The Joy of Small Folk Festivals

Top Half
Photo of The Top Half Folk Festival by Barry Skipsey

By Guest Contributor Peter Logue*, repurposed political journalist, festival tragic and accordion pest

It’s probably safe to assume that almost all readers of Timber and Steel have been to a music festival: most will have been to a large folk festival e.g. Woodford, Port Fairy, Blue Mountains or The National in Canberra.

Here’s a question, though: how many have been to a small regional folk festival? By small, I’m talking about the likes of Fleurieu in South Australia, Cygnet in Tasmania, Maldon in Victoria, Gulgong in NSW, The Top Half in NT (above), or the one I’m now involved in after eight years on the Board of the National – Cobargo, in the glorious Bega Valley on the NSW Far South Coast.

(There are many, many more small festivals, most of which are listed here)

I ask this because I believe it is important for the folk movement that people younger than me – which is lot of people – get involved in the smaller festivals, either through volunteering, applying to perform, just turning up and doing a blackboard, or paying the usually small amount to attend.

Why? Well, firstly they are just great fun, full of surprises and creators of those special memories that stay with you until you’re dribbling.

Take as an example the Cobargo Festival, in its 20th year this year.

For the pittance you pay, the program is just outstanding, musically diverse, challenging at times, international in flavour and inclusive.

That last word “inclusive” is the key to the success of the smaller festivals. Unlike some of the larger events (I exclude The National because of (a) the session bar and (b) its focus on learning and participation), smaller festivals are family, along with crazy uncles who play the banjo, daft grannies who play the one row button box, and the multi-talented kids who seem to be, and are, much better musicians than were around when I was their age.

Artists are approachable, usually do more than they’re asked to do, the sessions are diverse and sometimes really hot, and most people retire late at night to playing around a campfire, or sometimes a LED lamp.

At Cobargo this year you can meet the cream of Irish musicians, like Arty McGlynn and his wife Nollaig Casey, part of the Heart Strings Quartet. Arty started off playing covers in Showbands and spent many years as Van Morrison’s lead guitarist. (He must be a very patient man).

He wrote the book on guitar accompaniment for Irish music, though Paul Brady reckons – half jokingly – he taught has old friend Arty everything he knows.

Nollaig is an outstanding fiddler, her sister Maire NiChathasaigh is a world class harpist, and if you haven’t seen Chris Newman flat pick a guitar, you’re missing one of life’s big treats.
Cobargo will be their first festival in Eastern Australia, but you will never get as close to them as you will at this festival.

This excellent clip recorded by ABC Radio National on their short visit last year gives you a taste:

That’s the thing about small festivals; international and top level local performers love them, not because they pay well (they don’t) but because it gives them a chance to warm up before the big gigs, to perfect new material, and to see parts of the country they wouldn’t normally see.

Small festivals are also places for new or relatively inexperienced soloists or bands to get noticed. There is a formal and an informal network on the folk scene of promoters, staff and organisers from the big and small festivals and “wise heads” who spread reputations by word of mouth.

That’s how bands like The Waifs, Riogh and The Lurkers and countless others got noticed and built a name.

All of the many small festivals I go to each year have workshops, sessions, spoken word, blackboards and dancing as well as concerts.

Most have good food on site and a bar for relaxing in or singing or playing tunes.

All of them have major local involvement. In the case of Cobargo – which I’ve attended for 14 years – the community engagement is extensive.

Small festivals also build the folk community. Those locals who volunteer without any real knowledge of the folk scene, get the bug. They like that a few thousand people can get together for two or three days, have a rip roaring time, get maggotted, laugh sing and dance, and not a bad word is spoken or a punch thrown.

And they suddenly hear the quality of the music that they would never hear on their local commercial radio station or even on the ABC.

Small festivals are the modern day meeting places for our diverse folk tribes. They are also places of great learning. Ask anyone involved in the running and programming of any of our large folk festivals where they learned their skills and you’ll find a vast majority started with the small festivals.

If you haven’t been, try Cobargo from February 27th to March 1st. www.cobargofolkfestival.com

As well as the Heart Strings Quartet, you can see class acts like Archie Roach, Shellie Morris, Steeleye Span’s Ken Nichol, Chaika, Daniel Champagne, Ami Williamson, Nick Charles, Fiona Boyes and dozens more, all in a geographical setting that will take your breath away. And you can join or meet a very special family.

*Peter Logue is a member of the Cobargo Folk Festival organising committee

Ten Artists to Watch in the First Half of 2015

Bob Dylan

As we emerge from the haze of the Christmas and New Year period I can tell you right now that the future is looking bright indeed. So many of our favourite artists spent last year in the studio and the next six months is going to be thick with exciting releases. With so much good music on the way I thought I’d try and distill a list of ten artists that I’m excited to hear from in the first half of this year. This list is by no means exhaustive and I could probably spend hours talking about every release on the calendar, but hopefully this gives you a jumping off point to get as excited as I am for 2015.

Fanny Lumsden
Fanny Lumsden & The Thrillseekers

After smashing her Pozible campaign goal in 2014 Sydney’s Fanny Lumsden has headed into the studio with her band The Thrillseekers and producer Matt Fell to record her debut album. Details of the album are still few and far between but expect to hear Lumsden’s trademark big vocals. And if 2014 was anything to go by Fanny Lumsden & The Thrillseekers will be performing all over the country and gaining fans everywhere they go.

Kate and Ruth
Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton

When I interviewed Kate Burke as part of Trouble in the Kitchen before last year’s National Folk Festival she confirmed that after some time off to raise a family she’d be heading back into the studio with Ruth Hazleton to record the duo’s fifth album. Since then a slow trickle of photos and status updates have emerged via Kate and Ruth’s previously quiet Facebook page from their recording sessions with producer Luke Plumb. The album, titled Declaration, is due for release in April this year and will feature a collection of traditional and original songs. Expect the see Kate Burke and Ruth Hazelton popping up on the live circuit in the coming months as well – can’t wait!

Mumford and Sons
Mumford and Sons

When Mumford and Sons went on hiatus in 2013 many assumed that was it for the English nu-folk superstars. But then rumours began to emerge in October last year that the band had headed back into the studio with producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Haim). And now that they’ve been named as the headliners of the 2015 Bonnaroo festival this June I think we’ll be hearing a lot from Mumford and Sons in the next six months.

Packwood
Packwood

2014 was a pretty quiet year for the now Melbourne based chamber-folk singer-songwriter Packwood. In 2013 Packwood successfully ran a crowd funding campaign and then hunkered down to write and record his ambitious four part seasonal album series, Vertumnus, complete with his trademark orchestral and choral accompaniment. The first part of the album series, Autumnal, is due in March and promises a lot more guitar than the banjo-based songs of his previous recordings – and will also hopefully mean a return to live music for Packwood as well.

Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens’ starring role in both The New Basement Tapes project and the Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis live concert and album has definitely raised her profile. And now the Carolina Chocolate Drops singer and musician will be releasing her debut solo album Tomorrow Is My Turn on the 10th February featuring traditional songs, covers and original material and from what we’ve heard so far it’s going to be very unique and very very good.

Ruby Boots
Ruby Boots

After a massive 2014 touring the country and showcasing at festivals and conference WA’s Ruby Boots has kicked off 2015 with some massive news – a signing to the Lost Highway Australia record label and the announcement of a new album, Solitude, which will be due for release in April. Ruby Boots is the poster child for the burgeoning Australian alt-country scene and her success will only bring more attention to the genre and increase the profile of her contemporaries. Go and see Ruby Boots in 2015 and find out exactly what all the fuss is about.

Sam Lee
Sam Lee & Friends

No one is producing traditional music like Sam Lee. His 2012 debut album Ground of its Own brought together the songs Lee had collected throughout Britain, many from the UK traveller community, with a very modern arrangement and production. Over the last two years Sam Lee has brought together a band and now performs under Sam Lee & Friends, and has announced his second album The Fade In Time to be released on the 16th March. If you managed to catch Sam Lee & Friends at WOMADelaide last year you’ll know exactly why we’re so excited for The Fade In Time.

Sufjan
Sufjan Stevens

Let’s be honest, Sufjan Stevens has always been a little bit odd. So when he asked his fans to go on an experimental journey with him for his 2010 albums All Delighted People and The Age of Adz I think he alienated a lot of people who loved his folkier side. On the 31st March Sufjan Stevens has announced he’ll release his brand new album Carrie & Lowell which promises a return to his folky roots, an announcement which no doubt was met with a sigh of relief from many of his fans. We’ve only heard a few snippets from Carrie & Lowell so far so the next couple of months will be very very interesting as more of the album is revealed.

The Staves
The Staves

The Staves have always been Timber and Steel favourites but they may have outdone themselves in 2015, choosing none other than Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as the producer of their debut album If I Was, due for release on the 30th January. We’ve already heard a couple of tracks from If I Was and it’s everything you’d expect from a collaboration between The Staves and Bon Iver – beautiful three part harmonies, sweet folk songs and dense, dramatic production. Now we just need to convince The Staves to make it down to Australia at some point this year.

Tolka
Tolka

In 2014 Melbourne trad-folk quartet Tolka travelled to Northern Ireland thanks to a grant from the Australia Council to write and and record their second album with Dónal O’Connor and producer Brian Finnegan. The result is One House, due for release on the 1st March and featuring ten original tunes and songs that feel like they’re pulled directly from the tradition. With One House under their belt Tolka are set to become the darlings of the Australian folk scene this year.

The Woodford Files 2014-15: Save The Last Dance Or Beer For Me

The Volunteer Party is like a baffling market selling ice cream and fruit dessert in tall glasses: a trifle Bazaar

The Volunteer Party is like a wondrous market selling ice cream and fruit dessert in tall glasses: a trifle Bazaar

As the sun set slowly over Kilcoy, we bade farewell to the last performance at Woodford Folk Festival as Fantuzzi reggaed the crowd into a fervour.

Actually, the sun was long gone by the time Fantuzzi closed out proceedings. And as they finished their last number, the vollys were just getting going and took responsibility for their own entertainment.

I was professionally torn. My obligations were long since dispensed with. I wanted to capture some vision of the band, but……

The Woodford Files 2014-15: Volunteer Party

Woodford
Image Courtesy of Woodford Folk Festival

2014-15 is only my fourth trip to Woodfordia, so there are others who are 25 visits ahead of me.

The first three festivals I attended as a volunteer, and like my introduction into the world wide weird of folk merely two years previously, I could not have made a better choice than to join the ranks of vollys, as they/we are affectionately known.

Woodford Volly Camping

Woodford Volly Camping

 

I have very little if anything to compare with the frissons of excitement I had as a wide-eyed young 41 year old, reduced by an event to a gibbering little schoolboy.

(Except when on stage; always a professional behind the microphone, of course!)

I was in a trippy paradise of heaven. Everything was new, everything was bigger and more colourful, more musical, more stunning, than anything else I’d encountered in music and art to that date.

Sorry, Bayern State Opera, but Woodford takes the strudel!

(It even proved to be a sorting hat for me, because my partner at the time came with me (to her first Woodford). In stark contrast, she whinged and whined and moaned and griped and complained. It was too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too expensive, too cheap, too too too much. I put her at an arm’s distance, revelled in my then very patchy mobile phone reception, and on 31 December when she texted me to say she’d gone home to mother near Chermside, I punched the air, danced a jig, yodelled from the Hilltop, and dived right back into the festival. A week later we were over for good and she ended up marrying the sound guy. Good luck to them both!)

I left home several days before the festival started and made a savage hook turn trip from Canberra down to Bodalla then later from Moruya to north Brisbane in one Christmas Day non-stop haul. Google maps informs me that’s about 1450kms on the black-top. Another 74kms to the front gate of Woodfordia, in near carpark conditions on the Bruce Highway. Travel north from Brisbane to the festival on Boxing Day at your own peril.

The taste of service station sausage rolls still lingers to this day. Nothing on the highway of any higher gastronomic fare was on offer in 2007, apart from days old sandwiches in those hideous plastic containers that look like they’d been washed and glazed for display.

But as I left my then Canberra base, with one foot out the door, the phone rang and it was then MC Convenor, now Queensland Folk Federation president Rose Broe, telling me who I had on my rota to MC for.

Tripod, Sarah Blasko, Ernie Dingo, Eric Bogle (twice). And John Schumann (twice). I was going to walk out on stage and introduce my absolute god of music of 25 years plus standing.

Gulp.

“Rose?”

“Yes, Bill?”

“I’m a little bit excited now.”

“Yeah, thought you might be!”

Coopers Bar

 

It was wonderful. Pure magic. I was even asked to mentor the wonderfully talented, but new to MC-ing, Ange Takats. After watching one MC performance (Spooky Men’s Chorale), I told her simply this: “I have nothing to teach you. You’re a natural.”

And she is. Because (as I’ve written extensively elsewhere), she went on stage and was herself. Natural. No artifice.

Woodford

Woodford volunteering is usually In tents

 

Mixing with the vollys, gathering in the then (and still) just on the adequate side of adequate Volly Centre, where you got to recreate scenes from The Good Earth by traipsing through mud to get there!

Did we care? Not a jot. It was fun, it was wet, it was wild.

I came back the next two years running, and lapped up every second. Volunteering is THE best intro to a festival, especially for the slightly or very out-of-pocket, and definitely for the sole traveller.

At my second Woodford, I met the guys from the Tokyo Bar and made friends and compadres for life. After a five year break, it was a sheer delight to be co-located with them again, even though I went there on a media pass this year.

On the night of 2 January, when the punters have gone home, the musos have moved on to their sideshows and petrol money gigs, and the stalls are coming down, the last bar standing (this year, the Bazaar) pumps out slightly cheaper drinks, a couple of bands are roped in to get a little bit nutty and let everyone let their hair right down, and there’s something of a feeling of ‘get down and maybe not get up again’ in the air.

And there are speeches. Or really, just the one speech this time, with a miniscule intro.

You can hear my surprise on the tape, as I did not know that my former boss (of sorts) and mentor is Ms Prez now. You would only expect an MC wrangler to speak with credibility, authority and clarity.

Rose Broe knocked it out of the park. Even with a large furry animal half way down her ‘festival throat’.

If like me before Easter 2005, you’ve been sat back sucking the air in through your clenched teeth at festival ticket prices due to your current financial circumstances, have a good hard look at volunteering. We need our paying punters, but festivals would be nowhere without an army of volunteers, and they don’t come much better than at Woodfordia.

The Woodford Files: Fire Event Climaxes in Fire (hence the name!)

Fire Event
Fire Event image courtesy of Woodford Folk Festival

Before I’d heard much of anything about Woodford Folk Festival, back in the unenlightened days of roughly 2006, I’d sure heard about the Fire Event. Attending between 2007-2010, I joined the Fire Choir each year and loved it to bits.

BUT being able to sit in the audience with a smashing view, able to take in the full spectacle and stunning sound and light production, I was like an excited 10yo boy.

Heightening the experience just behind me was an almost two year old who was in paroxysm and frissons of delight and was joining in, improve-style, during the choral bits.

Wonderful. An absolutely stunning achievement.

My favourite part, and a moment for me that seemed to encapsulate Woodford, was when the cast on the ground just got stuck in hoe-down style while the tragic-comedy drama face burned.

The Woodford Files 2014-15: New Year’s Eve at The Duck with Black Market Tune

Black Market Tune
Image courtesy of Black Market Tune

You’re spoilt for choice as to where to spend those last moments of the year at Woodford Folk Festival.

I had probably my most memorable NYE a few years ago in the then Duck and Shovel, at a Beatles Singalong of all things, but this year, it was a case of same venue, completely different music on offer.

Enjoy these guys’ new year vicariously again!

The Woodford Files: Three Minutes’ Silence

Woodford
Image Courtesy of the Woodford Folk Festival

The three minutes of silence is a tradition that started back in 1999 at Woodford Folk Festival.

A bell sounds several times at 11.30pm on New Year’s Eve, and across the site, tens of thousands of punters, stall-holders, musos, volunteers — everyone, really — fall silent.

For three minutes.

Hence the name.

This year, rather than immersing his feet in the creek running past The Duck, or MC-ing in The Chai Tent/Pineapple Lounge, Bill Quinn was perched just in front of the bell and caught some vision for posterity:

The Woodford Files: Trouble In The Kitchen (“Sarah Island”)

Trouble
Image Courtesy of Bill Quinn

Youtube has a simple facility where at the push of a button, your shaky video is stabilised and appears much more professionally recorded than when you were actually adding some extra jigginess via mundane bodily functions such as breathing or sneezing.

Or weeping uncontrollably.

Let’s go back a few years.

At probably my first Woodford Folk Festival, I got a treasured copy of the then very new The Next Turn album by Trouble in the Kitchen. As I set off down the D’Aguilar Highway on 3 January, processing eight days’ worth of festy wonderfullness, I was in an emotional, impressionable state, making listening to the 14 tracks all the more powerful.

(Some of my most treasured and loved folk albums have seared straight into the deepest levels of my cerebrum by dint of being absorbed in post-festival drives.)

However, my attention must have wandered on Track Five as I didn’t pick up all the lyrics nor their significance. I acquired and adopted a handful of mondegreens, and ran with those for many months until one day I sat with a stack of 20-25 Woodford-collected/purchased CDs and…

I read the liner notes.

When I got to “Sarah Island” I was an instant, dribbling mess.

The song is so beautifully, evocatively emotive, encompassing the content of the awful reality of the original penal colony, but also the referent extrapolations to related themes of being trapped, separated, and contemplating sweet release over persevering with pain and suffering.

The final verse rarely leaves me with a dry eye.

I listened to the song a hundred times, learnt the lyrics, sang it a capella in dozens of singing sessions, and it crept in and around and surrounded my subconsciousness.

One day, I parked my car under the Hyperdome in Canberra and went in to retrieve my copy of The Next Turn which I’d loaned to Frog from Songland Records for a listen. I was on my way to Numeralla Folk Festival and once more, the synapses were off in different directions.

Around about Michelago I remembered that at some point I’d been in the carpark next to the car, doing my usual trick of holding 36 things at once, wishing mum had mated with an octopus not dad, and that at some point I’d rested the album on my car’s roof.

Greenway to Michelago is a long way, and I’d like to think that someone in the Hyperdome carpark, or maybe around Bonython or Theodore is to this day enjoying their complimentary copy of ‘The Next Turn’, complete with Joe, Benno, Ado and Kate-o’s signatures.

I re-purchased my personal copy that September at The Turning Wave.

But at some point since, my life has become even more transient and itinerant than it was then and storage of most of my goods, chattels and personal effects has become a thing of necessity.

My vinyl collection is all gone, my CDs have been pared down to the absolutely definitely must keeps, and The Next Turn is in that large plastic vault, currently holed up in my one-metre-cubed existence in Kingsgrove, NSW while I have found the truth in my card from the federal government that says ‘No Fixed Address’.

For now, I’m a Queenslander, but who knows which way the winds will blow in early June?

And so we come to this festival which the Google gods did not rightly treat me well with. Or was it Google or some other force?

The search term ‘Woodford Folk Festival Trouble In The Kitchen’ is now turning up the right results, so maybe the problem with the search engine was between the chair and the keyboard.

Either way, at about 10.55am today (New Year’s Eve, Queenslandia time), I was scooting down the path towards the Concert Stage, pausing only briefly to talk with Nick from Library Media to take a cheesy photo and get all mutually appreciative and excited about caring, sharing business practices involving contra and barter instead of tax invoices, and I slid sideways into the front row just as Trouble In The Kitchen were introduced on stage.

One or two tune sets into their gig, this happened.

And I was battling to keep the camera on an even keel.

Trouble In The Kitchen will be performing at Port Fairy Folk Festival, and you can keep up to date with their other appearances at their website.

We all need a little flushing out on a regular or semi-regular basis. You get that.

I did.

Like I said, Youtube comes with a stabilising feature.

The Best Folky Christmas Songs of 2014

Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve which means it’s time for Timber and Steel’s traditional wrap up of the best folky Christmas songs of the year. If you’re like us and you love Christmas song done well, then you’re in for a treat.

We hope you have a safe and merry Christmas wherever you find yourself this year. We look forward to folking with you in the New Year!

Robert Ellis – “Pretty Paper”
Americana fans were treated to a Christmas treat this year with the release of An Americana Christmas, a collection of classic and brand new holdiay tracks. We thought we’d feature the new tracks from Robert Ellis and Nikki Lane given their visits to Australia this year.

Nikki Lane – “FaLaLaLaLove Ya”

The Once – “The Light in Your Window”
Australian-bound Canadian trio The Once shared their ode to coming home for Christmas.

Scott Dean ft. Aubrey Lynn England – “We Three Kings”

Smoke Fairies – “Christmas Without A Kiss”

The Albion Christmas Band – “In The Bleak Midwinter”
The Albion Christmas Band are a Christmas institution for

The Lonely Wild – “Holidays”

Mark Kozelek – “Christmas Time Is Here”
The Sun Kil Moon frontman delivered a Christmas album, Sings Christmas Carols, this year with traditional and favourite Christmas songs including this Charlie Brown classic.

Paddy McHugh & The Goldminers – “The Old Men of The Railway Hotel”

Lindsay Phillips – “Come Home (It’s Christmas Time)”

Boat To Row – “My Darling Spark”

Clare Bowen – “Santa Baby”
I know that the American musical TV series Nasville is a guilty pleasure for many folk and country music lovers in Australia, especially as it features Australian actress/singer Clare Bowen. This is Bowen’s contribution to the Nasville cast Christmas album, Christmas With Nashville.

Jillette Johnson – “River”

Red Sky July – “Christmas Time”

Shir Soul – “Dreidel”
Because this time of year is not just about Christmas. Plus how good is a cappella music?

The National Parks – “It’s Christmas, and I Like You”

Sam Joole – “Christmas At The Zoo”
Sydney acoustic rock singer-songwriter Sam Joole covered The Flaming Lips’ “Christmas At The Zoo” for his holiday offering this year and we think you’re going to like it.

Zoë Wren – “Snow​-​white Lies”

Oxford & Co. – “Let It Snow”
I discovered Sydney nu-folk duo Oxford & Co. earlier this year and have been loving their stuff – including their version of “Let It Snow” for Christmas.

August York – “Warm Memories”

The Lost Brothers – “Little Angel”
The Lost Brothers were one of my favourite discoveries this year and I’m completely chuffed they decided to release a Christmas single so I could include it on this list. “Little Angel” is free to download with the suggestion of sending a donation to Unicef.

The Outside Track – “Get Me Through December”

Olivers Army – “All I Want For Christmas”

Todd Sibbin – “White Christmas”

Tom West – “Feliz Navidad”

Butcher Knives – “Auld Lang Syne”
What better way to finish off the year than with the classic “Auld Lang Syne”, complete with a gypsy punk twist of course.

Gareth Hugh Evans’ Top 25 Tracks of 2014

2014

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.

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