Ok we promise one more list and then we’re done. For the second year in a row our illustrious editor-in-chief Gareth Hugh Evans has picked his top 25 tracks from the entirety of 2014.
Most of these tracks were singles although some are just taken from albums released this year and others are previews of releases due next year. But if this list proves anything folk music is a wide and varied genre that is going from strength to strength. We hope you enjoy – let’s do it all again next year!
1. Passenger – “Heart’s On Fire”
“Heart’s On Fire” has been my favourite Passenger track live for many years so it’s fantastic to see it finally “officially” released. I’ve seen this song silence a sold out, 1,000 capacity crowd at the HiFi in Sydney and it sent chills down my spine. I love the simplicity of this song, the way the fiddle dances over the finger-picked guitar, the rousing harmonies in the chorus, the subltle strings and mandolin – it all comes together to create something magical.
Watch an early video of “Heart’s On Fire” here
2. Nick Mulvey – “Meet Me There”
To be honest I could have picked any of the tracks from Nick Mulvey’s album First Mind for this list so picking just one (to give tracks from other artists a chance) was agonising. I chose “Meet Me There” because I think it showcases Mulvey’s unique guitar style as well as the gorgeous production that’s all over First Mind. I’m so sour I missed Nick Mulvey when he was in the country earlier this year and just hope he’ll be back soon.
Learn to play all of the songs from First Mind here
3. Bellowhead – “Jack Lintel’s Jig”
First of all this is not a jig, it’s a hornpipe. Secondly it’s not commonly known as “Jack Lintel’s…” – most people probably know it as “Cam Ye O’er Frae France”. But when you listen to the way Bellowhead have constructed this track as a round that builds and builds on the hornpipe’s three parts before abruptly halting leaving the rhythmic fiddle hanging in the air you can forgive all this. It makes me wish Bellowhead did more instrumentals.
Watch Bellowhead take you through their album Revival track by track
4. James Vincent McMorrow – “Gold”
I saw James Vincent McMorrow at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year and it was one of the most spellbinding performances I’ve seen in years. “Gold” is a highlight from his album Post Tropical showcasing his rich falsetto, punctuated by harps and horns and backing vocals. Is this folk? Probably not in the strictest sense but it’s a definite evolution of James Vincent McMorrow’s sound from his earlier incarnation as an acoustic singer-songwriter.
Watch James Vincent McMorrow’s latest video “Look Out” here
5. Oh Pep! – “Rest Assured”
There’s something insanely catchy about the syncopated melody of this mandolin driven folk-pop song. It’s just so listenable and is definitely one of my favourite songs to see them perform live. The clip for “Rest Assured” is a little surreal but there’s something I like about it – it has a quirky appeal.
Read our interview with Pepi Emmerichs from Oh Pep! here
6. Pepa Knight – “Rahh!”
I love the fact that Pepa Knight’s solo effort feels like he’s taken all the world music influences of his band Jinja Safari, thrown them into a big pot, distilled them into something pure and then produced what is one of the most unique releases in 2014. “Rahh!” packs such a musical punch and is the perfect addition to any mixtape or playlist to make your listener sit up and take notice.
Find out more about Pepa Knight’s EP Hypnotized here
7. Husky – “I’m Not Coming Back”
“I’m Not Coming Back” announced Husky’s triumphant return to our eardrums and heralded the coming of their amazing new album Ruckers Hill. This track is classic Husky, all interwoven harmonies and intricate melodies. I especially love the bridge, which has almost a call-and-reply gospel feel to it. Superb.
Find out more about Husky’s new album here
8. Patrick James – “Message”
“Message” continues Patrick James’ winning streak as far as I’m concerned. James consitently writes some of the best indie-folk tunes in Australia and with astounding frequency as well. The clip for “Message” is one of my favourites of the year as well.
Find out more about Patrick James’ EP Broken Lines here
9. Gregory Alan Isakov – “Amsterdam”
The Weatherman was one of my favourite albums of 2013, and “Amsterdam” is one of my favourite tracks on the album, having been released as a single this year. I love the lo-fi sound of this track – the whole thing feels like it was recorded in an echo chamber which gives the song a real ethereal feel.
There’s more information on the animated video for Amsterdam here
10. Dan and Amy – “Pretend”
This song transports me back to the sounds of the 60s and 70s English folk revival with its medieval melodies and liberal use of woodwind. Again, the bridge of this track is what makes it with Dan’s gregorian vocals and strange time signatures driving the song forward.
Find out more about Dan and Amy’s EP Sometimes Life here
11. Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys – “A Hymn to the Wolves”
I’ve said it before but I love what Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys are doing with for contemporary folk music in the UK. Songs like “A Hymn to the Wolves” are just stunning – taking the tradition well and truly into the twenty-first century on the backs of guitar, fiddle and their stunning voices.
Listen to more tracks from Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys’ new album Any Other Morning here.
12. Missy Higgins – “Shark Fin Blues”
It was Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens who first introduced me to “Shark Fin Blues” (check out their version here) and I immediately fell in love. However when I hunted out the original version from The Drones I have to admit I wasn’t too impressed – unlike a lot of music lovers I just can’t get into Gareth Liddiard’s distinctive voice. This didn’t diminish the song however and as Missy Higgins’s version proves it is one of best Australian songs ever written.
Find out more about Missy Higgins’ covers album and book OZ here.
13. Bear’s Den – “Above The Clouds Of Pompeii”
The new Bear’s Den album Islands really stretches the UK trio, seeing them move beyond the indie-folk of their earlier EPs. But it’s the indie-folk sounds that I love about Bear’s Den so I’m glad there’s a couple of gems like “Above The Clouds Of Pompeii” on Islands – this is the band at its best.
Read our interview with Kev Jones from Bear’s Den here
14. Jordan Millar – “If Only…”
Every time I play “If Only…” on loud speakers anyone who is within earshot immediately looks up from whatever they’re doing and enquires who is singing. It goes to show just how catchy Jordan Millar’s single is. This is probably my favourite Jordan Millar song to date, and it can be picked up for nothing as part of the free EP The Wheel.
Stream and download The Wheel EP online here.
15. Lisa Mitchell – “Wah Ha”
“Wah Ha” is Lisa Mitchell’s return to acoustic, folk-inspired pop music and I love it. The track seems to take its cue from 70’s Burt Bacharach tracks in its writing, arrangement and production. I really hope that Lisa Mitchell has a lot more tracks like this in her because it’s this kind of music that I love hearing her produce.
The full dates for Lisa Mitchell’s 2015 acoustic tour are here.
16. Kim Churchill – “Window to the Sky”
Ah, the song that brought Kim Churchill to a wider audience. I’ve been a fan of Churchill’s since Timber and Steel contributor KT Bell first badgered me to listen to his music a number of years ago but honestly I think “Window to the Sky” is his catchiest track yet and deserves all the attention it’s been getting. The track sits somewhere between the roots of the John Butler Trio and Xavier Rudd and the indie-folk of Matt Corby and Boy and Bear and will definitely get stuck in your head when you press play.
Check out the full dates for Kim Churchill’s 2015 tour here
17. Kasey Chambers – “Wheelbarrow”
My favourite albums from Kasey Chambers’ back catalogue are those she recorded with then husband Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones and Wreck & Ruin. I feel like “Wheelbarrow” takes a lot of their rootsy Americana elements and layers them with some of the crunchiest guitar I’ve ever heard on a country track. Kasey Chambers has never been a conventional country songwriter but with tracks like “Wheelbarrow” she’s challenging all expectations and is producing some of her best music to date in the process.
Listen to Kasey Chamber’s duet with Bernard Fanning, “Bittersweet”, here.
18. The New Basement Tapes – “Spanish Mary”
What happens when you take the “forgotten” lyrics of 1967’s Bob Dylan and give them to a supergroup made up of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Marcus Mumford (Mumford and Sons) plus super producer T Bone Burnett to put to music? Pure magic. This is by far and away my favourite track on the album from The New Basement Tapes – part old timey picker (courtesy of Rhiannon Giddens’ beautiful vocals), part psychedelic romp, the track feels as much 1867 as it does 1967 or even 2014. Love it!
Check out full details of The New Basement Tapes project here.
19. First Aid Kit – “My Silver Lining”
“My Silver Lining” transports you back to the 70s, invoking early Neil Young mixed with a heavy doses of Emmylou Harris. The lush strings and reverb heavy melodies wouldn’t be out of place in a Western movie and I love the way First Aid Kit pace their lyrics throughout the track – at some points they manage to fit more words than should be possible into a phrase, at other points they drag a single word out over an entire melody. It’s amazing that some of the best Americana in the world is coming out of Sweden.
Check out the full 2015 Australian tour dates for First Aid Kit here.
20. Jack Carty – “What Am I Gonna Do With All Of My Love Now?”
You’d be hard pressed to find a Timber and Steel “Best of” list without some mention of Jack Carty. And there’s a reason or that – Carty is the master of the story song and Timber and Steel loves a story song. “What Am I Gonna Do With All Of My Love Now?” is just one of the many gems on the new album Esk and only really pipped songs like “Be Like The Water”, “The Universe” and “The Joneses” at the post because of the Lord of the Rings reference.
Listen to Jack Carty’s duet with Katie Noonan, “The Universe”, here
21. All Our Exes Live in Texas – “Tell Me”
“Tell Me” is what happens when four of Sydney’s best songwriters – Elana Stone, Katie Wighton, Hannah Crofts and Georgia Mooney – get together and write a folk song. The track is insanely catchy and makes the most of All Our Exes Live in Texas’ stunning four part harmonies. If “Tell Me” is a taste of what we can expect from All Our Exes Live in Texas in 2015 then I’m very excited.
Read our interview with All Our Exes Live in Texas here.
22. The Staves – “Blood I Bled”
I’d argue that “Blood I Bled” is The Staves’ most traditional-folk inspired track to date. The melody sounds like it could have been written 100 years ago. And the production is exquisite – which it should be considering it was brought to life by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. I love the way this song builds from a picked ukulele to driving horns, all the while never overpowering the vocal harmonies. I’m so excited about the releae of If I Was next year.
Find out more about the new album from The Staves If I Was here.
23. Ruby Boots – “Oh, Lover”
When Ruby Boots asked Timber and Steel to debut the video for “Oh, Lover” I was overcome by just how good the track was. I love Ruby Boots’ music live but “Oh, Lover” is just on another level – the unconventional verse structure, the Spanish inspires rhythm section, the surf-guitar riff. The video is wonderfully surreal as well with Ruby Boots floating on a bed through a flooded forest. You’ll want to listen to this song over and over again.
Stream Ruby Boots’ self titled EP here.
24. Stu Larsen – “San Francisco”
“San Francisco” is what pop music should be. A simple melody. A story told through verse. Stu Larsen (with Mike Rosenberg, AKA Passenger, and Chris Vallejo on production duties) has produced a little bit of magic with this track. There’s something effortlessly classic about the song from beginning to end and it’s the perfect accompaniment to long drives on hot summer days.
Watch Stu Larsen’s latest video “King Street” here.
25. Vena Portae – “Flames & Fury”
This is probably the newest song on the list, having only been released in the last few weeks, but when I heard it I couldn’t stop playing it over and over again. I guess it’s kind of country music. It’s kind of folk. It’s kind of pop. But whatever it is it’s super catchy and Emily Barker’s voice is in fine form. Listen to this song twice straight through and I can guarantee by the third time you’ll be singing along.
Read our interview with Vena Portae’s Emily Barker here.