Review: Sam Brittain, “Live Simply”

Image courtesy of Sam Brittain

I initially took the title of Sam Brittain‘s sophomore album Live Simply to be a declaration of lessons learned – a  collection of stories that brought on this revelation. A few more listens and “Live Simply” came to represent an ode to a personal resolution – a goal or philosophical compass for the future. I think there’s a beauty in the subjectivity of an art form once it’s unleashed in the world and becomes personally appropriated and re-appropriated by a listener. Reviewing the album notes you’ll find Sam Brittain has dedicated Live Simply to Nick Balcombe, his dear friend and fellow young performer who unexpectedly and suddenly passed away earlier this year. Sam has spent the last 2 or 3 months of 2014 touring and busking the UK and a number of European cities, a tour he had originally planned and booked together with Nick before he passed away. For Sam this trip, which was meant to be a shared adventure, instead became a time for healing and reflection – touring an album which for which the writing and recording process started and finished either side of this tragic loss.

In addition, Live Simply sees Sam Brittain a few years older and with countless more hours of touring, busking and writing under his belt since releasing his 2012 Our Shining Skin debut. Certainly, it can be seen as a continuation of his debut stylistically, stamping his name and further solidifying his brand of folk music – his simple, thoughtful acoustic singer-songwriter musings carefully and sparingly arranged for a full band of trad instruments and deft female harmonies. Significantly more honed within this style, Live Simply explores concepts of home and origins on a number of tracks through stories shared by people and celebrates the potential for emotional immensity of small things in a large world. Brittain thankfully also perseveres with his penchant for good old fashioned story telling, which has delivered some of his finest work in the past.

Interestingly, the songs I most enjoyed on the album are those that break it from the steadiness of its groove. Live Simply delves less deeply into blues than his debut, but its single foray delivers the goods in the form of “Rats” – the dirtiest song on the record. For me this track also represents the peak of Brittain‘s fantastic vocal abilities.  Other distinct highlights include the quick-paced and dancing “High On A Hill” and the rollicking “Games” which has a peculiar ageless quality.

Olivers Army Release New Single “Golden Tree”


Image courtesy of Olivers Army

This year Adelaide’s Ryan Oliver packed up his esteemed Olivers Army project, crossed the border and unpacked it again in the ever-promising musical mecca of Melbourne, taking on a number of fellow Adelaide expats as band members in the process. With a renewed vigour, the band has picked up right where they left off without a backwards step and are releasing a brand new rollicking single “Golden Tree”.  The uplifting and evolving track marks another step up in the continuing development of the Olivers Army sound and unfolds around the tremendous, steady electric riff, and ripens with each layer. The new single is set to be part of Olivers Army‘s third release which is due sometime early next year. Listen below.

Olivers Army have been busy touring the around the country promoting the new track and have two remaining dates at Adelaide’s Rhino Room w/ Tigertown and Melbourne’s Spotted Mallard. See the poster above for details and head to their Triple J Unearthed page to download & rate the track.

Spotlight On: New Madrid

Image courtesy of New Mardid

New Madrid are a young outfit out of Athens, Georgia in the US. They’ve endeared themselves to us with their impressive debut album Yardboat which seems to draw on alt-country and post-rock influences to realise a significantly complex and intricate breed of indie rock. At the heart of their appeal is a rawness. Though their record and performances are polished, there’s also a rock and roll angst that flows through. It’s something special and hard to put your finger on, like the reason that Motel Motel are more enjoyable than Alt-J, if that helps. The unguarded vocals washed with reverb probably contribute to this effect. The identity of New Madrid‘s music however is forged by guitars, particularly the lead. It wasn’t until I heard this album that I realised there’s something inherently missing from indie rock music- the satisfaction of inspired and well written solos. New Madrid offer this in surplus. They solo over verses- any chance they get. I think because they’re so good at it, it always adds something and never seems out of place. As far as singles, the album is loaded with catchier tunes towards the start- Bee Rapture, Magenetoeption and Country Moon and Juniper (album closer) are the tracks that work best in their isolation, though the whole record is just swell and a very fulfilling listen start-to-finish.

Their aptitude for composition seems to be centralised on and built around letting the guitars sing, but as an ensemble they hold up too, without any glaring shortfalls. They look to have had a good run at touring  this year featuring some good support slots, and with another baby on the way next year we have a lot to look forward to from New Madrid. Although Yardboat is a 2012 album, it’s been my favorite discovery of 2013 and well worth streaming below.

Country of Origin: Athens, GA, USA
File Under: Indie-Rock, Alt-Country

Review: The Ash & Clay by Milk Carton Kids

Image courtesy of Milk Carton Kids

The Ash & Clay is the third album from Californian duo the Milk Carton Kids, but the first to catch our attention here at Timber & Steel. The album has been somewhat of a breakthrough for Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, whose close two-part vocal harmony and acoustic picking style has been met with comments and critiques ranging from”inspired and sublime” to “derivative and gimmicky”. Obvious comparisons are made of their careful, gentle contemporary folk sound with the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. Such comparisons are useful and accurate in a descriptive sense, but also stifling and reductive to the level of recognition deserved of the band’s creativity, imaginativeness and craft.

Throughout most of the songs on The Ash & Clay, Pattengale and Ryan sing together and also accompany each other on guitars, picking over the top of each other with intricate licks. The affect of this is instrumentally decorative and driving. It also allows for much stylistic variation throughout, with songs on the album like “Honey, Honey” and “Heaven” being washed with traditional American country and bluegrass, old-timey ballads like “Snake Eyes” (an album highlight for me), a range of sparse and moving nu-folk tunes and a number of tracks reflective of that nostalgic, New-York-in-autumn sound such as the opener “Hope of a Lifetime”, title track “Ash & Clay” and “The Jewell of June”.

I think the reason that this album hasn’t been met with unanimous acclaim is that it’s so easy to chalk timelessness down as imitativeness when it stands so close to something that’s also timeless. Personally, this album is very exciting to me because it’s quite rare to discover new music with the power to continually provide me with the cathartic, transcendent  release that I jones for, and that’s how I define it as timeless- knowing that I’ll be able to pull the dusty record off the shelf when I’m wrinkled and retired and it will give me that same feeling.

The Milk Carton Kids have their two previous albums Prologue and Retrospect available for free download on their website and will be touring Australia this coming June 2013.

Review: Rosie by Thelma Plum

Images Courtesy of Thelma Plum

Although this is Timber & Steel‘s first article on Thelma Plum, it’s safe to assume that most of our Australian readers would have already heard of her by now. Even if you haven’t heard the name, it’s likely that most would have heard or overheard her stirring breakthrough ditty “Father Said” on the radio, perhaps without realising who it belonged to. That song, with its deep, hypnotic, fingerpicked guitar has captivated its way onto high rotation on Triple J and kickstarted Plum‘s ascendence. The first time I heard that song I was stuck in traffic on Adelaide’s city ring route and it seemed like traffic had somehow ground to a halt to observe the sanctity of it, as a sign of respect. As wrong as it seems, you don’t really expect to hear quiet, simple, beautiful songs on the radio anymore, and I’m glad Triple J are willing to make an exception but it certainly took me by surprise. I suppose if you remember where you were the first time you hear any song, then that fact speaks to its quality and its power.

“Father Said” is just one of six tracks unveiled to the world in Plum‘s debut EP, Rosie, which delightfully showcases her ability to craft more than just a wholesome folk tune. Despite still only being the tender age of 18, Plum seems to have a managed to successfully launch a second song to radio- the EP’s opener “Around Here”. Although built on a foundation of simple acoustic strumming, the wonderfully produced track builds with layers of poppy instruments to a blissful ‘walking on sunshine’ plateau before reaching it’s hand-clappin’ destination with a quirky chorus of “la-di-da fuck you”s. It’s a particularly enjoyable, light-hearted listen. The EP’s 3rd track “Dollar” is of a similar pop pedigree and is almost equally chanced at radio play. Although pleasingly arranged, what really carries “Dollar” is Plum’s vocal delivery- in particular her attitudinal, self-assured phrasing.


In contrast, Plum shows off another feature of her downright beautiful, versatile voice on her track 4 piano ballad “Breathe In Breathe Out”. It’s a moving, dramatic song- if it were written 15 years earlier it would have probably been used on the soundtrack to Titanic. Plum rounds out the EP with another slow-growing piano-ballad gem “King” and what seems to be a song for her pet dog Rosie, who, under the assumption that this whole EP was named for her, is the most spoilt pooch going round.

I was relieved to find that Rosie has been flawlessly recorded and produced, which can often be an unfortunalte barrier for unearthed artists in making that next step up to household name. Alas, stars are a aligning for Thelma Plum at the moment on the back of winning the Triple J Award for National Indigenous Music and the 2012 Deadly Award for Emerging Talent, and I’m sure she’ll continue to build upon her experiences playing bigger shows, most recently Byron Bay Bluesfest. Pair that with the fact that she’s an absolutely stunning gal, and I think you’ll agree that Australia’s found its next darling.

Buy Rosie by Thelma Plum from iTunes.

Go to Thelma Plum’s Triple J Unearthed Page.

Review: The Beast In Its Tracks by Josh Ritter (or, “The Overcoming of a Bogey-Artist”)

Image Courtesy of Josh Ritter

I decided to tackle this album review because Josh Ritter is an artist that, for a long time, has been on the top of what I like to call ‘my guilty folky’s list’. That’s my name for the list of important artists that I know every folk music fan should be intimately familiar with that I’ve embarrassingly never explored. Don’t judge me, but accompanying Ritter on this list includes acts like Bright Eyes, Ryan Adams, The Avett Brothers and Elliott Smith. For shame, right?.

Although I tried listening to each of Ritter‘s previous 3 widely acclaimed albums The Animal Years (2006), The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007) and So Runs The World Away (2010), they never inspired me to keep listening when they were stacked up against a world of alternatives. Although I appreciated Ritter’s way with words and clever storytelling, I suppose this appreciation came out of a conscious analysis of his music instead of an emotional reaction, which is personally what I crave.

The first time I listened to Beast In Its Tracks I tried my best to approach it with an open mind, knowing the potential for it to fall to personal bogey-artist curse, but still my first impression was underwhelming. My usual background research on the album uncovered that Beast In Its Tracks is essentially a break-up album following Ritter‘s divorce, which gave me hope that the album would offer songwriting  that was raw, unrestrained, defeated, bitter and painful musically and not just lyrically. However, for the most part, I found that it was largely set to a background of upbeat, level, rhythmic pop-strummin’ n’ pickin’ without a great deal of dramatic variation, rise-and-fall or progression to support any kind of underlying storyline within individual songs that might conjure the emotional reaction I craved.

What I did begin to find though, on second and third listen, was a sense of melancholy. I read in Pitchfork’s review of the album that Ritter confessed to fans that the first songs that he wrote on the other side of his divorce were “too full of hatred and self-pity” to record. Instead of offering those emotionally dense musings from the winter of his despair, this album is obviously the product of the springtime of Ritter‘s ordeal (to reference Ritter’s own prose from the album): stories of him moving on with his life with one eye on the future and one on the past, with a sense of optimism and a sense of mourning. Once you come to terms with that, the album becomes a lot more accessible and that neutral balance of upbeat and downtrodden emotion makes a lot more sense and the lryics start to take you to a place where they are able to affect you. One of my favourite lyrics of all time echoes that wry, contradicting balance of emotions on display in this record perfectly:

“The first time I made coffee for just myself  I made too much of it, but I drank it all just cause you hate it when I let things go to waste”

That’s from a song called “Woke Up New” by The Mountain Goats, and just like much of The Beast In Its Tracks, it’s paired with chirpy chords and accompaniments and draws its power from a similar kind of melancholic place. Ritter‘s lyricism on this album is starkly honest and unapologetic. I find that most albums have a song that summarises it. A song that says in 3 minutes what the songwriter wants to say in 30. I think for The Beast In Its Tracks, that song is “A Certain Light”:

My new lover, sweet and kind
The kind of lover that one rarely finds
And I’m happy for the first time, in a long time

Came along and opened up the door
And though I know I’ve been in love before
Oh I feel it, so much more, than the last time

And she only looks like you
In a certain kind of light
When she holds her head just right

Its been winter, for a while
The north winds wail cut like a baby child
It was hard to think or smile
That brings springtime

But it did and now it is
The green green grass
Is come up green and its
Feeling just the way it did
The very first time

And she only looks like you
In a certain kind of light
When she holds her head just right

And anymore, it’d stretch the rhyme
So let me leave this where I started, 
I’m just happy for the first time
In a long time

In a long time

I love the sadness of that tainted joy, and that’s what this album is consistently about. If you listen through to the end of the album you’ll be rewarded by finding the album’s few catchier tunes as well like “In Your Arms Again”, “Bonfire” and “Joy To You Baby”, which perhaps makes the album a bit less accessible than it could have been if it had been front-end-loaded. Still, The Beast In Its Tracks is new ground for Ritter, concerned with personal experience and thoughts, making my impression of it to be far more relatable than his previous albums, although I admittedly gave up on them too early. Below are some songs from the album to listen to and a live clip of “Joy To You Baby” which I particularly enjoy.

The conclusion that I’ve taken from this challenge I set myself to overcome one of my bogey-artists and tick another name off of my “guilty folky’s list” is that if you’re not getting any joy from one of the world’s most beloved and renowned artists, there’s nothing wrong with the music, there’s just something wrong with you.

Beards of Womadelaide 2013

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All Images courtesy of Arcade Photo

It’s no secret that we’re fans of beards here at Timber & Steel. From Joe Purdy to Ray LaMontagne, William Fitzsimmons to Josh T Pearson and obviously the likes of The Beards, we find beards to be synonymous with folk, blues and roots music. While at Womadelaide this year (which is essentially beard paradise) we took the opportunity to take some photos of some pretty cool beards. Here are some*

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*Timber and Steel wish to advise that this article is by no means intended to be a true and accurate record of the full extent/quality of beards on display at Womadelaide 2013.

Review: Womadelaide 2013

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All Photographs courtesy of Arcade Photo

In recent years Womadelaide has given folkies as much to be excited about as just about any other festival, barring the likes of Bluesfest or Woodford Folk. In previous years we’ve seen high profile acts like First Aid Kit, Luka Bloom, Joanna Newsom, Archie Roach & Angus and Julia Stone but a surprising list of fantastic, relatively unknown international artists which gives the festival a distinct appeal to anyone who approaches the event with an open mind, ready to discover something exotic and amazing.

Womad 2k13 Bands-23One of the great things about Womadelaide to me as an Adelaidian is that it’s a constant. I can rely on it, which sounds trivial but it’s something that almost every other festival can’t live up to. I can rely on the music programming to be insightful, contrasting and varied and the quality of sound to be to the highest standard. I can rely on there being great food, enough water, and adequate toilets. I can rely on the fact that I won’t be abused or harassed by drunken bullies and I won’t get into a situation where I’m going to be cramped or trampled. I can rely on having a good, relaxing weekend shared with friends and for that reason I think it has become sacred to a lot of people. Womadelaide has been running for 21 years now and I suppose they’ve essentially perfected it because for as long as I’ve been attending the festival it’s kept the same site layout, precincts, stages and amenities, which definitely contributes to the comfort levels of repeat attendees.

For the last 3 years (at least) the festival has spanned 4 days to include the Friday night before the weekend and the Adelaide Cup public holiday on the Monday following. The great thing about this is that it’s quite commonplace for artists to have more than one performance during the festival, which allows the flexibility to get around clashing set-times or prior engagements (which is a very real danger during the peak of Adelaide’s mad march festival season).

Womad 2k13 Bands-12The Friday night was the major event of my Womadelaide. Undoubtedly the atmosphere was at its most electrifying and everybody I spoke to was restless with anticipation for The Tallest Man On Earth, aka Swedish folk singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson. The Tallest Man On Earth has been one of my favorite artists ever since I first discovered his debut album Shallow Graves in 2009. That was an exciting time in this generation’s indie-folk revival, and Matsson has been contributing increasingly jaw-dropping works since. I had the enormous pleasure of seeing The Tallest Man On Earth perform last year at Womadelaide’s spin-off festival Earth Station that was held in the Belair National Park. Since that time he’s released a brand new album There’s No Leaving Now, which was largely the focus of his Womadelaide 2013 performance. Here’s what Timber & Steel contributor JDX had to say about the album;

“I was more than just a coward. I was handsome too”. One of the best opening lyrics I’ve ever heard. I was in a doctors’ waiting room; the venue for many of my musical discoveries. Kristian Matsson’s intricate chords, his sweeping melodies, his metaphors, sharp, yet brittle, stole me from the moment, as my favourite folk music always does. Matsson said There’s No Leaving Now was about wanting to deal with your own weaknesses. I felt weak. This album made me feel stronger. I could write reams about imagery, or interpretation, about how “Bright Lanterns” is the world’s best post-colonial protest song, about how this isn’t The Wild Hunt and whether that matters. But then I’d be saying too much.

Powerful right? I think that testimonial is representative of the command Matsson has on an audience. When I turned around to survey behind me from the front of Stage 3 during the set I saw a sea of affected faces- it stole us all for the better part of an hour.

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Matsson enters the stage and starts to play without a hint of ado, without a moment to feed his ego with the applause of an adoring mass as if to break the audience’s shackles with reality, their awareness of their surroundings and prepare them to experience the music and only the music. That’s not to say that his performance lacks humanity. Matsson is constantly, unashamedly, physically affected by his music during his performance, which can appear quite unique and peculiar at first but also allows the audience to feel uninhibited. Sometimes he assumes the famous one-legged stance of Jethro Tull flautist/front man Ian Anderson, and at other times he briskly whips back and forth the front of stage like a flamboyant magician showing the audience his empty hands before performing a trick. As per usual, The Tallest Man On Earth performed all by his lonesome until he was joined by a female vocalist (unknown to me) for a song towards the end of his set. Matsson’s trademark open-tuning, quick finger-picking guitar technique never ceases to amaze me. Among the songs from his latest album such as “1904”, “Wind and Walls”, “Leading Me Now”, and “Revelation Blues”, Matsson delved back into his back catalogue for some of his most moving tunes like “Love Is All”, “King of Spain” and “Like The Wheel” and even further back to tracks like “The Gardener”, “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly” and “I Won’t Be Found” from his debut. Below is a live version of one of my favorite tracks from his latest album for anyone who wants on the bandwagon.

Womad 2k13 Bands-25The next act I saw was the hyped Melbourne soul troupe Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes, who I’d seen for the first time nearly exactly a year ago supporting Charles Bradley at Adelaide Festival’s Barrio club in 2012. The energetic horn section and spritely back-up singers gave a fantastic excitement to the show and provide the ideal backdrop for diva-queen Ms. Browne to stun the crowd with her powerful-as-all-hell vocals. You’d have all heard her tune “Love Letter” on the radio at some point, but if her Womadelaide 2013 performance proved anything to me it’s that Clairy’s not just a one trick pony.

Before calling it a night I caught the first part of The Cat Empire’s set. The enormous crowd that had gathered to the main stage was probably the biggest of the festival and really just goes to show that the Melbourne collective still has the pulling power to the “world-music” audience, even if their new tunes aren’t quite taking to “youth-radio” like they used to.

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Unfortunately suffering from heat exhaustion brought on by an ill-fated attempt to play a Saturday morning soccer game in the high 30 degree, humid conditions, I missed out on much of the acts over Womadelaide’s Saturday and Sunday, although made it for at least a couple of hours on both days. If there’s one thing for certain, this Womadelaide was the hottest in recent years, being mid-to-high thirties for the whole weekend. All of the acts that I saw on Saturday I came across by complete accident. I delightfully observed indigenous Arnhem Land act East Journey for a few minutes before finding my way to the Morteton Bay Stage to catch a few tunes from contemporary Scottish folk group LAU. Despite being someone who is less inspired by the trad spectrum of folk music, I was incredibly impressed by the musicianship on display and could easily imagine their performance erupting into an unbridled ruckus in a smaller, enclosed venue.

Before calling it a day I stole a moment with both a genre defying group of Parisian-expats called Moriarty and a beautiful, sparse performance on an ancient discarded instrument, the viola da gamba, from viola guru Jordi Savall.

Despite lingering sickness I decided to head into botanic park on Sunday for two performances that I’d eagerly been anticipating, Mia Dyson and Abigail Washburn. Although Mia Dyson is a very well known Australian Rock/Blues & Roots artist, I think the height of her fame must have fallen slightly before my time. I was familiar with her name but not her work, despite her being widely touted by the Blues & Roots community in Adelaide and her being one of the intensely publicized headliners for last year’s Backwater Blues & Roots Festival in SA. To put it simply, I was stunned by Dyson’s Womadelaide performance. Her voice was just so intense and faultless. It made me wonder why I had never heard her music before? Perhaps her style falls on the “Adult Contemporary” side of blues/rock, rather than the “indie” side that’s considered fair game for mainstream radio… This reminded me of an interview article I read on Fasterlouder with Jen Cloher called “Why we need a Triple J for adults”- an Australian artist who’s probably been pigeonholed in the same way as Dyson. Well worth a read.

I caught Abigail Washburn’s second performance of Womadelaide with her current collaborator Kai Welch and found it equally as enlightening as it was entertaining. I had listened to Washburn’s most recent record only a couple of times. As an amateur banjo picker I’m always interested to listen to how the instrument is being used in new music and Washburn is renowned the world over for the use of that Scruggs-style clawhammer banjo in her music. What I didn’t realize was that Washburn’s obvious Appalachian/bluegrass influences are supplemented by strong ties with Chinese culture. Washburn has spent a lot of time in China writing and playing music, speaks the language fluently and draws from the culture in her music. The blend makes for an intriguing result, but is not at all gimmicky. Washburn and Welch had the crowd singing in Chinese and told stories of their shared time in the country following the ravaging earthquakes. In terms of performance, she and Welch played off each other wonderfully, hitting impossible harmonies without falter. Washburn even felt the energy to get up and clog along to a tune despite her obvious pregnancy. She did a TED talk that I found very interesting. Watch below.

Womad 2k13 Bands-48On Monday I was joined by some old friends so I spent the day less intent on seeing performances and more dedicated to catching up. Throughout the day I managed to catch sets from hearty New Zealand blues duo Swamp Thing and UK fiddle prodigy/trad heart throb  Seth Lakeman. I also had the Timber & Steel photographer playing paparazzi for an photo-article called “Beards of Womadelaide 2013”, which I would sternly urge you all to visit.

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Bearded Gypsy Band to Launch New Live Album at The Gov, Adelaide on January 24th 2013

Image courtesy of Bearded Gypsy Band

Timber and Steel were lucky enough to pick up a copy of The Bearded Gypsy Band‘s new live album when they supported Tin Pan Orange in Adelaide late last year, and if it weren’t for the fact that the record wasn’t really officially released yet, it would have definitely been pushing for contention in our 2012 top album lists.

Bearded Gypsy Band may look short of a few rings in their timber, but since I first stumbled across them in a crowded  Higher Ground Basement in 2010 I’ve been pleased to see that they’ve been gigging relentlessly and have established themselves as one of the nation’s most exciting live touring acts in the folk/blues/roots spectrum. It might seem a bit ambitious for an emerging act to release a live album as a follow-up to a debut, but there’s an energetic quality to BGB‘s live shows that probably can’t be captured in a traditional recording scenario. I was secretly hoping that BGB would take a leaf out of The Shaolin Afronauts‘ book and record their next album in a live-studio setting, but I suppose a live performance at Adelaide’s iconic Wheatsheaf Hotel is even more befitting.

Bearded Gypsy Band Launch their new Live Album with support from Max Savage and the False Idols and Monkey Puzzle Tree at The Gov in Adelaide on Thursday January 24th starting from 7:30pm. Purchase tickets from Moshtix via this link.

Follow this link for the Facebook event page.

Ticket Giveaway: Sam Brittain Album Launch at The Promethean, Adelaide, Thurs 27th September

Image courtesy of Sam Brittain

If you read our review of Sam Brittain’s debut album Our Shining Skin on Timber and Steel, you’ll know that we think very highly of this young South Australian songwriter. So we’re very pleased to be giving away 2 x free double passes for his album launch show tomorrow night (Thursday, 27th September) at the Promethean in Adelaide. Simply be the first to email through to us her at to get your name on the doorlist.

Joining Sam on the night will be his full band of folky tunesters w/ support by the wonderful Maggie Rutjens. Get in quick, because Sam’s been drumming up quite some support recently by hitting the Adelaide pavement busking on the back of his national tour and support slots for the likes of Matt Corby and Passenger. If you miss out, tickets will be $20 from moshtix, that you can purchase from this link. The night’s proceeding should kick off at around 7:30pm.

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