit their stride or are still on endless quests towards personal and artistic fulfillment.
Read on for Taste of Country’s best albums of 2023, which were picked by a team of staff writers.
Gallery Credit: Carena Liptak
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