Timber and Steel’s Top Albums of 2017

Merle

It’s difficult to find an overriding theme in our picks for this year’s top albums. There’s a bit of trad in there, a lot of singer-songwriter and a decent amount Americana and country music. Overall 2017 has been another amazing year for folk music and we couldn’t be happier.

As always we have more “best of” lists coming this week so please stay tuned for them. But in the meantime check out Timber and Steel’s top albums of

Offa Rex
1. Offa RexThe Queen of Hearts
When you get nostalgia right the result can be pure gold. As someone who was brought up on late-60s/early-70s English folk-rock (think Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, etc) The Queen of Hearts feels like home and, as my friends and family can attest, the album has truly been on constant rotation since its release in July.

Offa Rex is the coming together of Portland nu-folk heroes The Decemberists and English folk-singer Olivia Chaney, inspired by the second-wave folk revival of the British isles. Somehow they’ve managed to capture this very distinct period of music, staying true to the instrumentation, production values and aesthetic of the time without descending into kitsch or parody (as many of the bands from the time ended up doing themselves in the 70s and 80s). Rigid rock rhythm sections over murder ballads, harpsichords and reverb-heavy electric guitars, ethereal vocals – The Queen of Hearts feels more like a rediscovered gem than an album recorded and released in 2017.

And let’s make one thing clear – it’s Olivia Chaney who makes this record. While The Decemberists are obviously the driving force behind The Queen of Hearts it is Chaney’s vocals that pull you right back into the early 70s. She somehow channels the likes of Maddy Prior, Sandy Denny, Anne Briggs, et al, while still bringing her own unique sound to the vocals. The tracks where Colin Meloy takes the lead (such as “Black Leg Minor”) or the instrumental “Constant Billy (Oddington) / I’ll Go Enlist (Sherborne)”, while still amazing in their own right, just don’t have the same impact as “The Queen of Hearts”, “Flash Company”, “The Old Churchyard” or any of the other amazing songs with Olivia Chaney front and centre.

Picking favourite songs from an album of standouts is very very hard. I love the nods to early Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath on “Sheepcrook and Black Dog”, probably the most epic of all the songs on the album. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is a beautiful tribute to Anne Briggs, with Chaney’s voice just resonating over the drone of a harmonium. And Offa Rex’s version of “Willie o’ Winsbury” may be my favourite of all time.

Even if you only have a passing interest in British folk music, in the second wave folk revival or in The Decemberists’ ongoing evolution as one of the most interesting folk bands in the world, give The Queen of Hearts a listen and see exactly why this is our album of the year for 2017.

The East Pointers
2. The East PointersWhat We Leave Behind
Canadian trio The East Pointers up the production ante with their new album What We Leave Behind, expanding their sound with new instrumentation, increasing their song-to-tune ratio and generally producing one of the most interesting folk albums of the year. And the best part about it is there’s still a focus on ensuring that every bit of the album can be reproduced live with just the three of them – something I can confirm is the case having caught them in Melbourne recently. What We Leave Behind sees The East Pointers grow as a band, deftly straddling the worlds of traditional and modern fold music.

The Ahern Brothers
3. The Ahern BrothersThe Ahern Brothers
Josh Rennie-Hynes and Steve Grady are two voices that seem destined to be together. The Ahern Brothers are the latest in collection of modern artists taking inspiration from close harmony singing in the vein of The Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel and the result is really something special. Their self-titled debut album is a pure delight and elevates everything we’ve heard from Rennie-Hynes and Grady individually to date. There’s a reason these guys are selling out shows and taking the country by storm.

Fanny Lumsden
4. Fanny LumsdenReal Class Act
Fanny Lumsden continues her domination of Australian country music with the 2017 release of Real Class Act. The album is very strongly informed by Lumsden’s decision to live her life on the road with husband Dan Stanley Freeman rather than opting for the relative comfort of a major Australian city (where, let’s be honest, the vast majority of Australia’s country music is produced), and you can really hear the expanse of our wide brown land all over the album. With each release Fanny Lumsden’s songwriting just gets better and better, adding a modern sensibility to a genre that all to often falls into cliche or nostalgia. Real Class Act is what Australian country music should be about.

The Morrisons
5. The MorrisonsThe Morrisons
Australia’s premiere bluegrass and alt-country band The Morrisons released their long-awaited and highly anticipated debut album this year and it has fast become one of my favourite album’s of ever. No one quite takes such a quintessentially American genre like bluegrass and passes it through the Australian lens in the way The Morrisons do. And it doesn’t hurt that individually each of The Morrisons is a master of their respective instrument making the album as technically brilliant as it is artistically brilliant.

Willie Watson
6. Willie WatsonFolksinger Vol. 2
Willie Watson’s exploration of America’s rich vein of traditional folk music continues with the second volume in his Folksinger series. Somehow he finds a way to take traditional and vintage folk and blues songs and modernise them without losing what makes them great songs to begin with. Watson treats this material with respect and reverance, almost taking a step back and letting each song speak for itself. When Willie Watson left Old Crow Medicine Show he expressed a desire to find a softer side of the folk genre, and that’s something he’s truly captured with Folksinger Vol. 2.

All Our Exes Live In Texas
7. All Our Exes Live In TexasWhen We Fall
Taking out this year’s ARIA for Best Blues and Roots Album was just the icing on the cake for what has been a massive year for All Our Exes Live In Texas. When We Fall is an album of fine songwriting, pitch perfect production and a true celebration of the four part harmony. Elana Stone, Katie Wighton, Hannah Crofts and Georgia Mooney each bring a unique set of influences and musical styles to All Our Exes Live In Texas which somehow all blend together into something sublime. With the momentum on When We Fall expect All Our Exes Live In Texas to continue crushing it into 2018 and beyond

Laura Marling
8. Laura MarlingSemper Femina
Laura Marling goes deep on her exploration of the feminine and what it means to be a female artist. It’s amazing to watch Marling grow with every album she releases while never really losing track of what drew us all to her in the first place – beautifully written songs and masterful guitar work. Laura Marling truly is one of the greatest artists of our generation.

Charlie Fink
9. Charlie FinkCover My Tracks
My love for Cover My Tracks one hundred per cent stems from my nostalgia for Noah and The Whale’s 2009 concept album The First Days of Spring. Charlie Fink revisits the style and feeling from The First Days of Spring throughout his 2017 solo outing and it’s a welcome return to form for a songwriter that had definitely strayed a little far from his strengths towards the end of Noah and The Whale’s time, prefering a Springsteen-light pop sound to substantial, heart-on-his-sleeve songwriting. The album is raw, emotional, beautiful and heartbreaking – everything I want from a Charlie Fink record.

Packwood
10. PackwoodVertumnus
The culmination four seasonally focused EPs from the last couple of years, Vertumnus is a beautiful opus to the natural world. Packwood’s unique brand of chamber folk has reached its pinnacle with this record, filled with lush compositions and stunning musicianship. Bayden Hyne, along with his arrangers Tilman Robinson (orchestral) and Miriam Crellin (choral) have pefectly crafted each track on Vertumnus making the most of choirs, strings, pianos, finger-picked guitars and banjos and more to compliment Packwood’s trademark fragile vocal style. Taking this work out of the studio and onto the stage is an expensive undertaking but I still hold out hope that we’ll see Vertumnus live before too long.

Kasey Chambers
11. Kasey ChambersDragonfly
Kasey Chambers mixes things up on her latest double album working with two different producers – Paul Kelly and Nash Chambers – and collaborating with a diverse range of artists from multiple genres, resulting in one of her most interesting releases in recent years.

David Rawlings
12. David RawlingsPoor David’s Almanack
David Rawlings and Gillian Welch find a way to write original Americana songs that sound like traditional songs that have been re-discovered and updated for a modern audience – and why can’t I get “Money is the Meat in the Coconut” out of my head?

Billy Bragg
13. Billy BraggBridges Not Walls
Billy Bragg returns to his activist roots on this EP with his electric guitar turned up and his wit as sharp as ever.

Lisa Mitchell
14. Lisa MitchellWhen They Play That Song
Out of no where Australia’s queen of indie-folk delivers the sweetest covers EP of the year, with quirky takes on 90s favourites from Phantom Planet, Spice Girls, Placebo, Letters To Cleo and The Cardigans

Timothy James Bowen
15. Timothy James BowenBloom
Bloom bookends a couple of years of massive upheaval in Timothy James Bowen’s life, while capturing an artist at the peak of his powers as a singer and songwriter.

Husky
16. HuskyPunchbuzz
Husky continue to push the boundaries of their indie-folk sound with an album that borrows as much from eighties pop as it does from lyric-driven singer-songwriter music.

BATTS
17. BATTS62 Moons
Moving away from her electro-folk roots toward a stripped back sound has proven a success for BATTS who’s delivered an EP of really stunning songs.

Gretta Ziller
18. Gretta ZillerQueen of Boomtown
Gretta Ziller has delivered one of the best Americana albums of the year that deserves all the nominations, awards and accolades it will no doubt continue to receive over the coming months

Paul Kelly
19. Paul KellyLife Is Fine
After a couple of genre projects Paul Kelly returns with his most Paul Kelly album in recent memory, further cementing him as Australia’s greatest living songwriter.

Nick Mulvey
20. Nick MulveyWake Up Now
The English singer-songwriter continues to produce interesting, acoustic driven indie music full of weird guitar tunings, multi-tracked vocals and songs just waiting to hit a Hollywood soundtrack.

Emily Barker
21. Emily BarkerSweet Kind of Blue
Emily Barker deftly combines country, blues and folk styles, harkening back to a tradition while still producing a sound that is fresh and engaging.

Stu Larsen
22. Stu LarsenResolute
Australia’s favourite troubadour produces another album of straight up singer-songwriter gems documenting his travels around the world.

Lankum
23. LankumBetween The Earth & Sky
Lankum, the band formally known as Lynched, are producing some of the most raw traditional Irish music going around, complete with the thickest Dublin accent you’re likely to hear this year.

Old Crow Medicine Show
24. Old Crow Medicine Show50 Years Of Blonde On Blonde
Old Crow Medicine Show pay homage to Dylan with this live stringband version of the classic Blonde On Blonde

Johnny Flynn
25. Johnny FlynnSillion
An absolute gem of an album that sees Johnny Flynn’s distinctive voice and resonator front and centre, but a willingness to play with production a bit more than previous releases, adding more texture and nuance to each of the tracks.

The Decemberists Announce New Album What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

The Decemberists
Image Courtesy of The Decemberists

After a leave of absence following the release of their remarkable 2011 album The King Is Dead, The Decemberists have announced their return with What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World.

In true hipster style the new album was announced on a street corner in Brooklyn in front of a mural of the album’s artwork. Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy debuted a brand new song at the launch, “Make Me Better” – check it out below:

The release date for What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is the 20th January next year – stay tuned for more Decemberists news soon!

Details of the Inside Llewyn Davis Live Album

Inside Llewyn Davis

I’m going to admit right here that after all the hype I ended up feeling pretty “meh” about the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis. I have a love-hate relationship with the Coen Brothers – I absolutely love their quirky comedies but their existential dramas can get lost on me, especially when their lead characters are unlikeable like the case was with Inside Llewyn Davis. So I was a little bit disappoted with the film, but the soundtrack I absolutely lobe.

To coincide with the release of the film last year the Coen Brothers and musical director T Bone Burnett held a benefit concert featuring music from the film, the 60s folk era and music along the same folk lines at the Town Hall in New York featuring music from the likes of Punch Brothers, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings Machine, The Milk Carton Kids, Secret Sisters, Lake Street Dive, Elvis Costello, Oscar Isaac, Conor Oberst, Colin Meloy, Joan Baez, The Avett Brothers, Jack White, Marcus Mumford and more.

The concert is now being released as a two disc live album titled Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis and is due for release on the 13th January. The full tracklist for the album is below – can’t wait t have a listen to this one!

Disc 1:
1. Punch Brothers – Tumbling Tumbleweed
2. Punch Brothers – Rye Whiskey
3. Gillian Welch – Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
4. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – The Way It Goes
5. Willie Watson – The Midnight Special
6. Dave Rawlings Machine – I Hear Them All/This Land Is Your Land
7. The Milk Carton Kids – New York
8. Secret Sisters – Tomorrow Will Be Kinder
9. Lake Street Dive – You Go Down Smooth
10. Elvis Costello, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver – Please Mr. Kennedy
11. Conor Oberst – Four Strong Winds
12. Conor Oberst – Man Named Truth
13. Colin Meloy – Blues Run the Game
14. Joan Baez, Colin Meloy, and Gillian Welch – Joe Hill
15. The Avett Brothers – All My Mistakes
16. The Avett Brothers – That’s How I Got to Memphis
17. The Avett Brothers – Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise

Disc 2:
1. Jack White – Mama’s Angel Child
2. Jack White – Did You Hear John Hurt?
3. Jack White – We’re Going to Be Friends
4. Rhiannon Giddens – Waterboy
5. Rhiannon Giddens – ‘S iomadh rud tha dhith orm/Ciamar a ni mi ‘n dannsa direach
6. Oscar Isaac – Hang Me, Oh Hang Me
7. Oscar Isaac – Green, Green Rocky Road
8. Keb’ Mo’ – Tomorrow Is a Long Time
9. Bob Neuwirth – Rock Salt and Nails
10. Chris Thile, Chris Eldridge, Paul Kowert, Marcus Mumford, Noam Pikelny and Gabe Witcher – The Auld Triangle
11. Gillian Welch, Rhiannon Giddens and Carey Mulligan – Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby
12. Elvis Costello and Joan Baez – Which Side Are You On?
13. Joan Baez – House of the Rising Sun
14. Marcus Mumford and Joan Baez – Give Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry
15. Marcus Mumford- I Was Young When I Left Home
16. Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford – Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)
17. Marcus Mumford and the Punch Brothers – Farewell

Laura Veirs Announces Children’s Album

Laura Veirs
Image Courtesy of Laura Veirs

If you haven’t heard of Laura Veirs don’t worry too much – her brand of post-punk folk music hasn’t managed to reach our shores as yet. Veirs’ 2010 album July Flame was very well received in her native USA and across the pond in the UK garnering critical acclaim across the board. To follow up Laura Veirs has decided to switch gears and has announced plans to produce an album of children’s folk songs titled Tumble Bee.

Tumble Bee

Despite the fairly lighthearted subject material Laura Veirs has managed to rope in some pretty heavy hitting collaborators for Tumble Bee including Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Jim James and Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket), Basia Bulat, Béla Fleck, Karl Blau and members of Blind Pilot among many others. With that kind of alumni this album will be worth picking up for kids and adults alike.

Laura Veirs’ Tumble Bee is due for release on the 7th November this year.

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