Spotlight On: Joe Pug

pug
Image courtesy of Joe Pug

It just wouldn’t be right to let 2010 go by without giving mention to Joe Pug. In 2010, Pug released his debut album Messenger, toured extensively throughout the USA, Canada, The UK, and even played a handful of shows in Australia last month that I for one didn’t even hear about until today.

Pug’s lyrically intense brand of song writing has transformed his life from University drop-out, to one of the most widely revered songwriters of our generation. Pug‘s obvious musical aptitude is not the only reason for his fast-tracked success; it seems Pug is also a master businessman. In order to get his music to audiences, Pug offers to send out 2-track sampler CDs to anybody who wants to share his music with their friends. He will send as many as you need, and even cover the postage. Fans appreciate the generosity, introduce as many like-minded music fans to Pug’s music as they can, and from there his fan-base grows exponentially. This is of course a gamble. It all relies on the customer being satisfied with the product, which has proven to be the case.

Pug’s 2007 EP Nation of Heat was met by unanimous critical acclaim, and with good reason. Pug’s songwriting reflects a man wise beyond his years, and lost deep in thought. Perhaps this stems from his years studying as a playwright at the University of North Carolina, or even the years spent on the road living poor and honing his craft. Whatever it is we have to thank for the products of Joe Pug’s mind, one gets the feeling that he gained it by not taking the easy road.

Messenger, Pug’s debut album has taken me longer to get into than his previous EP, for which my love was immediate. But make no mistake; this is an album of true workmanship.

Country of Origin: USA
Sounds Like: Bob Dylan, The Tallest Man On Earth
File Under: Folk, Country
Myspace: myspace.com/thejoepug
Official: joepugmusic.com

Richard Thompson Awarded OBE

Richard Thompson

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has named folk legend Richard Thompson to the 2011 Honours List as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Thompson is one of the most highly respected contemporary folk musicians in the world, playing a major part in the folk revival of the 60s and 70s and was a founding member of Fairport Convention. Thompson is probably best known as a songwriter, guitarist and performer both solo and in collaboration with other musicians (in particular his ex-wife Linda).

The OBE was instituted by King George V in 1917 as recognition of those who have made significant non-military contributions to the British Empire and is awarded by the reigning monarch twice a year. The honour will be bestowed upon Thompson during an Investiture ceremony at St. James’s Palace at a future date, yet to be announced.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros BDO Sideshows

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Folk fans were probably a little disappointed with 2011’s Big Day Out offering with the festival focusing mainly on big rock acts like Tool and Iggy and the Stooges. But one exciting international band making it’s way over for the BDO will tickle the fancy of folk, country and acoustic fans everywhere having announced a couple of sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. LA’s Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (the band responsible for last years alt-western hit “Home”) will be making appearances at the Forum in both cities, taking time out of their Big Day Out schedule. No word on the support act as yet but we highly recommend you get along to one of these shows if you live in Sydney or Melbourne. Dates for the sideshows are below:

28th January – The Forum Sydney
1st February – The Forum Melbourne

Spotlight On: Frontier Ruckus


Image courtesy of Frontier Ruckus

Oh how I wish I discovered Frontier Ruckus prior to contributing my top 5 albums of 2010 to Timber & Steel. In all seriousness, after a couple of listens to this album I was willing to shove one or two of the top 5 I chose out of the way. I’d describe Frontier Ruckus as a more traditionally American-folk version Mumford & Sons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this act from Michigan, USA blows up in much the same way.

Comparing an act to Mumford & Sons is dangerous. It’s almost an impossible act to live up to. I recall being at an Australia Day party this year when their single “Little Lion Man” was announced as number one at the end of Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown. The backyard turned into a free-for-all moshpit of more than 100 people crammed together dancing about, hugging and singing all the words in ecstasy. Never did I expect folk music could initiate such a ruckus, but I think Frontier Ruckus are more than capable of effecting people in this manner as well. With their quick-paced and heartfelt songs, they evoke an exceptionally illusive epic feeling that can’t easily be explained; a feeling that Mumford & Sons are all too proficient in conjuring. I’ve embedded their song “Nerves of the Nightmind” (track 1 from the 2010 album Deadmalls & Nightfalls) below, which best exemplifies what I’ve been talking about here. You’ll also be pleased to know that Frontier Ruckus are no one-trick-pony. Their guitar and banjo driven ballads, which occupy a significant portion of their recordings, are equally as enjoyable.

The band, which began with singer/guitarist Matthew Milia and banjo player David Winston Jones in 2003, has expanded to a six piece, including drums, trumpet, melodica, bass and most interestingly; musical saw. They have released two albums and two EPs now. Their latest release Deadmalls and Nightfalls is extraordinary, and I’m assuming my copy of the 2LP bundle of the 2008 album The Orion Songbook and the 2009 EP Way Upstate and the Crippled Summer, pt. 1, which should be on its way to me in the mail now, will be in the same vein. If their song “Dark Autumn Hour” (also embedded below) is anything to go by, this act’s back-catalogue will give a lot of enjoyment for years to come. Singer Matthew Milia’s lyrical prowess is just so enjoyable to listen to. He’s the kind of wordsmith that could publish just an album booklet and sell a million copies. Just read the biography on the facebook page.

Frontier Ruckus are touring non-stop at the start of 2011 throughout America. Hopefully they enjoy some success in Australia so they have a reason to tour.

Country of Origin: USA
Sounds Like: Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, The Tallest Man On Earth
File Under: Alt-country, Folk, Bluegrass
Myspace: myspace.com/frontierruckus
Official: frontierruckus.com

Second to Last – An Interview with Basement Birds

Basement Birds

Basement Birds have taken Australia by storm in 2010 and as both the year and the band come to a close, Timber and Steel contributor KT Bell trekked to the Woodford Folk Festival to see the folk super group one last time.

Woodford’s Green Room is a chilled out and inspiring space, filled with some of the greatest musicians all jamming and relaxing. It is here that I met the Basement Birds’ Steve Parkin and we strolled out through the light rain for a chat on the the year that has been.

KT Bell: Firstly Steve, I want to congratulate Basement Birds on the many successes this year has brought, including being named multiple times in Timber and Steel’s Top 5 albums for the year.
Steve Parkin: Really? Thanks!
KT: How long has Basement Birds been a plan, from first ideas through to fruition?
SP: Ah, well, Kevin [Mitchell] and I were on the road and spent time jamming and came up with a song called “Waiting for You”. Josh [Pyke] and Kav [Temperley] were also on tour, Josh was supporting Eskimo Joe and they came up with a song, “Reasons”. When we were all together playing these songs for each other and comparing whose was better, we realised that they kind of sounded like the same band. And from there we started joking, “What if we were to put a band together” and it all went from there. That was back in 2006/07, so it’s been a while. We didn’t start looking at it properly until 2008 and then we recorded the album and this year has really been when everything has happened.
KT: At the time, did you have any idea that you would end up playing at Woodford?
SP: No! We had no idea we’d end up playing festivals. Most of us  thought we’d do a little tour, something fairly quiet. But, it took on a life of it’s own. I suppose, when you’ve got guys from known bands, it might gain some interest, but what started out as a side project just grew and has become bigger than expected.
KT: What do you think each member of the band brings to the Basement Birds?
SP: We all bring a bit I guess. Kav brings determination and his studio. He’s been the main motivation and drive to actually make it all come together. Josh brings balance and a sense of structure to it all, he’s good with the the recording process and is a great lyricist. Kev is a real troubadour, he brings a real depth of experience and knowledge And me, well, I bring the comedy, I’m the jester I suppose and I make the guys laugh when it’s a bit tense. And we all bring vocals and lyrics together with the musicality.
KT: What do you think you’e learned through the process?
SP: Well, we’re all playing instruments we don’t normally play, I’m playing more keyboard, Kav is playing double bass and we’re all really trying things outside of our normal comfort zone, it’s been really fun. I’ve never been involved in an act that has had so much attention with the record signings, and media, it’s been a real learning experience but fun. It’s really energised all of us and our love of music. It’s been a loose, fun, laid back thing that has energised us for our own bands.
KT: What do you think your achievements have been?
SP: Well, with everyone signed to labels, that took a bit of organising, but we’ve been able to prove that we can do it all independantly. We wrote, recorded, produced and released the album ourselves. The whole process from start to finish has been us, no record labels.  We’ve had great management, but no labels.  And to think it all started at Kav’s house making up silly bluegrass songs.
KT: Where do you think folk music in Australia is heading?
SP: The nature of folk music, is that it is of and for the people, so there are elements of folk in all music, including things like pop and rock. It’s grown from something that was a really defined movement in the 30s, 40s and 50s as a style and it’s branched out to deliver so much, like Angus and Julia Stone who are siblings and created such great music. Folk is bigger than it ever has been we just don’t always term it ‘folk’. Australia is such a colloquial community, with such mateship and laid back vibe, and since folk is of and for the people, there will always be a sense of folk there in any music.
KT: At Timber and Steel, we like to keep an eye out and support the up and commers – is there anyone we should be keeping an eye on?
SP: Yes! I’ve got a few for you. There’s a guy in Fremantle who has been working really hard and is producing some amazing stuff. Justin Walsh Folk Machine has just released an album Walking to China. It’s a real concept folk album, fantastic, you should definitely check it out. I’m from Perth so a lot of my suggestions are from there and the port being such a working area, it produced amazing music. Check out Merle Fyshwick, he does reat stuff and very folky.
KT: So we’re at Woodford, who are your recommendations to see while I’m here?
SP: Oh, there are so many, I don’t know where to start! Passenger, definitely, they’ll be great [playing today, 5.15 @The Grande and Thurs, 3.15 @ Joyluck Club]. Ray Mann Three are really worth seeing [playing Thurs 8.30 @First Nations, Fri 6.15 @Bazaar and Sat 9.15 @First Nations]. Fourplay are great to see live [playing Thur 1.45 @The Grande, Fri 9.20 @Amphi and Sat 4.30 @Concert]. TinPan Orange are amazing [playing today 9 @The Grande, Thur 2.30 @Concert, Fri 6 @Concert, Sat 3.15 @Concert]. The Beards, oh they’re great too [playing Fri 6.15 @Joyluck Club and Sat 12.30 @Bazaar]
KT: Thanks so much for your time, I look forward to your second last show tonight and I hope you have a great Woodford.
SP: Yeah, it will be great, we’re playing tonight here, having an early night then off on a 6am flight tomorrow to Melbourne to play Pyramid Rock at Phillip Island tomorrow. Then it’s all over.

We can only hope that we might see the Basement Birds again in the future, but in the mean time they will all return with new verve to their own bands. Now off to see Passenger as suggested by Steve, and then to see the Basement Birds second last performance!

Spotlight On: Micah P. Hinson

Micah P Hinson
Image Courtesy of Micah P. Hinson

It’s amazing how some artists just sound like they’ve been singing for a hundred years even though they’re relatively new on the scene. Johnny Flynn is one such artist that springs to mind. CW Stoneking is another. Their voices just seem timeless despite their relative youth. Well another name can be added to that list – the incomparable talent that is Micah P. Hinson.

Hailing from Texas in the US Micah P. Hinson is all about down and dirty traditional American country music. Hinson is a musician who is not afraid to release his inner twang, deftly blending bluegrass, folk and contemporary country music to give his sound an ageless quality. The babyfaced 29 year old could probably pass for an indie rocker with his thick rimmed glasses and plaid shirts but the minute he opens his mouth to sing you’re transported to the rural american south and all preconceptions are left behind.

Hinson’s timeless voice may be a result of just how much of a life he’s already lived. Addicted to painkillers as a teenager, Hinson had already done a stint in jail, was bankrupt and living in a hotel by the age of 20. His first album, 2004’s …And The Gospel Of Progress gained critical acclaim but led to a further dalliance with prescription medication after he dislocated a vertebrae around the time of its release.

Six years on and Hinson is back on track both musically and personally. Now six albums into his career (…And the Pioneer Saboteurs was released this year) you can still hear the hardship in his voice, the melancholy and pain that other country artists can only pretend to understand. Micah P. Hinson is a true talent of real American country music.

Rumours are that Hinson will be in Australia in 2011 to promote …And the Pioneer Saboteurs and if there’s any justice in the world his shows should sell out across the country. But while we wait for the official tour announcement you’ll have to make do with exploring Hinson’s amazing back catalogue.

Country of Origin: USA
Sounds Like: The love child of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash
File Under: Country
Official Site: www.micahphinson.com
Myspace: myspace.com/micahphinson

New First Aid Kit Release Through Third Man Records

FAK
Image courtesy of First Aid Kit

Swedish folk-pop sister act First Aid Kit are fresh from a tour of the Australian eastern coast; a visit that probably went unnoticed by a lot of folk lovers. Their touring throughout 2010 in support of their January debut release “The Big Black & The Blue” has been profoundly impressive for a 17 and 20 year old duo. First Aid Kit played two shows in Brisbane, two shows in Sydney, and three shows in Melbourne in September; shows that would have no doubt been low key in comparison to the huge festivals they’ve been playing throughout Europe this year alongside some of the biggest acts in the world.

Third Man Records, which is Jack White’s project that deals with recording and releasing one-off EPs and splits on vinyl, have recently announced that First Aid Kit will be releasing a 2 track 45 through  the label on the 18th of January next year. The two tracks that are set to be released are both covers; Buffy Sainte-Marie’s 1964 protest anthem “Universal Soldier” and “It Hurts Me Too”, which is a blues classic that must have been recorded by hundreds of artists since 1940. The songs will also be made available through iTunes, but if you want a hard copy you can buy it through the Third Man Records website soon. Also, if you’re interested in pre-sales or limited edition tri-colour versions of the record, stay tuned to the website news where apparently information is to be announced shortly on these matters.

If you’ve never heard First Aid Kit before, they’re like a modern day, Scandinavian, all-girl version of Simon & Garfunkel. I’ve attached two videos below for kind of a before and after comparison. The first clip is a cover of Fleet Foxes from 2008, which by my math would have made Johanna and Klara Söderberg 18 and 15 respectively (note the amount of views it’s had). The second video was only released a couple of months ago, and really highlights how much they’ve grown up and matured as artists in such a short time.

Mountain Man Tour Sydney & Melbourne in January

man
Image courtesy of Mountain Man

Sydney Festival has done it again. Whilst all Sydney-siders are no doubt euphoric about the imminent arrival of Sufjan Stevens and Owen Pallett, the festival programmers aren’t just big-name hunters. Little known American three piece Mountain Man are a fantastic snare for the festival. Playing a couple of shows in The Speigel Tent, you’ll be kicking yourself if you miss these gals. Their feminine indie-folk blend has got heads around the world turning; in fact as soon as they leave Australia they will be touring America with The Decemberists. Fans in Melbourne will be pleased to know that they will be playing shows in their city too. Unfortunately, the rest of the country misses out. All the dates are listed below.

Mountain Man’s album “Made The Harbour” is available through their Bandcamp page or from Partisan Records. Personally, I recommend heading to the Partisan Records website and also pre-ordering Middle Brother’s debut release (released March 1st), as well as Dolorean’s new release “The Unfazed” (released 18th January with bonus EP for pre-order) and basically anything from Deer Tick’s back catalogue while you’re at it. This record company knows talent when they see it, and their folk/Americana focus just makes it easy. Everything is available on vinyl too, for the purists.

13th January – Sydney Festival- Speigeltent, Sydney, NSW
14th January – Sydney Festival- Speigeltent, Sydney, NSW
15th January – The Toff in Town (w/Wet Wings), Melbourne, VIC
17th January – Rooftop Bar, Melbourne, VIC

The Key of Sea Making of Documentary

Sarah Blasko
Image Coutresy of The Key of Sea

The Key of Sea, an album and concept that brings established artists and “new”-Australian musicians together to raise awareness of refugees and asylum seekers, launched this year to huge critical and commercial success. If you’re one of the many Australians who purchased the record you might be interested to watch a new short documentary from The Key of Sea that follows Ethiopian musician Anbessa Gebrehiwot and Iraqi musician Yousif Aziz as they prepare to launch the album in Melbourne. The doco also features Blue King Brown, The Cat Empire, Diafrix and The Vasco Era. Watch it below:

Spotlight On: Jack Carty

carty
Image courtesy of Jack Carty

For those who have never heard of Jack Carty, do not be alarmed. His emergence has been as swift as it has been deserved. He has only just shown up on the Timber and Steel radar, to tell the truth. The Sydney based singer-songwriter’s debut EP “Wine & Consequence” has enjoyed some success in the iTunes charts, as well as positive recognition from the wider music community, which included the MusicOz award for Acoustic Singer/Songwriter of the Year.

We all know that Singer/Songwriters are a-dime-a-dozen, which is why it’s a big deal when one comes along who has the potential to stand out way above the rest. Carty’s voice is the most convenient mix of unique and un-challenging; simply impossible to dislike. While his writing style is not terribly distinguishable from that of a thousand others’, he seems to be similar to the likes of Josh Pyke, who doesn’t sing or write in a style that is inimitable, but manages to write music that people can’t help but fall in love with nonetheless. In my opinion, Carty’s “Wine & Consequence” EP wasn’t quite up to the standard that would earn him mainstream national and international attention, even though he has managed to play with the likes of Josh Raddin and tour the USA. What has really got me excited about Jack Carty is his new single, “Hope”. An outstanding single which explores love in the context of vulnerability and dependence, “Hope” cleverly utilises strings and vocal harmonies to emphasize contrast within the piece. The song is destined for radio, and for some reason I can picture it clearly as a soundtrack to an emotional finale to a series or movie. The track is the first single to be released from the upcoming album, which is set to be released in February, 2011.

If you want to get familiar with Carty’s work before the album drops, his EP is available from iTunes or through JB Hifi. If you’re strapped for cash, you might want to head to Carty’s myspace where a track from the EP is available for free download.

Carty has not yet announced plans to tour or launch the new album, but there must be something in the works, so watch this space for further details. To give you some idea what to expect from a Jack Carty solo performance, Sydney music-media legends MoshCam have captured a full concert of his from The Factory Theatre in Sydney. This has only been made available in the last couple of days, and is of a fantastic quality, both visually and sonically. The concert is divided into songs, so you can watch as little or as much as you want for absolutely free. Check it out, here. The official clip for Carty’s new single has been embedded below.

County of Origin: Australia (Sydney)
Sounds Like: Josh Pike, Joshua Raddin, Josh Ritter (any Josh, really)
File Under: Folk, Acoustic
Myspace: myspace.com/jackcarty

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