As Sandy Denny once sang, who knows where the time goes? It’s the beginning of July which means we’re already halfway through 2016 without really breaking a sweat. And already this year has proven to be filled a treasure trove of music with some excellent albums and EPs released over the last 6 months.
In fact I had a lot of trouble coming up with my usual Top Ten Albums and EPs From the First Half of The Year list because of all the amazing records released so far in 2016. The following ten albums are just the tip iceberg and if you want to dive deep into all the releases we’ve covered this year check out the Album News category tag here.
So without further ado here’s our Ten Albums and EPs From the First Half of 2016 You Should Own:
Eagle & The Wolf – Eagle & The Wolf
Eagle & The Wolf is the perfect example of a coming together of artists whose sum is greater than its parts. Alt-country singer-songwriter Kris Morris and indie-folk chanteuse Sarah Humphreys are both celebrated artists in their own right (as well as Timber and Steel favourites) but Eagle & The Wolf has elevated them to a new level. Humphreys’ voice seems to have been unshackled and is out in full force. Morris’ guitar work is pitch perfect – blistering in the bluesier numbers and restrained in the ballads. At only 5 tracks the self titled Eagle & The Wolf is the perfect taster for a partnership that has a big future ahead of it.
The Wild Swan – Foy Vance
I feel like Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance has been the quiet achiever of the folk scene in recent years. But with the release of his latest album The Wild Swan, the massive success of its lead single “She Burns” and his association with Ed Sheran, Foy Vance is finally getting the recognition he deserves. The Wild Swan is a melting pot of tone and style – anyone expecting 12 songs all like “She Burns” might be a bit shocked with the blues of “Noam Chomsky is a Soft Revolution” or the Bryan-Adams-like balladry of “Ziggy Looked Me In The Eye”. This is an album that deserves to be listened to from start to finish.
Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony – Gregory Alan Isakov
Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony doesn’t really feature any new music from the US based South African singer-songwriter, but the inclusion of the orchestra just takes Gregory Alan Isakov’s music to the next level. In most cases the Symphony is actually pretty understated on the album with Isakov’s vocals and finger-picked guitar well and truly at the front of the mix. The result is a lush experience that still feels intimate.
Love & Lovely Lies – Imogen Clark
Imogen Clark has come of age with the release of her debut album Love & Lovely Lies. Her EPs to date have all been pretty strong but it feels like Love & Lovely Lies realises Clark’s potential as a singer and a songwriter – which is not at all hurt by the slick production and fantastic band she has behind her. Imogen Clark is touted as an alt-country singer (and we’ve been known to use that label as well) but I feel there’s a pop sensibility to her music that’s had a country sheen added to it courtesy of her band. Imogen Clark has a big future ahead of her and Love & Lovely Lies is a fantastic foundation.
Deep Dark Savage Heart – Melody Pool
I feel like I’ve been waiting for a new Melody Pool album for too long. But do you know what? Now that I have Deep Dark Savage Heart I can honestly say it was worth the wait. Melody Pool is seriously one of the finest young songwriters in Australia – her melodies are complex, her lyrics are layered and each song is just so perfectly crafted and presented. If you listen to Deep Dark Savage Heart from start to finish – and trust us, you should – prepare to be transported by Pool’s liquid velvet voice. “Black Dog” is the standout track but it’s a highlight in an album full of highlights – every song is worth revisiting over and over again.
Johannesburg – Mumford & Sons with Baaba Maal, The Very Best & Beatenberg
I don’t think anyone expected a new Mumford & Sons record this year, but after traveling to South Africa earlier in 2016 and a collaboration with Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, London/Malawi DJ duo The Very Best and South African pop band Beatenberg the EP Johannesburg was born. This record brings together the best of each band – epic choruses, groovy afro-beats and passionate vocals. The project is reminiscent of Mumford & Sons’ 2010 collaboration with Laura Marling and India’s Dharohar Project, but this time around with a focus on creating new music rather than recording new versions of existing songs. I think what I love most about Johannesburg is just how joyous it is – the EP has become a go to should I need a pick me up. Wonderful stuff.
A Day On The Quay – One Up, Two Down
George Jackson and Daniel Watkins are some of the best musicians coming out of the Australian bluegrass and old-time scene at the moment. Their pairing with American bassist Andrew Small for the One Up, Two Down project is inspired and the release of their A Day On The Quay mini-album in January was the perfect way to kick off 2016. Each track is a delight from instrumentals like “Kansas City Railroad Blues” and “The Ways Of The World” to songs like “Ginseng Sullivan”. But the absolute highlight is One Up, Two Down’s version of “Bury Me Not On The Lone Praire” – the song seems to have been written for Dan Watkins’ voice.
Seven Sonnets & A Song – Paul Kelly
Whoever came up with the idea of Paul Kelly putting music to the sonnets and songs of William Shakespeare should be commended. Here you have Australia’s greatest songwriter elevating some of the greatest writing in the English language. And the best thing is that for the most part we’re treated to Paul Kelly the folk singer (as opposed to his rock or soul incarnations) which means plenty of acoustic guitar, pedal steel and fiddle throughout the tracks. This is pure magic.
The Family Tree: The Leaves – Radical Face
Five years in the making, Radical Face finally puts his The Family Tree trilogy of albums to rest with the release of the highly anticipated The Family Tree: The Leaves. With this album we’re once again treated to Radical Face’s unique brand of indie-folk – all layered vocals, finger-picked guitar, piano and floor-tom. Radical Face has kept a consistent sound through The Family Tree trilogy and The Family Tree: The Leaves is a fitting way to wrap everything up. I wonder what’s in store next for Radical Face – whether this album will be the closing of a chapter in his musical career and the next we hear from he will completely redefine his sound. Who knows? I’m just so glad that The Family Tree: The Leaves, along with The Family Tree: The Roots and The Family Tree: The Branches, exist in this world
Charleroi: Pittsburgh, Volume 2 – William Fitzsimmons
My fondness for Charleroi: Pittsburgh, Volume 2 stems from the fact William Fitzsimmons released it a couple of days after his first ever show in Sydney. Made up of tracks left off his 2015 album Pittsburgh, the Charleroi: Pittsburgh, Volume 2 EP is delicate, sad and brilliant. By allowing these additional songs to see the light of day William Fitzsimmons has gifted the world more of his amazing songwriting.
And of course special mention also has to go to the following albums and EPs:
Applewood Road – Applewood Road
Yesteryear – Ariela Jacobs
Wayside Ballads Vol 2 – Bill Jackson
Second Love – Emmy The Great
Elsewhere – Gretta Ray
Telluric – Matt Corby
case/lang/veirs – Neko Case, K.D. lang, Laura Veirs
Stadium Cake – Oh Pep!
Love Letter For Fire – Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop
The Lonesome Sea – The Button Collective
Sleeping In A Car – The Staves
Before Darkness Comes A-Callin’ – The Weeping Willows
Golden Fleeces – Tom West