For me 2016 was the year where the singer-songwriter reigned supreme and where the more experimental edges of the folk genres got my attention. I’m actually surprised there’s not a lot more bluegrass and Americana music on this list given that’s been my focus over the last few years, but I think this is a pretty nice collection of what’s been on high rotation in the Timber and Steel bullpen throughout 2016.
As always it’s hard to pick just 25 albums and no doubt your favourite hasn’t made this list. But as always there’s a few more “best of” lists to come this week so stay tunes.
So without further ado here are Timber and Steel’s top albums of 2016.
1. Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
From the opening blues of “Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution” through the rootsy folk of “She Burns” to the sixties folk of “Fire It Up (The Silver Spear)” The Wild Swan is a simply cracking album from Northern Irish troubadour Foy Vance.
Never one to be confined by expectation The Wild Swan takes you on a journey through blues, soul, Americana, folk and more, with Vance deftly weaving everything together in a single coherent piece of joy. I love how individual each and every song is while still having enough of a through line that the album is utterly listenable from start to finish.
I’ve been across Foy Vance for some time now but the lead single from this album, “She Burns”, was my way into his music. The Wild Swan was the perfect soundtrack for a driving holiday I took in New Zealand earlier in the year, rolling with the landscape and sinking deep into my bones.
Almost every track is a standout but “She Burns” and “Bangor Town” are the tracks I keep coming back to. The Wild Swan has turned me into a life-long Foy Vance fan – I can’t wait to see what comes next.
2. Burrows – Burrows
I didn’t realise this when I first heard it but I’ve been waiting for Burrows’ self titled album for about three years. I saw Sam King perform at the 2013 National Folk Festival and fell in love with his delicate folk music. Little did I know that that appearance would be the beginning of the Burrows project and that their debut album would become a firm favourite this year. King’s voice, the beautiful harmonies from the rest of the band, the understated instrumentation all come together to build an amazing piece of art. Standout track is without a doubt “Falling Apart”.
3. The Company – Six & Five Six & Five is a thoroughly modern bluegrass album from a local band at the top of their game. This is bluegrass without the play-as-fast-as-you-can gimmickry so many modern bluegrassers rely on. Instead this is solid songwriting backed by some of the best musicians in the country. “Another Season”, “Six and Five” and “Androids” are all standout tracks but to be honest my list of favourites changes on every listen. And can I just say that I think Michael Patrick has my favourite bluegrass voice in Australia.
4. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Part of me expected the new Bon Iver album would be an extension of the cinematic indie-folk of 2011’s self-titled opus. So when 22, A Million landed I was more than a little blindsided – but in a wonderful way. All glitches, samples, electronics and overdubs, the album is completely immersive and a giant leap forward for Justin Vernon. At the heart of it all is Vernon’s unique voice and some pretty amazing songwriting which stands up regardless of the beeps and bops.
5. Melody Pool – Deep Dark Savage Heart Melody Pool delivers an amazingly red raw new album dealing with her own experiences of depression and mental illness. The songwriting is mature and complex and requires the listener to engage, not passively sit by as the music washes over you. I’ve picked Pool as an artist to watch for many years now and I feel with Deep Dark Savage Heart she’s delivering completely on her potential. Just listen to “Black Dog” or “Love, She Loves Me” and try not to fall for Melody Pool.
6. William Fitzsimmons – Charleroi: Pittsburgh, Volume 2 Pittsburgh was easily one of my favourite albums of 2015 so when William Fitzsimmonsfollowed it up with a mini-album featuring a bunch of unreleased tracks from the same recording session earlier this year I was a very happy man. Fitzsimmons’ beautiful, melancholic songs draw you in and keep you captivated. I love his hushed vocal style – this is definitely lean in music.
7. One Up, Two Down – A Day On The Quay
Two of Australia’s most talented folk musicians – George Jackson and Daniel Watkins – join forces with American bassist Andrew Small for this wonderful mini album from the beginning of this year. Stuffed full of amazing instrumentals like “Kansas City Railroad Blues” and “The Ways Of The World”, it’s actually the traditional song “Bury Me Not On The Lone Praire” that keeps me returning to A Day On The Quay again and again.
8. Radical Face – The Family Tree: The Leaves
The final chapter of Radical Face’sThe Family Tree series is a triumphant bookend to an amazing project. The album is full to the brim with Radical Face’s trademark layered vocals, finger-picked guitars and soundscapes making this a unique indie-folk experience. The rumour is that Radical Face will be changing stylistic direction now that The Family Tree is done so I can recommend immersing yourself in this album before getting ready for his next adventure.
9. Paul Kelly – Seven Sonnets & A Song
Pairing Paul Kelly with The Bard is absolutely inspired. For the most part Seven Sonnets & A Song sees Kelly flex is folk muscles when adapting the sonnets into songs and the results are lovely. The two singles – “Sonnet 18” and “Sonnet 73” – are by far my favourite tracks on the album with the latter featuring beautiful backing vocals from Sweet Jean’s Alice Keath. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this album is pure magic.
10. Seth Lakeman feat. Wildwood Kin – Ballads Of The Broken Few
Teaming with up-and-coming trio Wildwood Kin was a stroke of genius for Seth Lakeman’s new album Ballads Of The Broken Few. Their three-part harmonies elevate Lakeman’s classic folk sound to something more. I’ve been a fan of Seth Lakeman since I saw him on his last Australian tour and I can honestly say this is my favourite album of his to date – and that is one 100% down to the collaboration with Wildwood Kin. As always Lakeman is able to draw on the tradition to inspire his music while still creating something that is wonderfully modern.
16. Passenger – Young As The Morning Old As The Sea Passenger once again demonstrates why he’s one of the best folk singer-songwriters in the world with the release of Young As The Morning Old As The Sea.
23. The Weeping Willows – Before Darkness Comes A-Callin’
The Melbourne based duo deliver a heady mix of folk, bluegrass and classic country in their best release yet – no wonder they’ve been nominated for four Golden Guitars
24. James Kenyon – Imagine You Are Driving
Australia’s most under-rated singer-songwriter delivers a stunning new album that is making the local industry sit up and take notice.
25. The Staves – Sleeping In A Car The Staves follow up their 2015 debut with a three track EP that continues to prove they are one of the most exciting voices coming out of the UK indie-folk scene.
Singer-songwriter Tom West returns to his spiritual home of The Grace Emily in Adelaide to play the first of two live album recording sessions
Thursday 28th January – The Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide, SA
Gigs Next Week
40 Ways to Love Your City w/ Warren Fahey, Christa Hughes and Mic Conway’s National Junk Band Saturday 23rd January – The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 24th January – The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney, NSW
Monday 25th January – The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney, NSW
Allison Forbes Friday 22nd January – Tudor Hotel, Tamworth, NSW
Friday 22nd January – The Pub, Tamworth, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – Tudor Hotel, Tamworth, NSW
Andrew Swift Friday 22nd January – Hogs Breath Stage, Tamworth, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – Tudor Hotel, Tamworth, NSW
Beth Patterson Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th January – Newstead Live Folk Festival, Newstead, VIC
Thursday 28th January – Lass O’Gowrie Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
Friday 29th January – Ocean View Hotel, Urunga, NSW
Country Conquers Cancer feat. Paddy McHugh, Pat Tierney, Megan Cooper, Dana Hassall, Sian Evans, Josh Rennie-Hynes, Brad Butcher, Dana Gehrman, The Mighty Kind, Jen Mize, The Floyd Family Breakdown, Ben Bunting, Andy McDonnell, Cameron Milford, Emma Bosworth, Hayley Marsten, Ellie Jane, Boatkeeper, Byron Short and the Sunset Junkies Thursday 28th January – The Zoo, Brisbane, QLD
Boy & Bear Friday 22nd January – Odeon Theatre, Hobart, TAS
Saturday 23rd January – Festival Hall, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 29th January – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide, SA
Cake & Cordial Sessions feat. Paddy McHugh, Megan Cooper, Gretta Ziller, Andy Golledge, Brad Butcher Friday 22nd January – St Paul’s Anglican Church, Tamworth, NSW
Dana Hassall Friday 22nd January – City Plaza, Tamworth, NSW
Friday 22nd January – FanZone, Tamworth, NSW
Friday 22nd January – The Songwriters Round, Capitol Theatre, Tamworth, NSW
Davey Craddock w/ The Waifs Sunday 24th January – Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle, WA
Deep Down South feat. Lachlan Bryan, Les Thomas, Mr Alford Country, Jemma Nicole, Andrew Swift, Brooke Russell, Tom Dockray, Gretta Ziller Sunday 24th January – The Stag, Newcastle, NSW
Eagle & The Wolf Friday 22nd January – The Longyard, Tamworth, NSW
Elwood Myre Tuesday 26th January – Flow Bar, Old Bar, NSW
Fanny Lumsden Friday 22nd January – Capitol Theatre, The Songwriters Round, Tamworth, NSW
Friday 22nd January – Longyard Deck, Tamworth, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – Longyard Goonoo Goonoo Room, Tamworth, NSW
Far From Folsom Featuring Tex Perkins and The Tennessee Four with Rachael Tidd Friday 29th January – Melbourne Zoo Twilights, Melbourne, VIC
FolkSwagon feat. Comedownsundown, The Campervan Dancers, Special Guest Wednesday 27th January – Cafe Lounge, Sydney, NSW
Hootenanny Bluegrass Sundays feat. Echo Deer Sunday 24th January – Miss Peaches, Sydney, NSW
Imogen Clark Friday 22nd January – Tudor Upstairs, Tamworth, NSW
Saturday 23rd Januray – FanZone, Tamworth, NSW
Irish Mythen Friday 22nd January – The Django Bar, Marrickville, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – The Paragon Cafe, Katoomba, NSW
Friday 29th January – The Wesley Anne, Northcote, VIC
John Butler Trio Friday 22nd January – Belvoir Amphitheatre, Upper Swan, WA
Saturday 23rd January – Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River, WA
Sunday 24th January – Quindanning Tavern, Quindanning, WA
Josh Pyke Friday 29th January – Twilight at Taronga, Sydney, NSW
Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes Friday 22nd January – The Tamworth, Tamworth, NSW
Megan Cooper Friday 22nd January – Cake & Cordial Sessions, St Paul’s Anglican Church Hall, Tamworth, NSW
Michael Hurley and Meg Baird Sunday 24th January – St Stephen’s Uniting Church, Sydney, NSW
Newstead Live! Music Festival Friday 22nd to Monday 25th January – Castlemaine, VIC
Numeralla Folk Festival Friday 22nd to Monday 25th January – Numeralla, NSW
One Up, Two Down Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd January – Andrew Clemont’s Supper Club, Tamworth, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – West Leagues Club, Tamworth, NSW
Wednesday 27th January – Cat and Fiddle Hotel, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 28th January – Smith’s Alternative, Canberra, ACT
Friday 29th January – Hotel Gearin, Katoomba, NSW
Out of Abingdon Saturday 23rd January – Nethercote Music Factory, Nethercote, NSW
Wednesday 27th January – Hippo Co, Canberra, ACT
Ryley Walker Friday 22nd January – The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 24th January – Junk Bar, Brisbane, QLD
Monday 25th January – The Toff, Melbourne, VIC
Tamworth Country Music Festival Saturday 15th to Sunday 24th January – Tamworth, NSW
The Audreys Saturday 23rd January – Live at the Vines, Kay Brothers Winery, McLaren Vale, SA
Sunday 24th January – Flying Saucer Club, Elsternwick, VIC
Monday 25th January – Spotted Mallard, Brunswick, VIC
The Brouhaha Friday 29th January – Wheatsheaf Hotel, Adelaide, SA
The Button Collective Friday 22nd January – Smiths Alternative, Canberra, ACT
Saturday 23rd January – Swamp Collective, Newcastle, NSW
Sunday 24th January – Oriental Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
The East Pointers Friday 22nd January – Chudleigh Community Hall, TAS
Saturday 23rd January – Queenstown Memorial Hall, TAS
Sunday 24th January – Southport Community Centre, TAS
The Franklin Electric Friday 22nd January – The Fat Controller, Adelaide, SA
Friday 29th January – Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
The Waifs Saturday 23rd January – Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River, WA
Sunday 24th January – Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle, WA
The Wayward Henrys Friday 22nd January – Hogs Breath Cafe, Tamworth, NSW
Friday 22nd January – Tudor Hotel, Tamworth, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – Hogs Breath Stage, Tamworth, NSW
Saturday 23rd January – Cafe Retro, Tamworth, NSW
Tom West Thursday 28th January – The Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide, SA
If you missed the news last year singer-songwriters Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace came together last year to write and record under the moniker Applewood Road. The music we’ve heard from the trio so far is wonderful – old time country music with beautiful harmonies.
The latest single from Applewood Road is “Lovin’ Eyes” and comes with a brand new video. The track will appear on the trio’s upcoming self-titled album, due on the 12th February.
Colm Mac Con Iomaire returns to Australia for a couple of shows at the Melbourne Festival. The Frames’ resident fiddle player combines traditional contemporary Irish music in his solo work to create something unique.
Friday 16th October – Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne, VIC
Gigs Next Week
Anna Cordell w/ William Crighton, Sarah Belkner, The Jam Jar Thursday 15th October – The Vanguard, Sydney, NSW
April Maze Friday 16th October – Pelican Playhouse, Grafton, NSW
Arbori Thursday 15th October – The Bald Faced Stag, Sydney, NSW
Ash Grunwald Friday 9th October – Entrance Leagues, Bateau Bay, NSW
Saturday 10th October – Gearins Hotel, Katoomba, NSW
Friday 16th October – Triffid, Brisbane, QLD
Bill Chambers and Bill Jackson Sunday 11th October – House Concert, Melbourne, VIC
Brad Butcher Saturday 10th October – The Newsagency, Sydney, NSW
Colm Mac Con Iomaire Friday 16th October – Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne, VIC
Dustin Tebbutt w/ Jesse Davidson, Caitlin Park Saturday 10th October – The Rosemount, Perth, WA
Fanny Lumsden Friday 9th October – Tumbarumba Hall, Tumbarumba, NSW
Saturday 10th October – Guerie Community Hall, Guerie, NSW
Friday 16th October – Pleasant Hills Hall, Pleasant Hills, NSW
Foggy Mountain Bluegrass Festival Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Kinglake, VIC
Folk Alliance Conference Friday 9th to Sunday 11th October – Urban Camp, Melbourne, VIC
Joan Baez Monday 12th October – Festival Theatre, Adelaide, SA
John Flanagan and Liz Frencham Friday 9th October – Tradewinds Folk, Newcastle, NSW
Saturday 10th October – Taste Canowindra, Canowindra, NSW
Friday 16th October – Live at the Wharf, Gnomon Pavilion, Ulverstone, TAS
Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Kangaroo Valley, NSW
Katie Noonan Thursday 15th October – Grand Hotel, Mornington, VIC
Friday 16th October – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Key To The Highway w/ Bree De Rome, Maia Jelavic Friday 9th October – Gasoline Pony, Sydney, NSW
Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes Friday 9th to Saturday 17th October – Cruisin Country, ex-Sydney, NSW
Laura Marling Friday 16th October – Astor Theatre, Perth, WA
Lior Friday 9th October – Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul, NSW
Saturday 10th October – Enmore Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Friday 16th October – Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Loren Kate Saturday 10th October – The Wheatsheaf Hotel, Thebarton, SA
Wednesday 14th October – The Toff in Town, Melbourne, VIC
Michael David Thomas Saturday 10th October – Spirit of Bundaberg Festival, Bundaberg, QLD
Thursday 15th October – Yarra Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Nanga Music Festival Friday 9th to Sunday 11th October – Dwellingup, WA
Northern Beaches Music Festival Friday 9th to Sunday 11th October – Collaroy Beach, NSW
Patrick James Thursday 15th October – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
Friday 16th October – Amplifier, Perth, WA
Sam Brittain Friday 9th October – The Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA
Friday 16th October – The Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA
Sam Outlaw with Jonny Fritz, Shelly Colvin & Friends Friday 16th October – Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan, VIC
The BordererS Friday 9th to Saturday 17 October – Cruisin’ Country Cruise, Sydney to Vanuatu
The Paper Kites Thursday 15th October – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
Friday 16th October – Amplifier, Perth, WA
The Snowdroppers Friday 9th October – The Brightside, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 10th October – The Spotted Cow, Toowoomba, QLD
The Timbers Friday 9th October – Mount Gambier Hotel, Mount Gambier SA
Saturday 10th October – Yarra Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 11th October – Newport Bowls Club, Newport, VIC
The Waifs Wednesday 14th October – The Triffid, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 15th October – Nambour Civic Centre, Nambour, QLD
Wingham Akoostik Music Festival Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Wingham, NSW
Winterbourne Friday 9th October – The Forum, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 10th Octpber – Westernport Hotel, San Remo, VIC
Sunday 11th October – Lorne Hotel, Lorne, VIC
Wednesday 14th October – The Forum, Melbourne, VIC
Check out the video of “Applewood Road” recorded at their first studio session:
Applewood Road have since reconvened in the studio to record their debut album (also called Applewood Road) which features their voices plus minimal accompaniment from some of Nashville’s finest session players, including Aaron Lee Tasjan, Josh Day, Fats Kaplin, Jabe Beyer, and Telisha Williams. We’ll be sure to bring you more news as it comes to hand.