Timber and Steel’s Top Albums of 2014

Records

It that’s time of year again when we sit down and wade through the wealth of amazing releases from throughout 2014 and try to put them into some sort of order. For the past few years we’ve asked Timber and Steel contributors to list their top five albums or EPs from the past 12 months, but this year we thought it was time to provide a single, consolidated list.

It was another cracker year for folk and acoustic music and putting this list together was so difficult – you’ll notice that there’s a few omissions that were on our Ten Albums and EPs From the First Half of 2014 You Should Own showing just how strong the last six months were.

So here it is, our top 25 albums and EPs from 2014. Hopefully your favourite is here or you’ll discover some of the fantastic music from the year that was.

Nick Mulvey

1. Nick MulveyFirst Mind
While Timber and Steel skews towards Australian music I’m always interested to see what’s happening in the folk scenes around the world, in particular the UK and USA. The amount of music from overseas can be overwhelming so I usually go to sources I trust – and the top of that list is the Communion community which is where I discovered Nick Mulvey.

There’s something really special about the way Nick Mulvey approaches songwriting – manipulating his guitar into non-standard tunings with multiple capos, building rhythms and riffs on top of each other and layering in his understated vocals. The entire album is insanely listenable and while highlights are hard to pick the singles – “First Mind”, “Fever to the Form”, “Cucurucu” and “Meet Me There” – always stand out.

I hope that when Nick Mulvey visited our shores earlier this year he gained more than a handful of Australian fans because I’d love to see him back here at some point. His music is simply magical.

Caitlin Harnett

2. Caitlin HarnettThe River Runs North
Where did you come from Caitlin Harnett? Well, I know where you came from. I’ve seen you a number of times over the years in and around Sydney. But when The River Runs North came out it completely blindsided me. Here is one of the most powerful, sensitive, eloquent and strong releases of the year. Caitlin Harnett has a clear musical voice that shines through on the most exciting debut in Australia in 2014.

Sam Amidon

3. Sam AmidonLily-O
2013’s Bright Sunny South was such a revelation for me, the way Sam Amidon was able to reinvent traditional music. I thought it would be impossible to top but then Lily-O came along and all my epectations were blown out of the water. Maybe it’s his work with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell this time around. Or that Lily-O is a little more rhythm section driven than Amidon’s previous effort. Whatever it is, this album is a masterpiece that I just can’t stop listening to. Can’t wait to see you try and top this one Sam Amidon!

Husky

4. HuskyRuckers Hill
“I’m Not Coming Back” announced Husky’s triumphant return with their second full length album Ruckers Hill, giving us another slice of indie-folk goodness. Husky Gawenda’s songwriting is at its best with gutsy melodies and sweet harmonies all over this album. I feel like Husky’s sound has been cemented here – they’ve grown up without losing their essence, without feeling the need to reinvent. I was lucky enough to make it to the Sydney launch of Ruckers Hill and I can say that all of the tracks translate really well live which is just the icing on the cake.

Sweet Jean

5. Sweet JeanGreetings From Goodbye
Sime and Alice from Sweet Jean refer to Greetings From Goodbye as their “folk album” – a strange turn of phrase considering folk is at the heart of pretty much everything they produce. But when you sit down and listen to Greetings From Goodbye you understand exactly what they mean. Recording in the duo’s converted-laundry studio and featuring traditionals, covers and originals, the album is a laid back, stripped back, heartbreaking masterpiece that sucks you in and leaves you wanting more (seven tracks is never enough).

Bears Den

6. Bear’s DenIslands
When I asked Kevin Jones why he and Andrew Davie ended their original band Cherbourg to only then start Bear’s Den he said “It was quite a set formula with Cherbourg and I think we’re all multi-instrumentalists in Bear’s Den and it allows us to be a lot more fluid with the sort of sounds we can make and what we choose to do with them”. And this fluidity has culminated in Islands. The album has some really touching folky moments in tracks like “Elysium”, “Above The Clouds of Pompeii” and “Isaac” but is not afraid to embrace the rock side of the spectrum as well with the likes of “Think of England”. A wonderful album that I just can’t put down.

JVM

7. James Vincent McMorrowPost Tropical
Post Tropical would have made my best of list last year if its release wasn’t delayed until January – even though I had an advance copy at the end of 2013 I still consider this a 2014 release. Post Tropical is the evolution of James Vincent McMorrow from acoustic singer-songwriter to synth-driven, pop purveyor. This will likely be the last album of McMorrow’s that we cover – there’s an essence of folk in tracks like “Look Out”, “Gold” and “Red Dust” but it feels like he’s saying goodbye to the genre. As a transitional record I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

OCMS

8. Old Crow Medicine ShowRemedy
When this album came out I listened to it non-stop for two weeks. Everything else fell by the wayside as I found myself transported to Tennessee and beyond, travelling with the world’s best string band. Sure, some tracks are silly (“Brushy Mountain Conjugal Visit”, “8 Dogs 8 Banjos”) and their latest Bob Dylan collaboration on “Sweet Amarillo” is no “Wagon Wheel”, but the album as a whole is one of my favourites to date from Old Crow Medicine Show and is well worth investing time in. In fact I might go and listen to it right now.

Passenger

9. PassengerWhispers
Passenger has faced down the pressure of following up the massive international success of All The Little Lights by producing another classic in Whispers. It’s a little more slickly produced than his previous work but at the core of Whispers is the solid songwriting and storytelling that Passenger is renowned for. And the more I listen to it the more I’m convinced that “Heart’s on Fire” is my favourite Passenger song to date.

Bellowhead

10. BellowheadRevival
I love Bellowhead dearly but sometimes their bombasity makes it difficult to make it through an entire album in one sitting. But with Revival this all changes making it their most listenable album to date. Jon Boden’s voice is still in fine form (and fast becoming synonymous with modern English traditional music) and the arrangement of each track is pitch perfect. I love their version of Richard Thompson’s “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”, the only contemporary song amongst eleven traditionals but its the instrumental “Jack Lintel’s Jig” that is by far and away my favourite.

Jack and Charlie

11. Jack McNeill and Charlie HeysAny Other Morning
A contemporary folk gem, combining fiddle, guitar and the Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys’ beautiful voices in some of the best music of the year.

Jack Carty

12. Jack CartyEsk
Jack Carty finally seems happy in his 2014 offering, but don’t let that scare you away – Esk is his most mature record to date and confirms Carty as one of the finest songwriters in the country.

First Aid Kit

13. First Aid KitStay Gold
Filled with lush arrangements, beautiful harmonies and First Aid Kit’s trademark cascading lyrics, Stay Gold transports you to a 70s summer somewhere on the west coast of the USA.

Patrick James

14. Patrick JamesBroken Lines
Patrick James’ output is consistently brilliant and Broken Lines sees him continue to shine as a songwriter creating little drops of folk gold with every lyric, chord and melody.

The Staves

15. The StavesBlood I Bled
It may only be a precursor to their upcoming Justin Vernon produced album If I Was, due in January next year, but Blood I Bled is three songs of pure harmonic wonder and joy that you need to buy right now.

One Up Two Down

16. One Up, Two DownOne Up, Two Down
On the surface this is a bluegrass release but One Up, Two Down are so well versed in the folk traditions that you can feel celtic, blues and country influences creeping in to make a wonderful, folky mess.

Davidson Brothers

17. Davidson BrothersWanderlust
The Davidson Brothers are not only some of the best musicians – of any genre – in Australia but they’re also amazing bluegrass songwriters – I just couldn’t stop listening to Wanderlust when it was released this year.

Jordan Millar

18. Jordan MillarThe Wheel EP
The song “If Only…” sucked me into this EP early and I stayed because I love the way Jordan Millar writes pop music – although I suspect he’s a folkie at heart.

Kasey Chambers

19. Kasey ChambersBittersweet
There’s so much to love about Bittersweet, from its old-timey Americana influences to the collaborations with Bernard Fanning, Dan Kelly, Bill Chambers and more, that I reckon it could be Kasey Chambers’ best solo effort yet.

Stu Larsen

20. Stu LarsenVagabond
Travelling the world, playing to thousands of people every night – none of this deterred Stu Larsen from creating an intimate, stripped back album with Vagabond, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

New Moon

21. Sarah HumphreysNew Moon
This has been a big year of change for Sarah Humphreys and this has bled into her music – the cutesy pop-folk princess has been dismantled and in her place a confident, mature singer-songwriter has emerged.

Emma Swift

22. Emma SwiftEmma Swift
There’s nothing technically amazing about Emma Swift’s self titled EP, but its simple, stripped back, three-chords-and-the-truth style harkens back to country music of old and is one of the most honest releases of the year.

Little May

23. Little MayLittle May
Epic indie-folk from the Sydney trio whose star is most definitely on the rise, the EP is full of hamonies, building crescendos and catchy melodies.

Winter Pick

24. Justin BernasconiWinter Pick
Justin Bernasconi is one of the best folk/country/blues guitarists in the business right now and Winter Pick is full to the brim with awe inspiring instrumentals and deceptively laidback songs.

Aubergine

25. Green Mohair SuitsAubergine
I honestly wasn’t expecting to like Aubergine as much as I do but I was so impressed with just how tight it is, how good the songwriting is and how much fun The Green Mohair Suits are having taking Bluegrass seriously.

2 Comments

  1. December 19, 2014 at 14:49

    […] – It was another cracker year for folk and acoustic music in 2014 and putting our top 25 list was so difficult. But we managed to whittle the list down – check out our picks here […]

  2. February 12, 2015 at 11:49

    […] UK indie-folk trio Bear’s Den just released the stunning video for their track “Agape”. The track is taken from their 2014 album Islands, which we picked in our top ten of last year. […]


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