Timber and Steel’s Top Albums of 2015

Record Player

If anything has characterised 2015 for me in terms of new albums it’s that we finally saw debuts from some of our favourite artists. So many bands these days are serial EP releasers so it’s great to see the likes of Patrick James, Falls Marlon Williams and more knuckle down and get into the studio. It’s also great to see the return of firm favourites after time away and an explosion of traditional music that pushes boundaries and challenges our perception of what trad music can be.

Coming up with a top 25 list is always a challenge (let alone putting them in some kind of order) but I think what we’ve come up with is a wonderful cross section of all the genres of “folk” music we cover on Timber and Steel – from singer-songwriter to Americana to indie folk to traditional and beyond.

So without further ado here it is – our top 25 albums and EPs from 2015!

Kate and Ruth

1. Kate Burke & Ruth HazletonDeclaration

What a year 2015 has been for traditional music. Maybe it’s just me but it seems like a lot more trad is breaking through at the moment and the icing on the cake this year has been the incredible new album from Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton, Declaration.

This is the duo’s first album in about eight years and their return to the studio has been a welcome one. Once again teaming with producer Luke Plumb, Declaration is loosely themed around traditional music from the female perspective with a few contemporary tracks thrown in for good measure.

The tracks are rich, heartbreaking, emotional and beautiful. So many of the songs deal with pretty heavy themes such as domestic violence (“Bleezin’ Blind Drunk”), false accusations of adultery (“Waly Waly”) and the disintegration of a woman’s public reputation (“Katy Cruel”) and these are conveyed with resonance by Burke and Hazleton. Hearing these two singing together again reminds me of why I fell in love with their harmonies all those years ago.

The two originals on the album – “The Freeze” and “Hearts Of Sorrow” – are two of my favourites and they make me wish Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton were more prolific as songwriters. Maybe one day we’ll get a full album of self penned tracks?

I love how much Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton have matured as performers over the last 15 years. Gone is the rigid need to stick 100% to the tradition and instead we have a fluid take on the material that draws as much from contemporary music as it does from Anglo, Celtic and American music. A simply wonderful album

Sufjan

2. Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell

Touted as the return to Folk Music for Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell is in fact the next step in his musical evolution. Rather than shrugging off the electronic chaos of his recent albums, Stevens has merely toned it down and brought back his acoustic guitar to dive into the complex relationship with his mother following her passing. This album is so raw, so nuanced and deserved of every bit of praise that has been heaped upon it.

Fanny Lumsden

3. Fanny LumsdenSmall Town Big Shot

I’ve always predicted big things for Fanny Lumsden ever since I saw her perform at a rooftop bar in Sydney many moons ago. Small Town Big Shot is the album that is currently turning Lumsden from Sydney’s alt-country darling to a favourite of the Australian country scene. The album is full of Fanny Lumsden’s true-to-life accounts of growing up in rural Australia while never straying into the Americanised, dust kicking ideal of country life so often portrayed by Australian country artists. Not to be ignored, Lumsden’s band The Thrillseekers add a rich musical tapestry to her songs and really seem to have gelled as group. Only released in September there’s a lot of life in Small Town Big Shot so we’ll continue to see Fanny Lumsden riding high off it’s ever growing success in 2016.

Paper Kites

4. The Paper Kitestwelvefour

The Paper Kites have produced what has to be one of the most interesting concept albums of recent years. twelvefour was written exclusively between the hours of 12am and 4am as frontman Sam Bentley believed this is when people are at their most creative. The result is stunning – a patchwork of eighties electro influences and the band’s trademark indie-folk – and will no doubt go down as a high watermark in their career. twelvefour feels very deliberately structured moving from the straight up electro of “Electric Indigo” and “Relevator Eyes” to more folky numbers in the second half of the album (“A Silent Cause” is a standout for me). I’m interested to see where The Paper Kites take their sound next.

Packwood

5. PackwoodAutumnal

This year chamber-folk artist Packwood released four seasonally themed EPs as part of his Vertumnus album project. The first of these was Autumnal which has remained my firm favourite through all of the subsequent releases. Gone is Packwood’s trademark sparsely plucked banjo (don’t worry, it returns in later EPs) and instead we get delicately fingerpicked guitar accompanied by choir and chamber orchestra. The songs are delicate and sumptuous and Packwood has really come a long way as a songwriter since his debut. Put on Autumnal, close your eyes and let the world fall away.

Laura Marling

6. Laura MarlingShort Movie

We’re now five albums into Laura Marling’s career and her songwriting has never been stronger. On her latest release Short Movie Marling’s songwriting takes on a freeform, Dylan-esque mode only hinted at on previous albums and it takes her into some very ineteresting places. There’s a lot more electric guitar on Short Movie and at times she descends into beat-poet-like spoken word phrases (like on the amazing “Gurdjieff’s Daughter”) yet no one is crying that Marling’s turned her back on her folk roots (like Marling’s old band Mumford & Sons). Instead Short Movie is being praised as an evolution of her sound and while it is miles away from her 2008 debut Alas, I Cannot Swim, both musically and stylistically, this is 100% a Laura Marling album.

Pittsburgh

7. William FitzsimmonsPittsburgh

In his ode to his recently passed Grandmother and her home town of Pittsburgh, William Fitzsimmons has created a delicate, beautiful piece of magic. This is his first self-produced album since 2006’s Goodnight and it does feel markedly different from his recent releases – the production is not a slave to his voice and guitar, instead it sits more comfortably as part of each song. At only seven tracks long Pittsburgh leaves you warm and fuzzy and wanting more.

Outlier

8. Patrick JamesOutlier

It seems like 2015 saw a lot of long time favourite Timber and Steel artists finally got around to releasing their debut album – and one of the debuts we were most excited about was from Patrick James. Over the course of a bunch of EPs Patrick James has refined his James Taylor-esque folk songs and Outlier is the culmination of years of solid songwriting. The production on Outlier makes the most of James’ unique voice and elevates his solo singer-songwriter roots into a rich, luscious landscape.

Wilder Mind

9. Mumford & SonsWilder Mind

With all of the attention on Mumford & Sons “ditching the banjo” and turning their back on folk music when Wilder Mind came out very little attention was paid to the album itself. Which is a shame because it’s another solid outing for the boys. If you push through the electric guitars and drums you discover that Wilder Mind is unmistakably a Mumford record with big choruses, melodies dripping with four part harmonies and festival ready lyrical hooks. And anyone who has seen Mumford & Sons this year will know they have in no way ditched the banjo – Wilder Mind sits perfectly within their entire catalogue.

Omaha

10. FallsOmaha

It took Falls moving to LA 18 months ago (and dropping the “The”) to produce their gorgeous debut album Omaha. Falls have expanded their two-voices-and-a-guitar sound to an almost orchestral level, but at the forefront is still their lyrically driven melodies and beautiful harmonies. I’m actually really impressed that all of the tracks on Omaha having seen them perform almost exclusively from their Hollywood EP before their big move Stateside. Now we just need a national Australian tour off the back of the album!

Omaha

11. TolkaOne House

The stunning result of trad band Tolka’s trip to Belfast last year to write and record a new album – one of the tightest trad bands in the country.

Limit of Love

12. Boy & BearLimit of Love

Boy & Bear return with a 70s vibe and a bunch of new tracks that saw the band collaborating on the songwriting duties.

If I Was

11. The StavesIf I Was

The Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) production on The Staves’ debut elevates their sound from simple three part harmonies to full blown indie-folk goodness.

Secret Victory

12. The East PointersSecret Victory

The result of writing sessions on their summer tour of Australia, The East Pointers have written 10 original tracks that sound as if they’ve been ripped directly from the tradition.

Monterey

13. The Milk Carton KidsMonterey

Monterey is the closest The Milk Carton Kids have come to capturing their mesmerising live show on record – this is something special.

Freewheeler

14. Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben StephensonThe Freewheeler

Instead of complaining that it’s been too long between albums for Trouble in the Kitchen get your trad fix with the debut album from Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson.

Solitude

15. Ruby BootsSolitude

The Perth songstress has nailed down an amazing band and has produced one of the best alt-country albums of the last few years.

Tomorrow Is My Turn

16. Rhiannon GiddensTomorrow Is My Turn

In her debut solo album Rhiannon Giddens has built on the trad and old time of her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and spun it into something new and very exciting.

Marlon Williams

17. Marlon WilliamsMarlon Williams

With a voice that has reduced grown men and women to tears, there’s a lot to love about Marlon Williams’ debut record – this man is taking country music back to its roots and winning fans every step of the way.

Inside Llewyn Davis

18. VariousAnother Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis

The folk and Americana industry’s best come together for a night of music inspired by the 60s folk scene and to a lesser extent the Cohen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.

Dream's End

19. Matt BauerDream’s End

On his latest album Matt Bauer has upped the production stakes, forgoing his normally sparse folk songs and the result is wonderful.

Punch Brothers

20. Punch BrothersThe Phosphorescent Blues

I think it’s time to stop referring to Punch Brothers as “bluegrass” or “nu-grass” or anything at all – with The Phosphorescent Blues they have proven they are undefinable.

WHITE LIES

21. Mustered CourageWhite Lies and Melodies

Mustered Courage have always been the most polished bluegrass band in Australia but they’ve upped the ante with their new album adding a pop sheen to their sound.

Hell Breaks Loose

22. Shane NicholsonHell Breaks Loose

The godfather of the Australian Americana scene released one of the year’s best country albums – all heartbreak and whisky and everything that’s good about this kind of music.

The Decemberists

23. The DecemberistsWhat A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

A welcome return to the studio from The Decemberists to follow up their amazing 2011 album The King Is Dead – a little less folk, a little more rock and all sorts of goodness.

Josh Pyke

24. Josh PykeBut For All These Shrinking Hearts

Australia’s premiere troubadour delivers yet another stunning album with his trademark wry lyrics and hooky melodies.

S

25. Emmy The GreatS

Emmy The Great slides into electro music while maintaining the folk-inspired melodies she’s become known for.

Thank Folk It’s Friday – 16th October

TFIF

This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

– The next Heartbreaker Sessions takes place this weekend featuring Leo Rondeau and Skyscraper Stan. Details here

Port Fairy Folk Festival announced its second round of artists including Cedric Burnside Project, Shooglenifty, Kristina Olsen, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Spiro, Archie Roach, Colin Hay, Graeme Connors, Cat Canteri, Damian Howard, Flamenco Fire, Kaurna Cronin, Marcia Howard, Oriel Glennen, Sol Nation, The Barleyshakes, The BordererS, The Furbelows, The Little Stevies, The Mae Trio, The Timbers, The Tolka Big Band and Tinpan Orange. Details here

– The Surfing the Coldstream Festival is this weekend. Details here

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson will release their new album The Freewheeler this weekend. Details here

– American singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons announced his debut Australian tour in 2016. Details here

– Sydney folk night Bluegrass @ Yulli’s announced The Andrew Collins Trio as their feature artist this week. Details here

Falls released their gorgeous new video “Let In The Light”. Details here

José González has announced Australian shows next year. Details here

– Americana singer Aoife O’Donovan has announced plans to release her second solo album In The Magic Hour. Details here

– The Majors Creek Festival announced its 2015 lineup including Heath Cullen, Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton, Women in Docs, The Timbers, Bill Jackson with Pete Fidler, Dear Orphans, Echo Deer, Edema Ruh, Enda Kenny, Little Wise, Maia Jelavic, Riogh, Shiny Bum Singers, Sparrow-Folk, The April Maze and many more. Details here

– More artists have been added to this year’s Australasian Worldwide Music Expo (AWME) including Kutcha Edwards, Three Kings, Raised By Eagles and more. Details here

Releases This Week

Bellowhead
Pandemonium – The Essential BellowheadBellowhead
iTunes

Dan Flynn
Preparing for FlightDan Flynn and The State of Things
Bandcamp

Paddy
OutlierPatrick James
iTunes

Timber and Steel Recommends – Go To This Gig

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson

The Freewheeler

Three of Australia’s finiest Irish musicians, Dougal Adams (flute), Ado Barker (fiddle) and Ben Stephenson (guitar) come together to launch their new album The Freewheeler

Saturday 17th October – Golden Glory Studio, Melbourne, VIC

Gigs Next Week

April Maze
Friday 16th October – Pelican Playhouse, Grafton, NSW
Saturday 17th October – Surfing the Coldstream Festival, Yamba, NSW

Arbori
Thursday 22nd October – The Bald Faced Stag, Sydney, NSW

Ash Grunwald
Friday 16th October – Triffid, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 17th October – Hotel Metropole, Ipswich, QLD
Sunday 18th October – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast QLD
Wednesday 21st October – Sugarland Tavern, Bunderberg, QLD
Thursday 22nd October – Flamingos on Quay, Rockhampton, QLD
Friday 23rd October – Magnums Hotel, Airlie Beach, QLD

Bluegrass @ Yulli’s feat. The Andrew Collins Trio
Wednesday 21st October – Yulli’s, Sydney, NSW

Colm Mac Con Iomaire
Friday 16th October – Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 17th October – Foxtel Festival Hub, Melbourne, VIC

Dan Parsons
Friday 23rd October – Billyroy’s Blues Bar, Bendigo, VIC

Dana Hassall
Friday 23rd October – Chevron Renaissance Shopping Centre, Surfers Paradise, QLD

Davidson Brothers
Saturday 17th October – Foggy Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Kinglake, VIC
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival, NSW

Dawes with Barna Howard & Tracy McNeil
Sunday 18th October – Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan, VIC
Tuesday 20th October – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 21st October – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW

Dorrigo Folk & Bluegrass Festival
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Dorrigo, NSW

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson
Saturday 17th October – Golden Glory Studio, Melbourne, VIC

Fanny Lumsden
Friday 16th October – Pleasant Hills Hall, Pleasant Hills, NSW
Saturday 17th October – Binya Hall, Binya, NSW
Friday 23rd October – Memo Music Hall, St Kilda, VIC

Fleurieu Folk Festival
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Willunga, SA

Foggy Mountain Bluegrass Festival
Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Kinglake, VIC

Folkswaggon
Wednesday 21st October – Cafe Lounge, Sydney, NSW

Heartbreaker Sessions feat. Leo Rondeau, Skyscraper Stan
Sunday 18th October – Freda’s Bar, Sydney, NSW

Imogen Clark w/ Timothy James Bowen
Thursday 22nd October – Django Bar, Sydney, NSW

Jamestown Revival
Wednesday 21st October – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 22nd October – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW

Jeff Lang, Lost Ragas, Alison Ferrier
Sunday 18th October – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh, VIC

John Flanagan and Liz Frencham
Friday 16th October – Live at the Wharf, Gnomon Pavilion, Ulverstone, TAS

Josh Rennie-Hynes
Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th October – Fleurieu Folk Festival, SA

Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival
Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Kangaroo Valley, NSW

Katie Noonan
Friday 16th October – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Saturday 17th October – Melbourne Festival, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 18th October – Melbourne Festival, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 22nd October – The Triffid, Brisbane, QLD
Friday 23rd October – The Byron Theatre, Byron Bay, NSW

Kaurna Cronin
Saturday 17th October – Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA

Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes
Friday 9th to Saturday 17th October – Cruisin Country, ex-Sydney, NSW

Laura Marling
Friday 16th October – Astor Theatre, Perth, WA
Saturday 17th October – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
Monday 19th October – Hamer Hall, Melbourne, VIC
Tuesday 20th October – The Enmore Theatre, Sydney, NSW
Wednesday 21st October – The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD

Lior
Friday 16th October – Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, VIC

Loren Kate
Friday 23rd October – Red Mill Store, Bunbury, WA

Lost Ragas
Saturday 17th October – Out On The Weekend Festival, Williamstown, VIC
Sunday 18th October – Caravan Club, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 23rd October – Lazybones Lounge, Sydney, NSW

Musketeer
Saturday 17th October – Parliament on King, Sydney, NSW
Friday 23rd October – The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW

Out On The Weekend
Saturday 17th October – Seaworks, Melbourne, VIC

Patrick James
Friday 16th October – Amplifier, Perth, WA
Thursday 22nd October – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Friday 23rd October – 170 Russell, Melbourne, VIC

Sam Brittain
Friday 16th October – The Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA
Friday 23rd October – The Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA

Sam Outlaw with Jonny Fritz, Shelly Colvin & Friends
Friday 16th October – Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan, VIC
Sunday 18th October – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 21st October – Grace Emily, Adelaide, SA

Suzannah Espie
Sunday 18th October – Club Mullum, Mullumbimby, NSW

Tablelands Folk Festival
Thursday 22nd to Sunday 25th October – Yungaburra, Qld

The Andrew Collins Trio
Wednesday 21st October – Yulli’s, Sydney, NSW
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival, NSW

The BordererS
Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th October – Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, NSW

The Crooked Fiddle Band
Sunday 18th October – Glebe Town Hall, Sydney, NSW

The Go Set
Friday 23rd October – Factory Theatre, Sydney, NSW

The Paper Kites
Friday 16th October – Amplifier, Perth, WA
Saturday 17th October – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, WA
Thursday 22nd October – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Friday 23rd October – 170 Russell, Melbourne, VIC

The Timbers
Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th October – Fleurieu Folk Festival, Willunga, SA

The Waifs
Saturday 17th October – Townsville Civic Theatre, Townsville, QLD
Sunday 18th October – Musica Botanica, Cairns, QLD
Wednesday 21st October – Bangalow Town Hall, Bangalow, NSW
Thursday 22nd October – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast, QLD

Wingham Akoostik Music Festival
Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October – Wingham, NSW

Winterbourne
Friday 23rd October – Max Watt’s, Brisbane, QLD

Friday Folk Flashback

“Pittsburgh” – William Fitzsimmons

I can’t tell you how excited I am that William Fitzsimmons is finally coming to Australia next year. If you’re not aware of his music let me send you down a YouTube rabbit hole.

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson Set to Release The Freewheeler

The Freewheeler
Image Courtesy of Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson

This Saturday three of Australian Irish music’s best, Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson, will officially release their brand new album The Freewheeler.

Barker and Stephenson are well known to folk and trad fans as half of Trouble in the Kitchen, with master Irish flute player Dougal Adams joining them to round out the trio.

“Anyone who’s been caught by this music will know the feeling, when it’s really flowing, of the tunes somehow playing themselves,” the trio explained. “Perhaps it’s the combination of time and shared experience that does it, but often when we sit down to play it feels like the music just sets itself loose. Recorded live over a chilly Melbourne weekend, this album is an effort to capture a few of those fleeting moments, to catch the elusive sound of the music rolling free.”

The album features some amazing tunes collected by Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson over many years of playing in Australia, Ireland and abroad. You can listen to the album below and then pick it up via Bandcamp here.

Dougal Adams, Ado Barker & Ben Stephenson will be launching The Freewheeler at the Golden Glory Studio in Melbourne on Saturday 17th October – for more information check out the official site here.

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