New Tasmanian Folk Punk Festival HOBOFOPO Announces

Dead Maggies
Image Courtesy of The Dead Maggies

The geniuses behind Tasmanian convict-folk band The Dead Maggies and folk-punk label Folk ‘Til Ya Punk Records have announced Australia’s first folk-punk dedicated festival HOBOFOPO.

Taking place in Hobart from the 10th to 13th November HOBOFOPO promises a four day folk-punk orgy across the cities many pubs and venues including The Republic Bar, Willie Smiths Apple Shed, The Brisbane Hotel, Big Dan’s Franklin Tavern, Frankies Empire Cafe and more.

So far the festival has revealed a who’s who of Australian folk-punk bands on its lineup including The Dead Maggies (above), The Go-Set, The Ramshackle Army, Handsome Young Strangers, The Australian Beefweek Show, Fox ‘N’ Firkin, The Stragglers, This Is A Robbery, Squid Fishing and Hairyman with more announcements coming soon.

For more information about HOBOFOPO check out the official Folk ‘Til Ya Punk site here.

Review: Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW

Illawarra
Image Courtesy of Illawarra Folk Festival

As the summer roles around each year I take a look at the packed folk festival calendar and try to work out which events I’ll be attending over the season. There are always a few festivals that fall into the “one day” category because of the effort required to get to them (making it down to Cygnet and Georgetown in Tasmania for instance is a two week commitment I’m yet to make). And then there’s those events that have to be a trade off – if I head to WOMADelaide it means I’m missing out on Nannup or Port Fairy.

Then there are those events that are a must – and the Illawarra Folk Festival is at the top of that list. Just an hour and a half from Sydney by train, the Illawarra Folk Festival is a no brainer, even if just for a day or two over the long weekend. The festival sits somewhere between the smaller boutique folk festivals hosted by country towns and the “big three” folk festivals of Woodford, Port Fairy and The National – it manages to attract the best and brightest of the international and Australian folk scene while maintaining a unique community vibe.

For the first time in ages I committed to heading to the Illawarra Folk Festival for the three main days this year, even if it meant commuting to and from my base in Sydney every day. I was determined to see as much music as possible without dealing with the inevitable clashes that comes from trying to see everything in one day. This year I was going to lose my weekend to the Illawarra Folk Festival.

Friday

I walked into the festival on Friday morning nursing a slight hangover courtesy of The East Pointers, The Button Collective and a few too many Guinnesses at The Gaelic Club the night before. I had decided against patronising the opening night of the Illawarra Folk Festival in favour of The East Pointers’ headline show in Sydney – I knew I was going to catch them over the weekend but the opportunity to see them in my own backyard was just too appealing.

It’s been a long while since I’ve spent a Friday at the Illawarra Folk Festival and I have to say it was the perfect way to kick the event off. The smaller Friday crowd made for a lazy day wandering around the Bulli showground taking in music at all of the venues and getting a feel for the place.

I kicked off my day getting on top of my hangover hiding out for a couple of acts in the Grandstand restaurant. I managed to catch the amazing bouzouki player Beth Patterson who is touring the country at the moment spreading her take on traditional and contemporary folk. I’d never considered the bouzouki as a solo instrument before but Patterson brought a maturity to the instrument that was just spellbinding. I hung around for Adelaide based singer-songwriter Banjo Jackson on the recommendation of Kaurna Cronin and was not disappointed – Jackson can stand tall with the new breed of folk singers coming out of Adelaide at the moment with the type of music that is instantly relatable and the perfect pairing of solo, finger-picked guitar and effects laden fiddle.

I’d drunkenly promised Rebecca Bastoli the night before that I would be at her debut programmed festival show at 2:15pm so I staked out my spot in the Nags Lounge early. Despite a couple of unavoidable technical problems (she was mortified when she broke a string halfway through the performance) Bastoli delivered a stunning set, backed by a full band of fiddle, flute, box and bass. It boggles my mind how talented Rebecca Bastoli is – in such a short time she has mastered both the guitar and mandolin and written some of the most poignant songs I’ve heard in ages.

A revelation of the festival was Irish singer O’Leary. If I’m honest I only caught his set by accident but I was mesmerised throughout. The way he brought a humility and reverence to traditional songs was amazing and the backing percussion, electric guitar and flute just enhanced his music.

It wouldn’t be an Illawarra Folk Festival without Australiana-punks Handsome Young Strangers so I made a point of catching their set at The Miners Camp before wrapping my day up and jumping on the train back to Sydney. Handsome Young Strangers are a folk music institution and they tore through their catalogue with the usual devil-may-care attitude. It’s amazing seeing Australian bush and folk music updated for a modern audience while still maintaining respect for the work.

Saturday

Saturday at the Illawarra Folk Festival is always hectic and this year was no different. Watching the crowd stream through the front doors and fill up the venues. Watching a packed festival like this fills me with joy – it proves once again that folk music is thriving and that the people behind the Illawarra Folk Festival should be so proud of the community that they’re created.

I was determined to see local singer-songwriter Kay Proudlove after I missed her set last year, and I was not disappointed. Proudlove is the consummate performer, delighting crowds between songs and delivering lyric driven music that is instantly relatable. I am now determined to see Kay Proudlove every time she ventures north to Sydney (or at least to program future Illawarra Folk Festivals around her sets).

Having heard nothing but amazing things about Irish Mythen I just had to see what all the fuss was about – and I have to say I was not disappointed. Watching one woman with a guitar command the largest stage at the Illawarra Folk Festival was astounding – her stage presence and the way she worked the audience was truly a masterclass in performance. Her version of “The Auld Triangle” is a crowd favourite for a reason and absolutely brought the house down.

The next few hours were a blur of amazing music. Shane Howard once again proved why he is Australia’s best songwriters for those people who braved the mud to venture into the Black Diamond Marquee. Out Of Abingdon added touch of jazz to the festival with their vibey folk tunes. The Redfern Shanty Club turned their performance at The Miners Camp into an all-in singalong session. The Button Collective’s impromptu blackboard session at the Tantric Turtle was the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon coffee. And The Dead Maggies rounded out a bunch of amazing music by tearing up the stage with a mostly cobbled together new lineup.

I rounded out the day by catching trad band Fresh Off The Boat at their intimate Café de Rude. Made up of some of Sydney’s best trad players (most of which you can catch at the Friday night Gaelic Club sessions) Fresh Off The Boat breathed fresh life into traditional Irish music and delighted the local crowd. The sound at the gig was not amazing, mainly owing to the fact that the entire band couldn’t fit on Café de Rude’s stage, but just watching the skill of the players was enough to overcome any issues. The perfect way to round out a hectic Saturday of music.

Sunday

On the third day the Illawarra Folk Festival became about two things – catching all the artists I hadn’t seen yet and revisiting those that had made an impression over the weekend.

I kicked off my day with Queensland based singer-songwriter Mia Wray. Alternating between guitar and piano Wray brought a maturity to her music that seemed to defy her young age. Her original songs were just stunning and she had the audience eating out of her hand with her easygoing stage presence.

I’d seen Japanese Irish trad band John John Festival a couple of years ago at the Illawarra Folk Festival a couple of years ago so I jumped at the chance to catch bodhran player Toshi Bodhran and fiddle player Mana Okubo again as part of Tim Scalan’s band – and I was not disappointed. While I loved Scalan’s masterful singing and harmonica playing it was Toshi Bodhran who stole the show – the man can turn the bodhran into a melody instrument like no one I’ve ever seen before. Special mention has to go to Mana Okubo who performed the entire set with her baby strapped to her back.

The Wish List proved that the fiddle is all you need to accompany a voice and that three fiddles with three voices is even better. This was one of the most innovative bands at the Illawarra Folk Festival – I can’t wait to see these girls live again.

In the afternoon I dragged myself up the hill to the Small Halls Concert in order to catch Liz Stringer and then The East Pointers. For too long people have been telling me that Liz Stringer is the best songwriter in Australia and watching her set at the Illawarra Folk Festival those same people may be proved right. Stringer has an intensity to her songwriting that is tempered with a warmth in her performance not matched by many. I implore you to see Liz Stringer wherever and whenever you get the chance.

Despite having seen The East Pointers in Sydney a couple of days earlier there was no way was going to miss their final set at the Illawarra Folk Festival. These guys are probably the most exciting trad band I have seen in the last 12 months and their live set is incredibly tight. Their use of foot percussion and bass effects on the guitar elevate this three piece from session band to festival headliners and the ease at which they interact with their audience makes you feel included in the experience.

The rest of Sunday evening was spent drifting from tent to tent catching whatever music was playing before idling my way to the Grandstand Restaurant for a final set from The Button Collective and then jumping on the train home.

The organisers of this year’s Illawarra Folk Festival have a lot to be proud of, building an event that caters to almost every facet of the “folk” genre all the while maintaining a community spirit. There’s a reason why performers and punters come back to the Illawarra Folk Festival every year and why it remains a must attend on my festival calendar. Bring on 2017!

Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2015

Record Collecting

So you’ve read what we think the top 25 albums of 2015 are but here’s what you’re really waiting for – the article where we ask our favourite artists to pick their favourite recordings of the year.

Every year we reach out to artists across the Timber and Steel genre spectrum to pick their number one album or EP of the year and the results are always surprising. So get yourself a cold drink, find somewhere comfortable to site down and enjoy Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2015:

Postcards From Ursa MinorFrank Turner
Will VarleyPostcards From Ursa Minor
I stumbled across Will a few years back and instantly fell in love. He’s currently my favourite songwriter, and I think this album is little short of a masterpiece.

The DeslondesJimmy Daley (The Morrisons, The Tawny Owl Stringband)
The DeslondesThe Deslondes
Heard the song “Louise” on a live music series on YouTube called Jammin In The Van and was immediately bowled over. Went and bought the album (yes I bought it) and was not disappointed. Killer songs, retro production that sounds modern at the same time, great playing and awesome singing/harmonies. I’ll be knocking back many tins over summer while listening to this album.

The Phosphorescent BluesMichael O’Donnell (The Squeezebox Trio)
Punch BrothersThe Phosphorescent Blues
Stop reading this review right now and go listen to this album. Its just perfect. From the 10 minute opener to Debussy to one hell of an ending, this album is a game changer. There is only one (10 second) instrumental solo on the whole album, opting for lush orchestrations instead. It was a HUGE influence on us.

Paradise is ThereTaryn La Fauci
Natalie MerchantParadise is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings
To be able to re-release a complete new version of a record first released 20 years ago in 1995 is an incredible artstic achievement. Karl Broadie introduced me to her music and since then I have drank up her journey and past records. Her voice holds this piercing warmth and wisdom that coos you in and wraps you up like a child in its mothers arms. Getting to devour this rediscovery of Tigerlily and how she has evolved with it is why this record is my favourite release of 2015.

Wilder MindGerrit Gmel (Citizen of the World)
Mumford & SonsWilder Mind
This is really a no brainer for me, I absolutely adore these guys and without them I probably wouldn’t write the music I write today. This being said, their new sound took me a while to get used to and I went from loving 95% of the songs to loving 70% on this new album. Still, it shows how even a genre-defining band can have the guts and skill to reinvent their sound and write powerful songs independently of the instrumental setup.

Diamonds in the BloodstreamJosh Rennie-Hynes
Raised by EaglesDiamonds in the Bloodstream
A great collection of songs. Honest and thoughtful and the production is spot on. One of my favourite Australian bands.

But For All These Shrinking HeartsWoody Pitney
Josh PykeBut For All These Shrinking Hearts
Josh Pyke delivered again with this new gem of an album, But For All These Shrinking Hearts. Staying true to his iconic style and sound, this tightly produced record is a great listen. Despite not having any stand-out hits like previous albums, it still has plenty of sparkle and charm. My personal favourites are “Hollering Hearts” and “Book of Revelations”.

Carrie & LowellCaitlin Park
Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell
There is no-one quite like Sufjan Stevens. It is hard to put your finger on the power of his story-telling, what it is that drags us in so. For me, it is the way he paints the picture; he writes about the little things, the smaller moments between two people. A whole album dedicated to the memory of his mother and descriptions of her passing, we are left to fill in the the rest of the story. Where they lived, their age – these things don’t matter as long as you are privy to their quiet moments alone. And then in one foul swoop, he wraps up the meaning of the song in one sentence, and your heart breaks into a thousand pieces **we’re all gonna’ die**. A lyric that will stay with me forever, a lyric i will always remember from the year 2015: “What could I have said to raise you from the dead, oh could I be the sky on the fourth of July?”

Strange New PastSteven Barnard (Arbori)
Seth SentryStrange New Past
I know this puts me at risk of losing my indie folk privileges but Seth Sentry’s second LP was simply outstanding. Kendrick Lamars to pimp a butterfly was musically more brilliant but topically from another world. His harmonic nostalgia tethered by trap beats rap ego and existential early 30’s humility is seamless. The record plays from start to finish effortlessly and voids of any Aus hip hop cringe worthy cleches that we have blushed at when measured against the likes of Kings Kunta and Kick Push. I’m a hip hop dancer and this is hands down the best Aussie rap release for getting down to ever. If you dig emotional depth, impressive musicality and need a reason to shake your ass, this record is all that and more.

sound and colorRosie Jackson-Taylor (Liam Gale & The Ponytails)
Alabama ShakesSound & Color
I have been completely obsessed with every single track on the album since the first time I heard it and it was on welcomed high rotation for the entire drive of our East Coast tour earlier this year. Brittany Howard’s voice is unbelievable and every song is captivating in its own right. The whole experience of the album is kind of like listening to futuristic funk blues in space, naked.

Sol InvictusClaude Hay
Faith No MoreSol Invictus
I had been waiting for this album for years. Singer Mike Patton can put an unique infectious melody to anything he touches, melodies that stick. There’s always something different that comes from these guys that is so refreshing to my ears, the complete opposite of commercial radio.

Carrie & LowellSam Newton
The Milk Carton KidsMonterey
This is one of the most ‘pure’ sounding records that I’ve ever heard. I know that this could be said of just about all of the releases by these guys but I feel that with Monterey, they have reached all new heights in lyricism, vocal unity and the art of subtle lead/guitar fills. It says something special about the songwriting of a group when every track on an album contains a maximum of 2 voices and 2 guitars but can still hold its own from start to finish. I bought the vinyl when I saw them live earlier in the year and it has easily been one of my favourite purchases of 2015.

LoyaltyMatt Bauer
The Weather StationLoyalty
I haven’t connected with a record this strongly in a very long time. From the first lines of “The Way It Is And The Way It Could Be” I was just – there. It took me several attempts to get to the end of the record because I was so moved I kept having to turn it off.

Key ChangeMatt Corby
MockyKey Change
This album is full of songs to live life to, songs you can put on at any moment and jam out to.

Carrie & LowellDan Flynn
Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell
How many gobsmackingly good folk songs can you fit into one album? Eleven it seems. This album is unbelievably melancholy but also curiously uplifting and indeed healing. The vocal melodies are outrageously good, the instrumentation is pitch perfect and the production is stunning despite the fact that part of the album was recorded on his iPhone. I will be listening to this for years to come.

Darling ArithmeticKim Churchill
VillagersDarling Arithmetic
I have ogled at the songwriting abilities of Conor J O’Brien since we played a small gig in an odd venue called the Duncan Garage Showroom on Vancouver Island years ago. In the past his lyrics have portrayed a depth and insight that guided me as a person much further into myself and my unconscious emotional processes. Again he helps me make those journeys on this album but with a simplicity and vulnerability that is just profound! He has clearly had some pain and rebirth in his life and he puts it out on the table in an incredible honest way. He reaches further inside himself than many of us ever will and gives us songs that allow us to take the same journey’s into ourselves. It’s kind of creepy how he does it. But he’s always flirted with being a bit creepy. Watch the video clip to his first single off the album, “Courage”, and you’ll see what I mean. In many ways its the essence of psychedelic folk; Spooky, insightful, melodically stunning and at its core undeniably beautiful and honest.

Phosphorescent BluesBlair Dunlop
Punch BrothersPhosphorescent Blues
Whilst it’s an incredibly impressive body of work from a technical standpoint, it never strays into grandstanding or over-indulgence. Beautiful arrangements, soaring harmonies and songs that keep me guessing – a gem!

Soft Faces to HoldAlanna Eileen
Toby GrahamSoft Faces to Hold
Beautiful, surreal alternative folk music with incredible vocals, lyrically inventive and delicate in all the right places. It got me through the year.

When The Storms Would ComeBronte
Holy HolyWhen The Storms Would Come
I have been a fan of Holy Holy since they released their first EP. Their album When The Storms Would Come, which was released in July this year, has been a stand out album in my opinion. I enjoy the lyrics and the melodies that flow throughout their music which continues to improve with each release. I think the next few years for Holy Holy will be huge and they are starting to enjoy a great deal of success from overseas audiences. Stand out track is “History” but “You Cannot Call For Love Like A Dog” just makes me want to crank up the dial and drive around all night, it is such a cruising tuneeee.

Nathaniel RateliffJoe Murphy (The Timbers)
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night SweatsNathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Only released recently this album is straight out of the 70’s!! Full of now Motown and soul, it’s 2015’s ultimate road trip album.

NinaThe Campervan Dancers
Daniel MarchNina
So much groove! It’s really tight, shows a wonderful depth of stylistic influences. Great production and musicianship – just the whole package. These have been our chosen cruisin’ tunes in Candice-the-Campervan-Dancer-van this springtime.

If I WasJoel Barker
The StavesIf I Was
It was hard to chose against Glen Hansard’s Didn’t He Ramble but after seeing The Staves at The Beautiful Days Festival in Devon, UK a couple of years ago I had to go with their 2015 release If I Was. Hearing three sisters sing together in perfect harmony make it seems so damn easy. The addition of Justin Vernon as producer takes the intimacy of their past work and elevates it into a more accessible market. Theres a new dynamic and consideration to the recording process that really hits a note with me. Songs such as “Make It Holy” and “Steady” have magnificent vocal loops and hooks that keep you wanting more of those voices made to sing together. It’s got a lot of texture, as much intimacy of their previous releases, but additional drive which undoubtedly has introduced them to a whole new fan base. Makes we want to prop myself up against a tree, close my eyes and listen to it on repeat, over and over again.

These WallsRose Wintergreen
Anna CordellThese Walls
Sometimes, very rarely, new songs come to me in my dreams. I wake up with the melody in my bones, I sleepily reach for my phone to record it before it disappears forever. It’s happened several times recently, and I’ve been ecstatic with the deep, haunting quality of the melodies, the pleasing way they meander effortlessly like a creek rambling unselfconsciously in bushland so remote that no one will pass through for decades at a time. Unfortunately for me, I’ve realised that these melodies are actually Anna Cordell’s, from her stunning debut record, These Walls! Arresting and deeply affecting.

EPTim Guy
BumspaEP
A force of nature in the very northern parts of NSW. They made an EP this year and squeezed 5 songs onto a little ’45. The last track comes from the view of a Bushranger being in his cell while awaiting hanging. It’s really rare and really wonderful. Great songwriting with ragged attitude to the musical accompaniment.

FourwindsThe East Pointers
FourWindsFourWinds
After chatting about our many favourite records from this past year, the 3 of us decided that FourWinds deserve the top spot with their self-titled album. This crew from Ireland is tearing up the traditional music scene with their authentic sound and top-notch musicianship. Check ‘em out live if you can!

Modern VintageSian Evans
Cheap FakesModern Vintage
If its not for the super smooth vocals of Kiwi front man Hayden Andrews alone, it’s the funk, the phat base, totally hot horn lines and syncopated silences. Production instrumentation ties cleverly a carnival dub vintage rock’n’roll infused surf style funk and soul variety. Consistent. Solid. It dribbles dizziness, you can’t sit still!

The Woodshed SessionsScott Collins (The Mid-North)
Wood and WireThe Woodshed Sessions Vol. 1
Six tracks recorded in one take around one microphone. It is an exciting display of musicianship and energy. Very fun and awe inspiring.

Sound and ColorAlison Ferrier
Alabama ShakesSound & Color
An exciting, innovative and uplifting second release from the rock band with soul. Singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s performance is utterly inspiring: she gives it everything she’s got. I sing along with this in the car quite a lot!

The PositionsCastlecomer
Gang of YouthsThe Positions
We love that the album is so dark in theme yet the melodies could be on any pop album. It’s an impressive body of work. Our runners up are Holy Holy’s When the Storms Would Come and Tame Impala’s Currents.

AngelenoNick Payne (Dear Orphans)
Sam OutlawAngeleno
California has always been a source of great country music – first with the Bakersfield Sound and then later from Los Angeles. This year Californian Sam Outlaw refused to move to Nashville to record his debut album Angeleno and instead insisted on recording in Los Angeles with the help of Ry Cooder as producer. The album is both genuine country in its sound and also its stories. This album takes me back to an earlier time in country music whilst still sounding fresh and un-clichéd.

All Your Favourite BandsTracy McNeil (Tracy McNeil, Bell St Delays)
DawesAll Your Favourite Bands
From the first drop of the needle your ears are hit with six single, drawn out notes played on one guitar against a spattering of drumrolls from off in the distance – this is the hook, the earworm of the song painted thinly as a foreshadowing of what’s to come. And what is to come? Like the sun bursting through a dark cloud, the soundscape breaks wide open as the band punches in with that very same hook – this time fully realised. Dawes always create a sound that is purposeful, epic and at times slightly over-worked in terms of lyrics, but their latest release All You’re Favorite Bands gets the balance just right. Produced by David Rawlings, Dawes will find it hard to top this collection of world-class songs, played and captured live in a room by a band at the height of their career.

Trans Arlantic HighwayLuke Sinclair (Raised By Eagles, Bell St Delays)
Lost RagasTrans Atlantic Highway
The most soul shaking cosmic country experience I’ve had since Beck tried his hand at the genre. It’s more traditional than that of course and has all the essential ingredients you need to make a good country album – pedal steel, guitars, drums, bass, great song writing – but there’s an indescribable magic to it. Something deep that runs right to the heart. Matt Walker, Shane Reilly, Roger Bergodaz and Simon Burke are like the components of a beautifully engineered vintage engine, each part absolutely essential to the whole, the art of what happens when things are put together in the right way. Buy this album – it runs like a dream.

The Stars My DestinationNick O’Mara (Raised By Eagles)
Ben SalterThe Stars My Destination
There’s a sense of humour and a sense of dread in varying degrees throughout this album. Track 4 scares the shit out of me. Salter’s an incredible lyricist, his guitar playing’s tidy as fuck and his voice – sheesh, forget about it. This album is more than the sum of those wonderful parts I reckon. It’s just funny, thoughtful, sometimes rockin’, soulful – hope he hasn’t read this the next time I run into him at the pub. “We’ll have all the time in the world, An endless afternoon, When we’re bones under the dunes”.

Choose Your Weapon
Luke Richardson (Raised By Eagles)
Hiatus KaiyoteChoose Your Weapon
It’s complicated and tricky-clever but with grooves that are solid and so grounded. I think my favourite thing about this band is that each part – drums, keys, vocals, etc – are given their own separate sonic space so even when individually there are some pretty dense rhythmic and harmonic things going on the overall sound is still really open.

TravellerGretta Ziller
Chris StapletonTraveller
I was really excited when Gareth emailed me asking for my favourite album of 2015! Determined to do my due diligence, I got straight onto my 2015 Soundtrack on Spotify (where I put all the new music I find) and went round and round. The one album I just could not go past was Chris Stapleton’s Traveller – it’s just so dang good!!! This album came out and it was like he was holding a hand full of ace’s around a table full of jokers in the poker game they call country music! If you’ve heard of The SteelDrivers you would instantly recognise Stapleton’s voice, its a lonely shot of whiskey in an empty bar, it’s singing to Jesus on Sunday morning, it’s whispering to your lover in the dark of night and it crying over a broken heart, and of course his songs cover all this and more! On a side note, I do recommend googling Stapleton, he is no newcomer to Country music, having been involved with the aforementioned SteelDrivers, but he has also been in the background writing hit songs for major country music artists for years! I could keep gushing about this album for days, but, in short, Traveller is a return to good honest heartfelt country music – and we all say Amen!

Echolocations CanyonAinsley Farrell
Andrew BirdEcholocations: Canyon
This entire album was recorded in the Coyote Gulch Canyons in Utah. It’s the first of a series where Bird uses different components of the environment to stretch, bend and explore sound. I think it’s important to give credit to your surroundings and appreciate that the environment you’re in has a huge influence on the sound you put out.

OutsidersKate Burke (Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton, Trouble In The Kitchen)
Heath CullenOutsiders
The fact that I love this album has only a little to do with the fact that Heath lives up the road from me. This album, where Heath is joined by Elvis Costello’s Impostors, has fantastic songs that range from the danceable “Two Left Feet” to the gorgeously Daniel Lanois-esque “Who’ll Rock the Cradle” and anthemic “One for the Road”, all lush and powerful and featuring mad, crazy, wonderful keys and piano at almost every turn. I love it more with every listen.

Mother's Not Feeling Herself TodayRuth Hazleton (Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton)
Suzannah EspieMother’s Not Feeling Herself Today
A brave, bold, powerful and honest collection of songs that successfully destroys taboos and exposes truths; a very rare thing. Beautifully performed and produced, this album is laden with artistic integrity from a songwriter who’s driven from a deeply personal space and sings like a rising angel.

Carrie & LowellWilliam Fitzsimmons
Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell
Sufjan + return to acoustic music. What’s not to love!?!! Truth be told, even though I love and respect Sufjan’s art more than just about anybody else alive (Sorry Selena Gomez!) I was kind of bummed when I heard that he’d be returning to an “acoustic” sound for this record. Don’t get me wrong, I love acoustic music. I make acoustic music. But I cherish the fact that Sufjan has always been willing to do something kind of, well, different … and still make you hum along (e.g. that ghastly solo in “Springfield!!!”). And I snobbishly loved being one of the people who really, really loved the Adz project and his increasingly left of center writing. But once I got past the hype of Carrie & Lowell (the unopened vinyl sat in my studio for about 2 months) and actually listened, I was overjoyed. I recently lost someone very important to me, so certainly the subject matter of Carrie & Lowell hit close to home. But, moreover, it was the record’s ability to wrap these difficult ideas into such simple, small, understated songs. Nobody messes with the idea of subtlety and histrionics like Suf. And to perfect that tricky dance and sing about death at the same time is tantamount to a masterpiece.

CurrentsAnnie Hamilton (Little May)
Tame ImpalaCurrents
Tame Impala have seriously nailed it with this album, there are some excellent musical moments in there. It’s really cool to see a band evolve and grow over the course of a few albums while still maintaining their own sound and style.

Sound and ColorOlivia Hally (Oh Pep!)
Alabama ShakesSound & Color
There’s only one way to listen to this album: from top to bottom and on repeat. It was already my favourite album this year and then I later discovered a bonus track called “Joe” on a TV show and I cried a little bit. It’s too good.

Ryan BinghamRuby Boots
Ryan BinghamFear and Saturday Night
I love the balance between emotive songs/story telling and grit. I am a sucker for good Americana music with raw delivery and grunt behind it and this album fulfils all of that and more. Every track on there is A grade songwriting with classy melody hooks that are not too obvious until you turn it off and they are running through your head for the rest of the day. These songs that make me a little sad but fill me full of hope at the same time, also another soft spot for me. I love this artist, and this album is my favourite album of 2015.

ShipsOscar Lush
Water MusicShips
“Four weeks after the devastating suicide of my sister, I locked myself in my shed for four days and wrote and recorded these songs on my 8-track as both tribute and therapy. I’ve had death close to me before and here I was again.” – This record absolutely broke my heart and still continues to do so. Every time I listen it brings me to tears. Mathew is such a powerful and unique songwriter. Nothing I listened to this year came close in depth and heartache to this record.

DeclarationAnna Cordell
Kate Burke & Ruth HazletonDeclaration
This is REAL folk music. And these are REAL women. This music has purpose beyond the artists own egos. I am completely inspired by this album and these two women – and, well, the music is just so beautiful!

Ron BlockHamish Davidson (Davidson Brothers)
Ron BlockHogan’s House of Music
So many of my favourite contemporary bluegrass musicians are giving it their all on this creative instrumental album. Best of all, there are so many “you can’t do that on a banjo” moments!

Small Town BigshotLachlan Davidson (Davidson Brothers)
Fanny LumsdenSmall Town Big Shot
Fanny is a great artist and natural entertainer, her hard work and real songs have been fantastically produced on her debut record. Catchy, easy listening and a great voice makes you wanna hit repeat every time.

Don't Lose ThisSkyscraper Stan
Pops StaplesDon’t Lose This
I’ve never had much of a hard-on for Jeff Tweedy so I was skeptical when I heard he was collaborating with Mavis Staples on the final, posthumous release of her father’s music. As it turns out, both Jeff and Mavis have done an amazing job fleshing out the bare-bones recordings Pops made in 1999, a year before his death. It’s all here; tremolo guitar, reverby drum sounds and beautiful group vocals from the Staples sisters. Plus some unexpectedly clever lyricism.

The Stars My DestinationMark “Looch” Lewis (Handsome Young Strangers, Wifey)
Ben SalterThe Stars My Destination
Well I have to admit in the 4 years I have been doing this for you lovely folk at Timber And Steel I have had the hardest time choosing. Kudos to Buddy Glass and Bad Dreems for almost getting there. It took me a week but I’m giving my gong to Ben Salter for My Stars The Destination. The thing that kills me about this guy is that he just improves artistically and vocally with every release. His debut The Cat was a magnificent effort but he has raised the bar again here. As a songwriter he is up there in my book with Gareth Lilliard, Tim Rogers, Mick Thomas and Paul Kelly. I don’t think it would be overselling to say he is possibly the best vocalist in the land right now. Listen to the title track when the vocals beef up half way through. If that doesn’t make your neck hairs stand up I don’t know what will. Usual story: should be huge, probably wont be. Travesty.

1989Ryan Oliver (Oliver’s Army)
Ryan Adams1989
I’ve always been a fan of Ryan’s ability to take a song and completely own it, especially in cover songs (We all remember his haunting version of ‘Wonderwall’ don’t we?). He took probably the most commercial and poppy sounding album and turned it into a very solid folk rock album that you wouldn’t know wasn’t if they didn’t happen to be mega-hits that he was covering. The production is great and I think maybe most noteworthy is his ability to spin somewhat jovial adolescent lyrics and somehow add that signature Ryan Adams melancholy. Respect.

HighRoland Kay-Smith
Royal HeadacheHigh
The formula these guys have is irresistible. I’m not much of a heavy rock guy, traditionally favouring more Timber-and-Steel-esque tunes, but the whole blue-eyed garage soul thing just gets me. Some of it’s silly, some of it’s naff, but there are enough great tunes here to keep me coming back again and again.

ValleywoodNad Budge (The Stetson Family)
Dan ParsonsValleywood
I first heard Dan Parson’s new album Valleywood whilst driving around Nashville in a crappy rental car with a really crappy sound system, and it blew me away – Valleywood, that is, not the car! I was first struck by how great the production came across, full, rich and really well balanced – then I was drawn into Dan’s songs, each one wanting me to listen to what he had to say, and giving me a sense of nostalgia as well as excitement for this next generation of great songwriters.

CurrentsDustin Tebbutt
Tame ImpalaCurrents
This was my favourite release this year. I hadn’t really listened to the band before this album, and it was an incredible introduction. For me, it’s the beautiful combination of genres in here that gives this record so much depth. A lot of the song structures and mixing techniques borrow heavily from house music (the extensive use of filters for example), and a lot of the beats are a mix of old school soul and breaks. These fundamentals are then built upon with psychedelic guitar parts and raw, dreamy vocals. The record has attitude, vibe, heart and a real overarching journey. I just love it.

The Phosphorescent BluesJon Boden (Bellowhead, Spiers & Boden)
Punch BrothersThe Phosphorescent Blues
I was a bit late to the Punch Brothers party, but what a sound! It’s not really bluegrass, more experimental art-pop with bluegrass instrumentation. Beachboys-esque vocals, mandolin funk workouts, beautiful style and tone throughout by five masters of their instruments.

Carrie & LowellSam Sweeney (Bellowhead)
Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell
This is such a beautiful and poignant record. It’s hard to listen all the way through without shedding a tear. After The Age Of Adz, this a welcome return to Sufjan’s folkier side. It’s a heart breaking album about his relationship with his mother who died of cancer in 2012 after a long history of substance abuse and mental health issues. It’s a painful listen and yet so perfect.

Mellow DramaMark Lucas
James McMurtryComplicated Game
It’s the narrative, those fragile vignettes that come alive with truth and a sheer humanity that doesn’t preclude a little bitterness but is always tempered by a dry humour. As he says himself, like his American literary giant father, Larry McMurtry (“The Last Picture Show”, “Lonesome Dove” etc.), James is a fiction writer. His dad was an inspiration to me before I stumbled across his son’s work on a drive across Texas in ‘89. It’s been a heck of a journey in song and, to my way of thinking, that’s what it’s all about – a Complicated Game indeed and I still “miss my dog from years ago” too.

TrackerBob Barford (Bloodwood)
Mark KnopflerTracker
Mr Laidback personified. I reckon he put this album together for his own amusement and just because he could. While not overly impresive on the first few listens, like any good album it grows on you. It’s an insight into what he is up to at this point in time.

Shadows In The NightMark Moldre
Bob DylanShadows In The Night
So many iconic artists have tried the “American Songbook” album and have dismally failed. This is Dylan at his most intimate and unguarded. We hear every drawn breath from Dylan at microphone, every finger touching a string, the slow drag of a bow across a double bass string, a quiet movement or shifting of feet in the room – nothing is hidden from the listeners ear. No careful ProTools editing. A band in a hushed room. Guitars are caressed, sweeping pedal steel is syrupy and lush, drums are ever so softly brushed, tempos remain languid and dreamy while Dylan growls and croons his way through the mist. Lyrics written decades ago seem timeless, ironic and strangely poignant in Dylan’s gentle phrasing. Imagine granddad at the family reunion recalling songs of his younger days at the upright piano in the corner of your lounge room as the warm glow of an open fire crackles and pops. Nostalgia, sadness, wry humour and regret all seep and melt into one another until you feel you’re drifting in a grainy sepia haze. Perfect.

The Hedge SchoolsColm Mac Con Iomaire (Colm Mac Con Iomaire, The Frames)
The Hedge SchoolsAt the End of a Winding Day
My favourite albums involve time and space travel. They bring you places. This album At the End of a Winding Day by Dublin songwriter Patrick Barrett and Producer and co-conspirator Joe Chester AKA The Hedge Schools is a warm, golden, sonic-embrace. Visit this place and be well.

WindfallBrad Butcher
Joe PugWindfall
As much as I loved Rodney & Emmylou’s Traveling Kind or Isbell, Stapleton, or Oz’s very own songsmith Shane Nicholson’s great albums of 2015 Windfall speaks to me the most from an artistic point of view and holds the elements of music I love dearly; great songwriting recorded in a moving an honest way.

Kill It YourselfJesse Lubitz (TinPan Orange)
Jess RibeiroKill It Yourself
The latest album from Jess Ribeiro creates an entire world. It’s a fully cohesive album with songs that draw you in and make you want to listen harder – it feels as though you might miss something important if you’re not paying full attention. Each song is beautiful and the production is perfect.

TelegraphCara Robinson (Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson)
Kevin DohertyTelegraph
I had the pleasure of hearing Kevin Doherty’s live set while in a play in Dublin, Ireland. I fell in love with the stories that he made into song about his insight into the world today, the world that has passed and indeed the world too set before us. His own stories in song take on the heroism, evil, love, madness all words and more that is more than the story itself he quotes. The album itself is personal and inviting and welcomes you in with the warmth and depth that he has in his voice to listen with intent as the album unfolds. There is a sense of awareness that is brought forward from a time long forgotten in the music and it is so important in song writing today that these stories of historical changes are kept alive as it seems a lot of the modern day writing is about surface subjects only a few dare to reiterate in a whole album. Recorded by a mighty line up of artists indeed within their own right, Liam Bradley, James Delaney, Paul Moore, Paul Rodden, Nicky Scott, Enda Walsh and Kevin Doherty set the tempo aptly. Favorite tracks “Camden Street” and “Tug Boat” The story and historical references are poetical and strong and is indeed offered beautifully and honestly to the listener. Inspiring writing.

Marlon WilliamsPatrick James
Marlon WilliamsMarlon Williams
Although I’m in a library, listening with headphones and writing about this, it’s almost as if I am sitting in a tin shed listening on a half broken record player with a glass of aged scotch delving into something from my mum and dad’s music collection. Obviously this guy has such an incredible vocal ability, but sometimes that’s hard to capture and draw an intimate focus to on record. He and his team have nailed that and the band compliments it so well. I tend to be drawn to albums that inspire my own writing or change the way I think for a minute about music. This album does that for me. Not because the production is over the top or revolutionary but because it’s raw and honest and it takes me to a specific setting. It’s also performed in a refined way that almost seems theatrical, I think that’s what gets in me in from the start.

Hell Breaks LooseImogen Clark
Shane NicholsonHell Breaks Loose
Hell Breaks Loose is like a glass of whisky you want to drink, and love to drink, even though you know that when you ingest it, it’s going to bring to the forefront of your mind some of the most heartbreaking truths you’ve ever known and expose things you didn’t even know you felt or thought. Gut-wrenching lyrics and beautiful melancholic melodies, and more honesty than even whisky could bring.

BloodPhia
Lianne La HavasBlood
Lianne’s voice is so velvety and intoxicating and enveloping, and the songs she writes are deep and powerful. She writes a killer pre-chorus too. The production is also fantastic, highlighting the light and shade and rough and smooth of her voice and songs. I can’t stop listening to it!

One Song RomanceNick Keeling (Mustered Courage)
Michael BarnettOne Song Romance
This album is a precision powered product of over 50 years of stringband music in America. Michael is a champion of the newest ilk in bluegrass and old-timey, and can play the fiddle like you wouldn’t believe. The front porch isn’t enough these days and folk musicians that were inspired by the likes of Bela Fleck and Chris Thile a decade ago are now taking to advanced tertiary institutions like Berklee and Juliard to hone their craft. If you like Punch Brothers, Crooked Still, or The Deadly Gentlemen, then rosin up to One Song Romance.

GoonJon O’Neill (Forest Falls)
Tobias Jesso JrGoon
It’s been hard as of late to find music that gives me a comforting chill down my spine, but this album did. Every one of Jesso’s masterpieces is straight from the heart and has an overwhelming sense of home and familiarity. I love this album because it doesn’t rely on production to make the songs “better” – rather, they are simple, beautiful and raw.

10Bill Jackson
Darrell Scott10: Songs of Ben Bullington
Darrell Scott met Ben Bullington during a trip to Yellowstone National Park with his children. Bullington was a small town Montana doctor who happened to write songs in his spare time and a mutual friend thought they might enjoy each other’s company – two single dads on vacation in the wilderness with their offspring. In fact, they wound up good friends with more in common than they probably thought at first. Bullington, it turned out, was fighting a cancer diagnosis that wound up taking his life. But, before he passed, he wanted to play a songwriters-in-the-round show in Nashville, and the date was set at the Station Inn. According to the liner notes on Scott’s new album, 10: Songs of Ben Bullington, that was the first time that he’d heard Bullington’s songs. And, as we can hear on the disc, Bullington was a remarkable songwriter. His lyrics have a natural musicality, and the nuance of his stories is bowl-you-over good in places. Scott’s treatment of the songs is pure and arresting. Here’s one of the most versatile artists in the Americana/roots world, whose instrumental prowess is well documented, giving one strum per measure in some cases, leaving room for the songs to create their own life. Not a lot of songs could stand up when stripped back to such simplicity. On the one hand, it’s a shame that a songwriter the calibre of Ben Bullington lived most of his whole life without his songs getting much further than his own guitar. On the other hand, it’s a blessing that his friend Darrell Scott picked up that very guitar and immortalized them. Favourite tracks: “I’ve Gotta Leave You Now”, “Born in 55”.

Mellow DramaAriela Jacobs
Kevin GarrettMellow Drama
Colouring was the first track I heard off Garrett’s debut EP and I immediately fell in love with the rest of the compilation. Similar to the James Blake aesthetic, his songs are punctuated with electronic beats but they are used gently and sparingly. Lyrically, he grabs your attention from the get go and although simplistic in narrative, he reels you in with unheard of metaphors to symbolise a broken relationship. Kevin may make you weep your eyes out, but I’m telling you it’s worth the sob and the copious amounts of ice cream afterwards.

Dogs at BayThom Lion
Bad DreemsDogs At Bay
I haven’t heard rock this real in a while. The songs and sound are unashamedly Australian. A raw record that hits you right in the face!

Daniel RomanoHarvey Russell (Peasant Moon)
Daniel RomanoIf I’ve Only One Time Askin’
Canadians do country well and Daniel Romano is no exception. On his fourth solo album the Ontarian moves away from the country folk of early material and beyond the twangy honky tonk of his 2013 release. This time it’s a modern interpretation of the countrypolitan sound which emerged in the 1960s. Some will accuse him of pastiche, and this is tempting if only the songwriting, instrumentation and vocal phrasings weren’t so damned good. George, Merle, Willie and even Charlie Rich would be happy to have written these songs. Romano knows he’s writing classics too, his brashness is evident through the use of rich synth-strings and drum machines. This was album of the year before I’d reached the end of my first listen.

Daniel KnoxJosie Rothwell (Peasant Moon)
Daniel KnoxDaniel Knox
The 2015 release from Chicago troubadour Daniel Knox is my fave album of the year – the top of a very long short list. The album is rich with gorgeous instrumentation, surprising given the stark piano and vocal package of his earlier releases. The arrangements complement the sharpness of his songwriting and his utterly enchanting voice. I love the breadth of the album – Knox gives us hazy dream trance on “Blue Car”, sharp and catchy on “Don’t Touch Me” and even a hypnotic choir in 14 15 111. Lyrically, Knox’s observations of the sometimes mundane imbue the entire album with an undercurrent of creepy menace

Imaginary ManAshleigh Mannix (Ashleigh Mannix, Little Georgia)
Rayland BaxterImaginary Man
I was hooked on the first listen. The first track “Mr. Rodriguez” had me bopping from the intro, and by the time the second verse had kicked in, I was swinging my hair and red wine around the kitchen like no tomorrow. My favourite song is “My Captain”, followed closely by “Rugged Lovers”. Both songs make me stop whatever I’m doing, and just listen. He makes me want to be a better songwriter. It’s just such a friken great album.

Imaginary ManJustin Carter (Justin Carter, Little Georgia)
Rayland BaxterImaginary Man
A lyrically inspiring album from start to finish.

Multi-LoveSahara Beck
Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love
Every song makes me fall in love again and again, not only with its extremely catchy melodies which dance through every instrument but also the lyrics that call you in with their familiar and relatable subject of thought. Unknown Mortal Orchestra have been on repeat in my mind all year long, this album is a wise old ear worm that I welcome into my mind with a warm accommodating smile

Chaos and the CalmMark Wilkinson
James BayChaos and the Calm
This record is really strong from top to bottom. It has a fantastic energy about it and the production hasn’t been overdone which really allows Bay’s voice to shine. The songs are catchy and accessible without being soulless and Bay’s vocals can stretch from intimate to powerful giving the album space for light and shade.

Sam AmidonCatgut
Sam AmidonHome Alone Inside My Head
Sam Amidon can go from quietly beautiful to shockingly abrasive in seconds. For Home Alone Inside My Head he put together a bunch of field recordings captured in 2002 after studying with old time fiddler Bruce Greene and free jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins. It’s not easy listening but it’s a glimpse inside the musical mind of someone we find very inspiring.

CurrentsTom Stephens
Tame ImpalaCurrents
Couldn’t deny Kev the props he deserves. The tunes are written, recorded, performed and produced all by the man himself, on his lonesome. There wasn’t even a dude around to get him a coffee when he was feeling flat. When it dropped the band and I listened to it five times in a row driving back from Melbourne. Everything is perfectly placed. The man is a master.

Yours DreamilyEddie Boyd (Eddie Boyd and the Phatapillars)
The ArcsYours, Dreamily,
The album is just filled with bangers from start to finish. Really great songwriting, catchy as f*@k and really interesting production. I would best describe it as soul/motown rock meets wild wild west. Super cool.

Ben MastwykJustin Bernasconi (Justin Bernasconi, The Stillsons)
Ben MastwykMornin’ Evenin’
Mastwyk’s beautifully crafted debut album is full of gems, the songs gently pushes and pulls you all the way from Texas to Melbourne inner north in one long dance.

The GleanerJordie Lane
Brendan WelchThe Gleaner
Thanks to local new Ballarat label, Heart Of The Rat Records, this brilliant album was given new life in October. Undoubtedly my favorite Australian voice, Brendan’s epic songs are matched by Paul Dempsey (Something For Kate) with the producer hat on! I know already it’s gonna be one of my favorite records of all time!

Coming HomeBroads
Leon BridgesComing Home
Our pick for 2015’s top album was the debut album from Texan soul singer Leon Bridges. Co-written with members of Texan band White Denim, the album perfectly pays homage to that moment in history when gospel music bled into the world of soul. Particularly reminiscent of the velvet tones of Sam Cooke, the charismatic charm of this album had us absolutely bowled over, and has been played on high rotation since its release mid way through the year. Check out the single “Lisa Sawyer” – absolute retro gold.

Father John MistyTanya Batt
Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear
I can’t even express what this album did to me the first time I heard it. It’s no hidden secret that Joshua Tillman is one of the best singer/songwriters of our generation/ever. His lyrical ability to tell a story is like no other. Then throw in the incredible voice and arrangements within his work and you just die a little inside with the pain he shares with you. I am a bit of a sucker for a concept album also so this is why this ended up being the winner. It’s such an honest album, so honest that he found it incredibly hard playing these songs in front of those close to him, and I feel that’s something I can relate to. I love you, Father John Misty. Thank you for sharing this with us all.

Such JubileePaddy Connor (Lime and Steel)
Mandolin OrangeSuch Jubilee
This duo have a magic touch of writing and playing songs that seem deceptively simple: and sometimes just that little extra beat or chord that grabs you. That can really play, but it’s never flashy: feels like you’re around a kitchen table at 2am with old friends singing that one song that opens their heart.

Jason IsbellAndrew Swift
Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free
A lot of my friends ok the music industry were raving about Jason Isbell, especially the women. If his name got mentioned on social media it was often followed by “swoon” or “my future husband” but it was actually my Dad that handed me his album and upon first listen I didn’t understand the fuss. As I’m lazy when it comes to changing CDs in my car it stayed in there for a while and played through several times and I came to realise just how impressive this man is. Something More Than Free is an album of songs I wish I had written. They’re not catchy when you first hear them but they grow on you, become a part of you, draw you in so you want to listen to the lyrics and thank god they do, the man is a wordsmith! This is one of those album where you don’t skip a song from start to finish.

Hell Breaks LooseTristan Goodall (The Audreys)
Shane NicholsonHell Breaks Loose
We don’t always agree on things like this, but in the case of the best album of 2015, my band-mate Taasha and I are in complete agreement. Shane Nicholson’s Hell Breaks Loose is a killer record. A break-up album for the educated country set (I think that’s us) that hums with vibrant melodies, deadly hooks and stinging lyrics, it sets a new bar for roots acts in our neck of the woods. Gently driving acoustic guitars and shuffling drums support a singer in search of a new start – confident, melancholy and yet tuned to hope.

Be ItThe April Maze
Jesse WitneyBe It
Four tracks of gold. The musicianship, arrangements and production are off-hook. Track 2, “Higher”, really takes you higher, it is so uplifting. But track 4, “Australia”, Jesse does something really special – it is very beautiful and captures the true essence of Australia. The perfect soundtrack for a roadtrip.

Glass FoolTodd Sibbin
Kaurna CroninGlass Fool
I’ve watched Kaurna’s development through four releases and on every level Glass Fool marks a significant step up. The songwriting, both lyrically and melodically, arrangement, production and his band’s cohesion (particularly Chris Panousakis’ lead guitar work) combine for a very tidy release indeed.

PondBetty & Oswald
PondMan It Feels Like Space Again
Oh boy the new Pond album has been round the block a few times at our place. Sonically arousing and drenched in all that bowie-esque glamour, these guys are right on!

Glass FoolBeth Stephen (The Little Stevies)
Tim GuyChords
The first thing that stood out to me hearing Chords for the first time was the song arrangements. I suspected from the moment I heard them that a lot of thought had gone into the structure of the songs and the lengths of the sections in each song. None of the songs are too over played, it’s full of great guitar licks and vocal hooks, the melodies and chord progressions are really interesting and unexpected, and Tim has given great vocal performances on all tracks. He’s used his whole vocal range and included stacks of killer harmonies. The album covers a range of genres which I think can be risky sometimes in terms of keeping a natural flow. But Tim pulled it off. My fav’s are “Footsteps” and “It’s The Weekend”. Chords is a strong collection of strong stand alone songs.

Kendrick LamarHayden Calnin
Kendrick LamarTo Pimp A Butterfly
This is a piece of art. Kendrick has made what I consider to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. He’s doing wonders for an ever-rising genre of music and delivers an intelligent, modern, original, political and poetic masterpiece with this LP. Fav track: “Alright”

Glass FoolWillowy
The Weather StationLoyalty
Beginning with a stumbling fast paced picking of the guitar and warped percussion – the mood of this album is immediately established, taking the listener on a somber yet hopeful sonic journey. Even with upbeat songs like the title track “Way it is, Way it Could Be” there lies a weight in expectation. Noticing this year a pull towards a fuller and often more electric centered production, each track on this album unashamedly bares it soul with a stripped back, predominantly acoustic, yet thoughtful layering of instruments that builds when needed. The album highlights Tamara Lindeman’s emotional and warmly experimental vocals that compliment her soul bearing songwriting.

Jason IsbellEmily Barker
Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free
Like many, I adore Jason’s record, Southeastern, so it was always going to be a difficult album to follow up. I bought Something More Than Free at Grimey’s record shop in Nashville and it was the only CD I had in my hire car for the week I was there. It is fantastic. As always, his raw lyrics and vocal delivery are arresting. Dave Cobb’s production is also killer. My favourite track is “Children of Children” because it reminds me of the beautiful, haunting Dillard and Clark record, Through the Morning, Through the Night.

TravellerTimothy James Bowen
Chris StapletonTraveller
He’s got a voice that will leave you mouth-gapingly speechless and a beard/hat combo to match. Do your ears a favour and get into it as fast as humanly possible. In particular, listen out for the track, “Tennessee Whiskey”. Good Lord.

Mother's Not Feeling Herself TodayLiz Stringer
Suzannah EspieMother’s Not Feeling Herself Today
Suzannah has always been one of my favourites. As a writer and performer. This new collection of songs, recorded with Jeff Lang at his studio and a stellar band, is another heartbreakingly beautiful one. One of the few artists that consistently brings me to tears, Espie has trawled some depths lyrically throughout this album that few would be brave enough to attempt and, in doing so, has cracked open a vein of shining gold. It’s stunning.

Songs to PlayJulia Jacklin
Robert ForsterSongs to Play
I hadn’t heard of Robert Forster until I listened to him being interviewed by Richard Fidler about story songs from the 1970s. I liked his talking voice and his passion for Carly Simons “You’re So Vain”, I’d never really listened closely to the lyrics. So I looked up his record and it made me really happy! His wobbly vocals, Australian accent, the Christmas bells in “And I Knew”. Listen to “A Poet Walks” if you need a confidence boost over the Christmas socialising period.

Dorsal FinsRoscoe James Irwin
Dorsal FinsMind Renovation
An absolute cracker of a record from some of the best dudes in Melbourne. With Ella Thompson (GL), Jarrad Brown (Eagle and The Worm) and Liam McGorry (Saskwatch) at the helm, there was no chance this record wasn’t going to rule. Sweet 90s garage vibes and some great electro boogie, all without actually sounding like a retro throwback record. “Nothing Left to Hide” with its Iggy-ness, and “Heart On The Floor” are standouts. One of the best live bands kicking around as well.

MotorheadShane Nicholson
MotorheadBad Magic
After 40 years in the game, they have just released one of their best records ever. The songs, the execution, the sheer power, the consistent disregard for trends. Best band that ever was.

Hell Breaks LooseThe Weeping Willows
Shane NicholsonHell Breaks Loose
The combination of skilfully crafted songs and his soul-soothing voice place Shane Nicholson in the world-class league of singer-songwriters. To us, “Hell Breaks Loose” is Song of the Year and we challenge you to stay dry-eyed throughout “Single Fathers”, “Secondhand Man” and “Hermannsburg”.

PassengerThe Once
PassengerWhispers II
Passenger is a songwriting king. There are songs on this record that will kick you in the guts, make you question your very own choices of the heart, make you remember all the feelings that you stopped allowing yourself and all in the most positive way. AND he is donating ALL of the album sales to UNICEF in a quest to help end painful hunger in Liberia. What? He’s unreal. Just sayin’.

RadiusThe Brouhaha
Allen StoneRadius
The lead single “Freedom” hooked me in. Live video on top of Capitol records, so much soul, so much vibe. Love love love 🙂

The MiraculousMusketeer
Anna Von HausswolffThe Miraculous
I had the pleasure of watching Anna play the pipe organ at the Town Hall in Sydney early in the year. I also had the pleasure of exploring and playing music in her home country of Sweden, in their summer months. So, when she dropped this album I couldn’t help but fall back into that vivid northern world. I guess that makes me a little biased, but The Miraculous is probably the most well crafted piece of music I have heard all year. I would call it gothic folk rock. It is unique and moving and Anna’s voice will open your soul.

Deeper SouthRosie McDonald (RAPT, Folklore)
Shane HowardDeeper South
So many great albums out this year, but the one that stays with me, like a prayer shawl, is Deeper South by Shane Howard with Ewan Baker and John Hudson. I have huge respect for Shane. His music, poetry, philosophy and voice now seem to have been honed by the elements, love and love lost, empathy with others and his own life struggles. There is no preaching, no soap box, just wry observations of love, despite the struggles and realities of living. The first track, the windswept evocative “Deeper South”, got under my skin and recently when all the news was so dire, I’ve played it like a psalm. I can come back and back to it and each time is moves and calms me. The album has celtic, jazz and folk influences and the other musicians, Ewan on fiddle and mando, and John on beautifully played guitar, complement the songs exquisitely along with guest performers. Live, the experience is just as meaningful but this crowd sourced and lovingly packaged album, like a small hard cover book, is a true work of brilliance and worthy of a place in any collection.

Kendrick LamarMatthew Black (The Bottlers)
Kendrick LamarTo Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar takes to his expansive african-americana scrapbook with a cleverly glinted and winking poet’s eye view of everyday life based subject matter with 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. 

Swaggering back into beat poetesque lyricism mixed with gritty urban, jazz draped drawls he looks at today’s America and further into tommorow’s American influenced world from the perspective of a young black man still fighting the battles his radical forebearers fought. Casting aside industry pushed gangster rap stereotypes this illuminating stew all cooks down into what very well could be classified as the next leap in the evolution of hip hop music.

Universal ThemesGeorgia Fair
Sun Kil MoonUniversal Themes
Because my girlfriend hates it and “Birds of Films” is so beautiful.

courtney barnettLauren Moore (Pepperjack)
Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think And Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett is undeniably a force in the Australian music industry. She has the complexity and aloofness of an aging rock star but with the level headed intellect of a philosopher. The elaborately titled Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit showcases her signature lyrical witticisms and deadpan vocal style but also brings some unexpected angst. It’s refreshing and relatable. Barnett has something to say and the world is listening. I can’t wait to hear more.

Bird Under WaterTom West
Arooj AftabBird Under Water
Bird Under Water is a beautifully serene and lush record by Brooklyn Based Arooj Aftab. I have found myself getting lost time and time again in her complex, haunting melodies and flawless vocals, often splendidly layered and harmonised. The songs feel skilfully composed and even after repeated listens I still get a thrill out of the many unexpected turns and instrumental surprises. I can’t recommend this record highly enough.

Weight of the WorldGeorge Jackson (One Up, Two Down, The Company, Chris Henry & The Hardcore Grass, Buffalo Nickel)
10 String SymphonyWeight Of The World
Nashville based 10 String Symphony released a great full length album this October which has been on high rotation for me since. The 5-string fiddle/banjo duo consists of Rachel Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer who are both fantastic and acclaimed fiddlers, though interestingly this album is strongly song-centric. The minimal instrumentation and vocal arrangements are super interesting to listen to, they’ve come up with some really interesting solutions to creating a full sound with just the two voices and two fiddles (or one fiddle and one banjo) to work with.

Carly Rae JepsonImogen Bel
Carly Rae JepsenE-mo-tion
I was definitely a sucker for Jepsen’s huge hit “Call Me Maybe” but it seemed as though she was headed for one hit wonder territory after that. Not the case! This album is full of fun and catchy hook-filled tunes with production that makes me feel like I’m dancing under a mirror ball on prom night in 1985. It’s full of the energy and naivety of a first crush, and it’s a lot of fun to get swept away in the drama of it all. Best tracks: “E-mo-tion”, “All That”, “Run Away With Me”.

Cold SummersFraser A Gorman
CrepesCold Summers
Tim Karmouche’s songwriting is some of the most exciting music I’ve heard lately. He retains a classic style akin to the Beatles/John Lennon but it’s contemporary, exciting, lyrically interesting pop music at its best.

Loren KateKris Morris
Loren KateTil Night Meet’s The Sun.
Loren is an amazing story teller and the EP captures the honesty and fragility of what she does perfectly. It’s a heartbreaker but there’s hope and love in there. It’s really something.

Blessing and CursingMandy Connell (Mandy Connell, Stray Hens)
Jimmy DowlingBlessing and Cursing
Co-produced by Matt Walker, with harmonies from Lucie Thorne. Simple instrumentation, very Aussie writing style, with stark images of our industrial landscape mixed with the light and space of the countryside. His best realisation yet.

Mother's Not Feeling Herself TodayLes Thomas
Suzannah EspieMother’s Not Feeling Herself Today
Suzannah Espie’s courageous album Mother’s Not Feeling Herself Today tops my list because it shows how music and songwriting can express topics that are usually too taboo to speak about. The honesty and generosity she shares about getting through post-natal depression and early motherhood is extremely rare and beautiful, and for that reason I hope these songs can be heard everywhere. Yes, it’s pretty heavy, but it’s also done in a supremely artful and moving way that would no doubt help countless people to process these under-acknowledged challenges and hardships.

Dick DiverDarren Hanlon
Dick DiverMelbourne, Florida
Boisterous, erudite, effortlessly nostalgic. All four songwriters share an aesthetic of detailed suburban minutiae and find poetry, humour and melancholy in the commonplace. This album feels like such an important beacon of light in Australian music at the moment, so therefore it’s criminal that they don’t play live more.

Tomorrow is my TurnSam Lee
Rhiannon GiddensTomorrow Is My Turn
This is more than a covers album – Rhiannon has taken some classic American song book standards and also lesser known blues and old time songs and crafted the most elegant dynamic and rich album that keeps so much of the original’s flare but represents these songs as though they were brand new and freshly forged. A true pioneer and gifted singer and musician coming into her own.

Brandie carlileFanny Lumsden
Brandi CarlileFirewatcher’s Daughter and Kacey MusgravesPageant Material
Just bloody great music. Purely honest to themselves in their songwriting and production and vocal delivery. Sassy, Classy and smart assy.

Skull n BonesThe Dead Maggies
So we marched through the woodlands to meet up ’round a campfire, and decide on the best album of 2015. After a few gallons of rum we decided that there was nothing good released in 2015. In fact we draw our inspiration from 1830s Tasmanian bushranger music, so we don’t listen to modern stuff. We can however give you a couple of tips for 2016… The Australian Beefweek Show (Newcastle pub-rock-cow-punk yobs) and Dominic Francis Grief Ensemble (Hobart, deep-intelligent-folk-rock), check them both out when they release albums next year. Now, where did I leave that rum…

The Illawarra Folk Festival Drops Its 2016 Lineup

Dougie MacLean
Image Courtesy of Dougie MacLean

You know that the year is getting well and truly getting away from you when 2016 festivals start to drop their lineups. The first to do so is the incredible Illawarra Folk Festival and it’s simply amazing.

If you’ve never made it down to the Illawarra Folk Festival before then 2016 might be your year. Held in the historic town of Bulli just north of Wollongong, the festival is held from the 14th to the 17th January and manages to attract an impressive lineup of international, national and local artists.

The 2016 lineup includes the likes of Dougie MacLean (above), The East Pointers, Catgut, Daniel Champagne, Handsome Young Strangers, Liz Stringer, Rebecca Bastoli, Shane Howard, Shanty Club, The Button Collective, The Dead Maggies, Big Erle, Joe Mungovan, Kay Proudlove and many many more.

For more information about the festival including how to get your hands on tickets check out the official site here. The full lineup is below:

NTERNATIONAL ACTS: Beth Patterson (USA), Donna Dean & The Tui Melody Boys (NZ), Dougie Maclean (SCOT), The East Pointers (CANADA), Environmental Encroachment (USA), Irish Mythen (CANADA), Jonathan Bob Lynn (CANADA), Ken Field (USA), Paul McKenna Band (SCOT), Reg Meuross (UK), Santa Taranta (ITALY), The Poozies (UK), Tim Scanlan & Toshi Bodhran (JAPAN), Underscore Orkestra (USA), Ward Macdonald (CANADA)

NATIONAL ACTS: Alma Mater, Ami Williamson, Andalus Arabic Choir, Astro Cobalt, Banjo Jackson, Black Joak Morris, Black Vat Trio, Bob Rummery, Bush Music Club Inc., Catgut, Chloe & Jason Roweth Band, Craig and Simone Dawson, Daniel Champagne, David Beniuk, David Bridie, Denis Murphy Puppets, Dingo’s Breakfast, Duo Agogo, Ethnodelica, Folkaphonic Youth Orchestra, Frank Yamma, Fresh Off The Boat, Glover & Sorrensen, The Goodwills, Handsome Young Strangers, Harman and Hellens, Humbug, Inka Marka, Innes, James Blundell, Jan Preston’s Boogie Circus, Jeannie Lewis, Jordan McRobbie, Kaisha, Karen Lynne Bluegrass Circle, Ken Field, Keystone Angel, Kutcha Edwards Duo, Lagoon Hill Zydeco, Lily and King, Liz Stringer, Lorraine McCrimmon, Matt Glass and the Loose Cannons, Maypole with Molly, Mexidhalia Dance Group, Merryweather, Mia Wray, Mick Daley, Mick Thomas, Mike Martin, Neil Murray, O’Leary, Out of Abingdon, Peter Mace, Peter Willey and Matthew Hobbs, Queen Porter Stomp, Rebecca Bastoli, Riogh, Santa Taranta, Scarlet’s Revenge, Señor Cabrales, Shane Howard Trio, Shanty Club, Solidarity Choir, Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers, The Button Collective, The Dead Maggies, The East Pointers, The Goodwills, The haBiBis, The Junkadelic Brass band, The Pie Eaters, The Rhythm Hustle , The Settlement, The Wish List, Ungus Ungus Ungus, Union Choirs

LOCAL ACTS: Ana Otero Flamenco, Aviva Sheb’a, Ayanamsha, Az-I-aM, Beatmeisters, Big Erle, Brynn Luker, Chord-eaux, Cinnamon Twist Belly Dance, Circus Wow , Curious Rendition Orchestra, Dane Overton, Declan Jenkinson, Denis McKay, Doux Manouche, Dru Yoga with Erika Steller, Duncan Chalmers, Eaton Gorge Theatre Company, Fly With Me, Gobsmacked!, Good Tunes Session, Hernan & Janis , Illawarra Breakfast Poets, Illawarra Pipe Band, Illawarra Union Singers, Joe Mungovan, John Broomhall, John Littrich, John Tubridy, Kay Proudlove, Kenny Bartley/Super Kenny, Lilli Story, Love In The Jungle, Melanie April, Merryweather, Middle Eastern Jam, Mz Mally Moo, No Such Thing, Paddy & The Wonderband, Patrick Lyons & The American Creek Band, Rani’s Fire, Ribbon Gang, Ruido, Scientists Behaving Badly, SingGongGo, Southern Crane Martial Arts Academy Inc., Steve Robinson, Stewart Holt, Swing Booty, Swingaleles Ukulele Group, Tamnesia, The Con Artists, The Humphreys, The Legs, The Scratchies, The Shield Maidens & the Celt, Three-Sixty, Tia Juana, Vic Janko Orkestar, Zingara, Zlatkos Balkan Cabaret, Zondrae King, Zumpa

12 Hours at the 2015 Illawarra Folk Festival

Illawarra Folk Festival
Image Courtesy of Illawarra Folk Festival

Every year as my train pulls away from Bulli station after another successful tilt at the Illawarra Folk Festival I promise myself “next year will be the year I come for the whole weekend, not just a day”.

Then when January finally rolls around again and my pockets are empty following the excess of the Christmas period I always find myself whittling down my expectations and deciding “just one day at Illawarra will do”.

But one day is never enough.

The Illawarra Folk Festival is no longer the little festival I first started going to when I moved to New South Wales 10 years ago. And 10 years ago it had already outgrown its life as a “little festival” having moved to Bulli from Jamberoo to accommodate a much larger audience. This year saw more than 11,000 people make their way through the gates of Bulli Showground proving once and for all that the Illawarra Folk Festival is one of the big guys.

There’s plenty of reasons why I’ve always loved Illawarra. The fact it’s an easy train ride from Sydney for one. It’s mid-January timing meaning it manages to attract the best talent from the New Year’s festivals for another. And that despite the fact that there were 11,000 people through the door I can spend my day walking around the site bumping into old friends, making new ones and feeling right at home.

This year I chose Sunday as my one day at Illawarra for no other reason than it fitted my schedule best and the timing of the final concert – around 6pm – meant I wouldn’t be ridiculously late home. I caught the first train down, rocking into the festival before 9am and before, it turns out, most of the music had started. I parked myself where I could see a blackboard session featuring Mandy Connell in the Tantric Turtle, studied the program intently and let the upcoming day wash over me.

And then I was off! Having just a day at the festival meant I needed to see as much as possible in a small amount of time. Anyone tracking my progress around the showground would have seen me almost running between venues, ducking in halfway into sets, saying g’day to the artists as they clambered off stage only to then piss-bolt to the next gig.

This sort of program onslaught meant I missed more than a few of the artists I wanted to see because of clashes including The Mae Trio, Cloudstreet, Fred Smith, Sparrow-Folk and Big Erle. It also meant I managed to catch snippets of artists that I originally didn’t have down on my list like the Tim Edey Trio as I cut through the Slacky Flat Bar on my way to another gig. Plus it meant that by the time I realised I should really eat something most of the stalls had shut up shop for the weekend and I was left with the option of chip-on-a-stick or a sandwich when I got home. I chose the latter.

But I did see some amazing music. And the variety! This is what is special about the Illawarra Folk Festival – in one moment you can watch a contemporary singer-songwriter like Joe Mungovan (who slipped a James Taylor number into his set because he felt is was the only folk song he knew), run between competing folk-punk shows from The Go Set, The Bottlers and Handsome Young Strangers (who were strangely playing at exactly the same time in different venues) or soak up the jazzed up trad of Stray Hens. Artistic director David De Santi is obviously a lover of folk music in all it’s various guises and this flows through to possibly the most eclectic lineup of any festival in Australia.

Of the international guests I was most impressed with Canadian trad trio The East Pointers and the Euro-Scottish folk of Black Market Tune. The former were just a powerhouse live – one of the tightest bands I’ve seen in a very long time and so charismatic! I can imagine they won the hearts of many young ladies in the audience and may even have inspired more than one person to pick up the tenor banjo (well, I was inspired, so that counts). The latter ingratiated themselves with the crowd with the simple charm and ability to switch their Austrian accents to Scottish brogue as their music demanded. I can’t recommend either of these bands enough.

The Stray Hens were my pick of the local acts. I’m sure I’ve seen these guys at The National before but this was the gig that truly made me fall in love with them. Mandy, Sally and Rowena (along with Richard and Ryan in their rhythm section) are interpreting and elevating traditional songs in a way I’m not seeing many Australian artists do and it’s mesmerising. Festival bookers take note – get the Stray Hens on your lineup or forever be sorry.

And then there’s Eric Bogle. I tried not to fill my Illawarra Folk Festival seeing artists I’d seen 100 times before but somehow I still managed to find myself in the Black Diamond Marquee listening to the songwriting legend. And he was everything you’d expect – funny, passionate, engaging and beautiful. When he played “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” introduced with an explanation that he’d been asked to sing the song at the Anzac Day 100 year anniversary sans the final verse (“bugger that”) it was just magic.

As the Finale Parade made it’s way through the Showground I ducked out of the festival and dragged myself up the road to catch the train back to Sydney, exhausted but ultimately satisfied. Once again the Illawarra Folk Festival had exceeded my expectations and left me wanting more – exactly what I want from a folk festival.

My train wound its way through the mountains back to the big smoke and I made a promise to myself – next year “next year will be the year I come for the whole weekend, not just one day”.

Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2014

Turntable

You’ve probably read what we think are the top albums of 2014 and now it’s time to turn to Timber and Steel’s favourite artists and see what they pick as their number one.

We reached out to musicians across the folk spectrum, from local singer-songwriters to internationally acclaimed folk stars and the response, as always, has been amazing. So we’ll shut up and we’ll let the artists do the talking with Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2014:

NightwalkWoody Pitney
Matt WaltersNightwalk
I was a small part of Matt’s crowd-funding campaign to get this album off the ground and it was definitely money well spent! Matt has a really defined, folky sound, which evokes different emotions throughout the album. His understated vocals with his powerful lyrics make a great recipe for an excellent album. My personal highlights are Track 2, “Melbourne Goodbye’ and Track 8, ‘Build A Place’. I highly recommend you give it a listen!

SongsRoland K Smith
John FullbrightSongs
On his second album the best new songwriter in the world pairs lyricism with musicality and musicianship. Seriously, no one is making records as good as this young man from Oklahoma. “High Road”, the album’s penultimate track, still sends shivers down my spine after the hundredth listen. Fingers crossed we see him in Australia soon.

ZabaSteven Barnard (Arbori)
Glass AnimalsZaba
It was a toss up between this record and Jamie Cullum’s Momentum. Both are full are brilliant arranging and some great hip hop and R&B influences. Glass Animals however have created soundscapes, grooves, crochendo, and a singer who’s channelling a rapper, in what I can only describe as indie swag. I have not stopped listening to this record all year

Upside Down MountainTodd Sibbin (Todd Sibbin and the Acadian Driftwood)
Conor OberstUpside Down Mountain
Its been three years since Bright Eyes’ 2011 heavily electronic influenced The Peoples Key and many were expecting a blow back to the early Oberst/Bright Eyes days with the announcement of a solo record. While it certainly is more laid back, the collaboration with producer Jonathan Wilson brings an entirely new aesthetic to anything we’ve heard from an Oberst incarnation (not to mention, in terms of subject matter, Oberst got married three years ago so most of the lyrical content is about the “experiences” of married life, instead of the “experiences” of single life). Defiantly modern sounding (largely due to a decent amount of electronic PAD work), Wilson and Oberst have managed to retain the stripped back and intimate nature of the songs despite the fact that the tracks are still fairly overdubbed (with a decent amount of electric guitar too!). It’s an extremely ambient record which, after speaking to others, can help take some of the “bluntness” out of Oberst’s delivery, certainly making it one of Oberst’s more “friendlier” releases. I love it.

New MoonLiz Frencham
Sarah HumphreysNew Moon
It may seem biased because I played on this album but the things I love about it are nothing to do with my playing. Sarah’s songwriting is exquisite and her voice sublime. It also has the energy and dynamics of a live album.

The Spoon CollectorsLiam Gale (Liam Gale & the Ponytails)
The Spoon CollectorsA Dime for Charon
Part mellow-drama-rock-opera, part nineteen-seventies-swamp-explosion, but mostly a psychedelic journey through The Spoon Collector’s fabricated landscape beyond space and time. I was present for a lot of the recording of this album, out in central NSW with Sunfield Records, and let me tell you: The Spoon Collectors know how to party. The album features guest vocals by the boys from the Dusty Yellow Sunbeams and characterised artwork by the producer’s brother.

Angel OlsenLauren Moore (Pepperjack)
Angel OlsenBurn Your Fire For No Witness
There’s something consistently cool and brooding about this February release. It’s the fuzzy guitar tones; it’s her angry-drunk to sleepy-drunk vocals. It’s the gripping nature of the tom-heavy drumming in “Forgiven/Forgotten”. You can put this in your ears, down a glass of red and kick in a car window if you want to. I love it when folk meets rock in the most seamless way. And that’s what this album is – an ideal balance of gloom and glow – as well-rounded as a human personality; bleak at times, but honest and changing. As she sings in “High & Wild”, “I’m neither innocent nor wise when you look me in the eyes.” Perfect for long walks in the dark and putting out cigarettes in the carpet.

Salad DaysJay Penaflor
Mac DemarcoSalad Days
I decided to listen to this album before dozing off to sleep. Didn’t sleep of course. My ears were completely drawn to the ‘jizz jazz’ of Mac Demarco and ended up listening to the very end of the album. Upon listening to this album, I found myself head-bopping to nearly all his songs. He has a way of messing with your head with his romantic-like melodies and bizzare yet addictive twangy guitar riffs. For some reason I feel like this album should be listened in a cafe in Paris or something. My hat’s off to Mac Demarco. Listening to him inspired me to write ‘Fridge Buzz (Choirs Of Suburbia)’ on my Incentive EP, though I doubt it’s got nothing on any of his tunes.

BeckOisin Leech (The Lost Brothers)
BeckMorning Phase
On this album Beck appears in the desert wearing silver robes and speaking in tongues of crystal and cold fire. The songs are immaculate. The precision and emotion in this album makes it so special. This album was my close companion as we toured the world. I love it dearly.

The CoralMark McCausland (The Lost Brothers)
The CoralThe Curse of Love
This album was recorded eight years ago and kept hidden in a treasure chest until the flavours had stewed. It’s a unique album of frightening beauty and its songs hold many secrets. I’d been waiting to hear these songs for centuries without realising it. The album immediately unlocked a labyrinth of mysteries to me from the first note to the last. It’s boss.

The No-Hit WonderFrank Turner
Cory BrananThe No-Hit Wonder
Everything Cory does is pretty much flawless – it’s a real wonder to me that he’s not better known than he is. Most every songwriter I know loves his stuff and feels slightly daunted by it, he’s so much better than the rest of us! This new album is no exception. It’s worth the price for the opening lines of “The Only You” alone. A classic record in the making.

Jack WhiteClaude Hay
Jack WhiteLazaretto
This one’s easy for me, Jack White’s Lazaretto. It’s full of wicked riffs, catchy melodies, analog raw production, brilliant songs, all the ingredients for a perfect album. I’ve flogged it to death.

Otis GibbsBill Jackson
Otis GibbsSouvenirs of a Misspent Youth
As well as being a native of Indiana, Otis Gibbs is also noted as “a storyteller’s storyteller” who symbolizes the true essence of the independent spirit thriving in the East Nashville neighbourhood he now calls home. Fiercely independent, Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth produced by Thomm Jutz is Gibb’s seventh album since 2002. Folk is Otis’s style but country is his flavour and many are predicting that this will be his breakout album. Not that it matters as Otis writes to inspire. If you like Guy, Townes, Steve etc then get on board. Every song on this album is a highlight, so as they say “lean in and listen” and you won’t be able to stop. My favourite track: “Ghosts of Our Father’s”. Otis Gibbs has also recorded nearly 100 podcasts under the title Thanks for Giving a Damn that consists of conversational interviews with those who write, sing and play for a living – free on iTunes.

Lily OSam Lee
Sam AmidonLily-O
An album of absolutely sensitive genius, maturity in craft and skill in story telling that is heads beyond most other albums about

Hey RosettaWinterbourne
Hey RosettaSecond Sight
Such a good album! Tim Baker’s vocals are addictive and they’re backed up by clever and moving lyrics. Each song is thick with real instruments, which move together in a way that still feels fresh after the tenth listen. It just makes you feel good.

Damien RiceRyan Oliver (Olivers Army)
Damien RiceMy Favourite Faded Fantasy
It’s classic Damien Rice melancholy but with a new focussed indie-pop sensibility. The songs are well crafted, passionate, raw and honest and you feel like you’re sitting right in his Icelandic borrowed home-studio. The production is beautiful. I love the lengthy songs that take you on a wild journey and the lush orchestral arrangements that almost drown out everything else, in a very good way.

Caitlin ParkHeyMun
Caitlin ParkThe Sleeper
Caitlin Park is a real gem and her latest album is a reflection of great ambition and perspective. A body of work exploring intricate layers of acoustic blended with touches of electronic (“Wake Up In A Whirr”) and thought provoking verses (“Hunt For The Young”) all in all results in a real treat for the senses indeed. Paired with sound engineer extraordinaire Sam Brumby, The Sleeper is a fusion of great ideas executed beautifully. Reminding us of how lucky we are to have inspiring talents like this in Australia.

AtlasCaitlin Harnett
Real EstateAtlas
Bittersweet lyrics, dreamy vocals and guitars and just the right amount of ache to make you fall in love with this record over and over again.

Mikhael PaskalevLittle May
Mikhail PaskelevWhat’s Life Without Losers
This album has been the prominent soundtrack to my year. It is perfection and has really inspired me to think outside the box creatively. Such a genuine guy who deserves all the success that will continue to come his way.

Nikki LaneBex Chilcott (Ruby Boots)
Nikki LaneAll Or Nothin’
It takes about five minutes of watching a Nikki Lane show to become a totally dedicated fan girl and although album was a slow burner for me, its infectious nature took hold this year. She’s got to be one of the nicest badasses both in person and in song. The songs are just good, strong songs that are both honest and lyrically pretty clever, classy hooks and a really good dose of steel and slide which always pulls at my heartstrings. Totally won my heart over this year!

Angus and Julia StoneChris Panousakis (Timberwolf)
Angus & Julia StoneAngus & Julia Stone
For me it would be Angus & Julia Stone’s self titled album no doubt. It’s such a punchy, refreshing version of their songwriting, and there’s an intangible sense of unity between the two that you can really feel listening to it as well as seeing them play live. It almost feels a lot more vulnerable or honest, either way it’s pretty special.

Apex TwinThe Ellis Collective
Aphex TwinSyro
After 13 years, Richard James’ Syro is a tuneful, buoyant and humble return, playfully heralded by a green blimp hanging over London and announced from the depths of the deep web. Without any sonic uppercuts, the likes of Windowlicker or Come To Daddy, Syro dwells in analog manipulations more common to his Analord series (released as AFX) and serves as the frontrunner of what more may come now that the 13 years without Aphex Twin has passed. How bloody exciting!

Daniel ChampagneBearded Gypsy Band
Daniel ChampagneThe Gypsy Moon – Volume II
Dan is one of the most hard working Australian musicians I know of. He is a prolific songwriter and musician of great calibre. The songs on this album are full of depth, they talk of life on the road, of friends and lovers lost and the constant moving on that comes with the touring life. Beautiful melodies accompanied by some of the finest guitar playing you’ll hear makes this album so great.

Against MeBilly The Kid
Against Me!Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Why? It’s the most real, rocking, sincere, vulnerable, brave and catchy thing to get stuck in my ear holes in awhile, with a lyrical perspective that is engrossing, inclusive and yet daringly different. Also, I love these people.

WastelandsMatthew Black (The Bottlers)
Protector 101Wastelands
Tuning into the crackling airwaves of cinematic score saturated post-apocalyptica never felt so awesomely ominous. Maine synthwave artist Protector 101 has paid homage to future shock, nuclear holocaust ravaged movies with an envisioned 17 track soundtrack entitled, Wastelands. Protector 101 takes the listener on a rugged journey through ravaged love, gang warfare and bleak radiated Australian desertscapes circa 2099 with a musically based visual dexterity I could only liken to John Carpenter or Vangelis.

EnmaarCatgut
TinariwenEmmaar
We’ve listened to countless favourite albums on long car trips, lots of familiar country and old-time and bluegrass. But Malian Tuareg band Tinariwen really struck us: rolling rhythmic grooves, bluesy electric guitars and beautiful low male vocals. There’s a hypnotic drive to this desert music that draws you in, we love it!

FanfarloMike McCarthy
FanfarloLet’s Go Extinct
Fanfarlo’s third LP Let’s Go Extinct quickly danced its way to the top of my record collection this year. Fanfarlo have been my go to fun music choice for a few years now and although there are a few more psychedelic moments on the album Let’s Go Extinct delivers with solid songwriting, vocal delivery and production.

Valerie JuneSam Buckingham
Valerie JunePushin’ Against A Stone
It’s bluegrass, it’s folk, it’s rockin’ it’s heartbreaking, it’s uplifting and her voice carries each track in a vulnerable, sexy, “I take no shit, but I just wanna be loved” kind of way. I kind of want to marry her

Caitlin HarnettShane Nicholson
Caitlin HarnettThe River Runs North
My favourite album of 2014 is The River Runs North by Caitlin Harnett. A collection of great songs, played with heart and a minimum of fuss. As an album, it’s incredible – as a DEBUT album, it’s astonishing.

Jack WhiteEddie Boyd (Eddie Boyd and the Phatapillars)
Jack WhiteLazaretto
Jack White! What a man! His latest offering, Lazaretto is a dirty, raucous blues/rock/country mash-up which has been playing on repeat in my kitchen for months. Crunchy guitar riffs, wailing fiddles, ghoulish backing vocals, and a piano which has surely been bashed to pieces by now!
Easily my favourite album of 2014.

Lera LynnJohn Flanagan
Lera LynnThe Avenues
I came home from Nashville in October with a stack of incredible records but this is the one that I’ve listened to non-stop since getting back. I’d call it Americana-Folk-Pop, similar to Lisa Mitchell but more Americana and less pop. The melodies are catchy, but there are offbeat moments (which is what I love about it) and the production is slick and atmospheric tying it all together. Her voice is smooth and irresistible and yes, I might have a slight crush on her.

Tim WheelerTony Wright (VerseChorusVerse)
Tim WheelerLost Domain
The Ash frontman released his debut solo record this year and surprised everyone in that it didn’t sound remotely like the mother-band and it wasn’t (as a lot of solo debuts tend to be) an acoustic record! These songs deal with the loss of Tim’s dad, George, how it affected him and his family and how it’s still affecting them. It’s a work of tremendous emotion and beauty. I lost my mother at a young age and hearing some of the lyrics in this wonderful album tugged at my heart strings in every manner possible. From the instrumental, bluesy movers to the frankly stunning single, “Vigil”, this deeply personal album has an extremely universal appeal. A truly beautiful and happy/sad achievement on a topic we all, sooner or later, can relate to.

Emily BarkerEmily Barker (Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo, Vena Portae)
Lucinda WilliamsDown Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
I love this new record of Lucinda’s. I’ve been a fan for many years now and this is stand out. The songwriting is exceptional and very much complimented by a great production. Her voice is weathered, broken and beautiful as ever. Very classy and visceral.

The War On DrugsAidan Roberts (The Maple Trail)
The War On DrugsLost In The Dream
Unlike so many rock bands who meddle with reinventing a retro sound, The War on Drugs possess several assets that make them soar above the rest – particularly with this dark, spectacularly beautiful record. The songs live in a world almost entirely ruled by common-time 80’s new-wave rock rhythms, the landscape populated by widescreen analog synth textures and twisting, chorusy guitars. And above it all, the beauty of Adam Granduciel’s weary and insistent tenor tugs you through these resigned and ponderous story songs like a troubled, trusted brother. Amazing.

Hot DreamsLacey Cole (Lacey Cole & the Lazy Colts)
Timber TimbreHot Dreams
Nostalgically cinematic, hauntingly beautiful and profoundly strange Timber Timbre’s 2014 album Hot Dreams sounds like 50s L.A noir meets Elvis-era Vegas complete with the picturesque road-trip around Arizona it took to get there. Equal parts sexy and creepy Hot Dreams is breathtakingly weird. Each song emerges from the shadows reveling itself as either the night of your life or your worst nightmare, you choose, then hold on tight and enjoy easily the best musical expression of the Grand Canyon ever recorded.

The TimbersGemini Downs
The TimbersLawless
Gotta go with local lads The Timbers. Not only do we love watching them bring crowds to life at awesome Adelaide venues like The Grace, now we have an awesome CD that beautifully captures their live, real, raw spirit. One of the most hard working bands we know and I dare you to try to keep your feet still when that trumpet kicks in.

The War On DrugsMatt Walters
The War On DrugsLost In The Dream
For months I kept hearing about this album and it took me a while to finally get to it. I remember my friends gushing about The War on Drugs. That kind of turned me off. You need to find things in your own time. Anyway, I was sitting in a cafe near my house and this beautiful dreamy music was playing. I thought it was a Dylan live recording that I hadn’t heard or something. So I Shazam’d it! I rarely use Shazam – but I knew I couldn’t miss this. I had to know. And it was the song, “Lost in the Dream”. That beautiful dreamy harmonica – the strange cryptic words – the ambience captured in the recording just pulled me in. It had me immediately. So I went home and bought the record and played nothing else for about 6 months. I’ve only really just stopped. I love this album. The production is just so pristine, flawless and unique. Adam Granduciel is like a master painter with his guitar sounds on this record – so ethereal and haunting. His playing is so detailed, yet raw and visceral at the same time. “Suffering” is so beautiful. Simple and profound. Oh, and If the guitar solo in that song doesn’t destroy you, nothing will. Masterpiece.

Ryan AdamsImogen Clark
Ryan AdamsRyan Adams
This record is heart-wrenching, soulful, moving and pure magic, but also somehow packs this almighty punch and really rocks out. Ryan Adams manages to be a total electric-fuelled punk rocker and a sensitive, poignant, acoustic singer/songwriter all at once. He’s the champion of wearing his heart on his sleeve and he leaves no stone unturned. Thank you, DRA.

Sweet JeanThe Weeping Willows
Sweet JeanGreetings From Goodbye
It is perhaps a little biased of us to choose Sweet Jean’s Greetings From Goodbye mini-LP as our top album of 2014 as it contains most of our favourite songs from the (many) times we’ve seen them play live over the years. Sime Nugent and Alice Keath are everything we would love to be as a duo; timeless singer-songwriters, multi-instrumentalists and heavenly harmonisers, with two of the best voices in the country. Much of this EP was actually recorded “live” in Sime and Alice’s laundry, which further demonstrates their effortless proficiency. Stand-out tracks are Dock Boggs’s “Country Blues” (in the style of Peggy Seeger), the traditional “Weeping Willow” and “Spring Bird” written by Keath and Nugent. Sweet Jean definitely have a gothic-folk sound that is all their own but check them out if you’re into the old-school folk stylings of She and Him or Americana duos Mandolin Orange, The Civil Wars or Australia’s own Jep and Dep.

SiaAnna Buckingham (Nova & the Experience)
Sia1000 Forms of Fear
She’s never had one distinctive style to her career. Some would call her an indie goddess and others a pop princess. 1000 Forms of Fear is an anguished pop album, in its smartest and human form. The first album she has released in four years, her powerful and perfect melodies remain uniformly magnificent throughout these twelve songs, with deeper and darker lyrics that highlight a more intimate side of Sia. Beautiful in all its vulnerability, she delivers great pain with even greater triumph. Every track is magnificently crafted and combines a faultless balance of violently raw emotion with total uplift. You are invited to look into this woman’s anguish through melodies and vocal cartwheels that can make you think she is unbreakable . Hauntingly beautiful in all its cleverness. My favourite by far.

Ben AbrahamTimothy James Bowen
Ben AbrahamSirens
My top album actually only came across my ears just the other day. It’s Sirens by Ben Abraham. He’s a friend of a friend of mine who I met at a house concert we were playing together in Melbourne around this time last year. He said that he had something in the works but I had no idea it would be this tasty. It’s like if you put Gotye, Josh Pyke and Passenger in a room and told them not to come out till they had something musical going on between them. Sort of. But all in his own greatness. Go and check it out.

Sun Kil MoonPeasant Moon
Sun Kil MoonBenji
Our individual short lists were like night and day…from Robert Ellis (Harvey) to Asgeir (Josie). Benji was the point of convergence. We’ve never been to Ohio, but this land of lethal backyard fires, mercy killing, teen sex and albinos can sure inspire some amazing music. This is a brutal and beautiful collection of stories about life, death and gratitude. And it can be confronting – there’s nowhere to hide as Mark Kozelek shuns the use of metaphor and other distractions. This, combined with the mostly simple arrangements, produce deceptively insightful songs about the tragedy and joy of what it is to be human. Dark slacker folk at its finest – think Smog meets Pavement meets Neil Young.

Lily OPete Flood (Bellowhead)
Sam AmidonLily-O
A really great ensemble album rooted in the inspired pairing of Amidon’s spiky banjo picking and Bill Frisell’s more expansive guitar playing. The overall tone is focused and quietly daring – traditional material given space to unfold and evolve in unusual and sometimes disquieting ways – a real breath of fresh air.

Everything UnsaidSam Sweeny (Bellowhead)
Screaming MaldiniEverything Unsaid
This is the second and final album from one of my favourite bands of all time. Perfect, innovative intelli-pop from a band who never got the recognition they deserved.

The Moral of the ElephantJon Boden (Bellowhead)
Eliza and Martin CarthyThe Moral of the Elephant
Two English folk greats on top form, shaking it up a bit with some unexpected material and totally nailing the traditional stuff, as ever.

Ben AbrahamAl Parkinson
Ben AbrahamSirens
I had been waiting for this album for years. YEARS. Ben Abraham is one of my favourite Australian songwriters and performers. You know when you go and see someone play and you HAVE to buy their cd, it’s not a choice, you have to scavenge around your Mary Poppins bag for dollars and even ask your friends if you can borrow some money to buy their album? This is how you would feel if you saw him play and the album is more than we as listeners had hoped for. It was absolutely worth the wait. The production on the album suits Ben’s songs perfectly; subtle where it should be, interesting and very clever. The album was only released in November but I just cannot stop listening to it. ‘Speak’ was the single he released from the album and it’s one of those “EVERYONE BE QUIET AND PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS” songs. Although I’ve listened to it probably 300,000 times, every time is like the first time I heard it. Other favourites are ‘You and Me’, ‘I Belong To You’ and ‘Songbird’ oh and ‘Collide’… Okay so they’re all beautiful. I’m so glad that I finally have these songs in my ears and I’m really excited to see where this stupidly talented persons career heads.

Southerly ChangeSivan Agam (The April Maze)
Southerly ChangeSoutherly Change
I love putting this album on first thing in the morning to get my day going with good vibes. It reminds me to live in the moment. Even if it’s cold outside this album makes me feel like I’m on summer holidays. There are some great singalong tunes in there too, so it’s the perfect album for long road trips.

Searching for TallSophie Klein (Little Wise)
Lauren GlezerSearching for Tall
This Melbourne songwriter likes to describe herself as a true “feeler”. That’s is exactly how I would describe my connection to this little record; emotional. The production, replete with gorgeous string arrangements on certain tracks, gracefully shines a deserving spotlight on Glezer’s tender and sultry vocals. Similarly, her long time rhythm players are sensitive and nuanced. But it is her personal, ever-so-human stories and her unforgettably breathy vocal delivery that really tug on my heartstrings.

Open SwimmerRose Wintergreen
Open SwimmerCanyon
Floaty, nostalgic, haunting melodies anchored with grit, sprinkled with sunshiney pop hooks and glorious references to Melbourne life.

SoutheasternThe Audreys
Jason IsbellSoutheastern
Perhaps his first great solo work, Isbell’s Southeastern is a masterclass in songwriting that doesn’t just touch on its themes of regret and redemption but mines them in ways we’ve never before heard. We were lucky enough to see Jason perform a highlight from the record, opening track “Cover Me Up”, at this year’s Americana Music Awards in Nashville. He got the award for Best Album and we got the pleasure of hearing him play.

Ray LamontagneAshleigh Mannix
Ray LamontagneSupernova
What a surprise this album was! It had me absolutely hooked from the first spin. These psychedelic sounds are completely different to anything I’ve heard from Ray Lamontagne before. This, coupled with its catchy hooks and wonderful lyrics made it a no-brainer for my choice of album of the year. It’s an anywhere album! I love it!

Rob MuinosDan Arnott (Dan and Amy)
Robert MuinosYou’re Not Alone
There have been a few releases this year by wonderful artists who I’m lucky enough to be great mates with, and I think my favourite of these is the debut EP by Robert Muinos called You’re Not Alone. Robbo does what amazing songwriters do; his songs of very personal moments somehow become universalised, making it feel as though you’ve been through whatever he’s singing about yourself, even if you’ve never experienced anything like it. His voice and his melodies are beautiful and I can’t wait for more. (Notable mention to Jackson McLaren’s album)

Daylight ExpressJames Kenyon
Tobias HengeveldThe Daylight Express
Hengeveld’s lyrics are brilliant. He’s operating at a level above. They’d be compelling enough without music, but his melodies and musicianship and that of his band elevate it to great album status for me. Lyrics that good just keep on giving. Every listen brings me to another great line or phrase. “All the old TVs on the side of the road…” that line in “Fools Rush In” kills me. Or “Our Katherine owned a temper like her name-sake. The firecracker always spinning off its nail” from “The Daylight Express”. Brilliant song, and heart breaking.

LulucRuth Hazleton – (Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton)
LulucPasserby
Gently and quietly profound, Luluc are perfecting the art of simplicity – a trait that is very unique and brave in this age of musical trickery. Unpretentious, disarming, beautifully written, recorded and produced with a “sound” completely their own, Passerby features beautiful vocal harmonies, sophisticated melodies and honest lyrics. Recommended for long drives, Sunday afternoons or whenever your feet and/or heart need to touch the ground again.

BelovedGeorgia Fair
New GodsBeloved
Because “Caravan park” taunts me, “I Love You Too” is like cringing in the mirror, “Beneath the World” is just simply beautiful, “Too High” makes me cry and “Skyman” makes me dance.

BeckDustin Tebbutt
BeckMorning Phase
For me this record perfectly balances precisely sculpted songs and production with organic sounds, and raw stories. I get the sense that this album is a series of “captured moments” in the studio as opposed to so many modern records where every track is edited to an inch of its life. It’s also both hi fi and lo fi at the same time, with the acoustic guitars and drums almost remaining unprocessed while the colours created by the lush reverbs and Beck’s characteristic lazy vocal performances take you on journeys through vast spaces.

Dwight Sings BuckNick Keeling (Mustered Courage)
Dwight YoakamDwight Sings Buck
This ain’t your mother’s country music … it’s more like your grandmother’s! The sweet and pretty country music coming out of Nashville in the 1950’s got a punch in the face by the electrified honky-tonk coming out of Bakersfield California. Pioneers like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard plugged in their telecasters, set the drummer to shuffle, and layed down what would be a huge influence on the music of The Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and obviously Dwight Yoakam. Here Dwight nails the style and sound of Bakersfield country but with the fidelity of modern recording techniques. Pull up a barstool and let the steel guitar take you up Highway 99 to that oil patch they call Bakersfield.

StromaeKim Churchill
StromaeRacine Carrée
My album of the year is Racine Carrée by the Belgian artist Stromae. It has an essentially electronic dance feel, which is impeccably well complimented by absolutely brilliant song writing. I have had endless pleasure in sitting around on Google translate (as Stromae sings in French) discovering what each of my favourite songs is about. He sets the scene of each song magnificently and opens up discussions that are quite challenging for the listener. Given the dance feel – I find it amazing that people all over the world are jumping up and down in arenas to these words of wisdom. Stromae has incredible film clips – the artistic direction is both engaging and unique. He also incorporates elements of his clips into his live performances of each song and way he dances is literally ground breaking. There is a reason the new single “Papaoutai” has had over 200 millions views. Stromae is a master craftsman on every level and quickly becomes a complete obsession.

RuinsSarah Humphreys
Kris MorrisRuins
Ruins is a breath of honesty in a sea of over-earnest, over-thought out music that’s flooding my ears at the moment. I need truth in what I listen to and this is as raw as it gets and totally from the heart, a broken one. Bravely and beautifully produced by Kasey Chambers, he’s like the Australian Steve Earle.

Damien RiceJoel Barker
Damien RiceMy Favourite Faded Fantasy
I was driving to Denmark in the south of Western Australia, listening to NPR’s All Songs Considered program, when one of the program hosts started talking about Damien Rice’s long hiatus being over with the release of his new album My Favourite Faded Fantasy. It’s been so long since Damien has released anything that I kind of forgot what his music is to me. But on first impressions, this record didn’t make much of an impact with me. Not because it’s not staggeringly beautiful, but merely because of how I was listening to it. In the car. Through portable speakers. Driving at 110km per hour. I didn’t do it justice. I found the time the following week to sit down at listen to the record in full, and I’m completely blown away by it.
I’ve come to the conclusion the Damien Rice has three different writing personalities that are vastly different from one another, yet somehow come together to make what is uniquely his. There’s the distinctive guitar melodies, nothing complicated, but kind of like a place to house his other personalities. The second is his lyrical genius. Somehow always melancholic, even in moments of joy, his words resonate with honesty and integrity, self doubt, love and hate. His words become place holders for his third personality, which are the arrangements. Other than perhaps Bon Iver’s self-titled album, I’m not sure I’ve heard an album that balances the sincerity of words with these almost orchestra arrangements that soar with optimisim and drown with sorrow equally. All these personalities come together to give us a collection of songs which probably mean just as much to us as they do to him. I can live with a Damien Rice album every 8 years or so if this is the result. So see you in 2022, Damien. Until then, enjoy the solitude.

Upside Down MountainJack Carty
Conor OberstUpside Down Mountain
This album is beautiful on so many levels. The songs are thoughtfully produced, delicately arranged and seem less overtly melodramatic than most of his previous work, but somehow they still manage hold the same sort of poetic weight and satirically pointed attention to detail that has drawn me to Conor Oberst as a songwriter for years.

True StrengthJulia Johnson (Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens)
True StrengthTrue Strength
Lost in an empty old building in East Berlin while trying to find a bar Ned Colette was playing in, I arrived just in time to discover support act True Strength, an Australian/Danish duo. If you love your folk with a touch of experimentation, or your Joanna Newsom mixed with a bit of Scandinavia, you might love True Strength. The almost a-tonal tinges to their light, delicate melodies only make them more beautiful and robust. Their self titled EP is a work I have found myself returning to often, and their performance that night is a memory I find delicious to linger on.

Tarpaper SkyBrad Butcher
Rodney CrowellTarpaper Sky
The name Rodney Crowell was only made known to me at the beginning of the year by a friend who told me I had to listen to Sex & Gasoline, an earlier release of Rodney’s, which I instantly connected with. I had become aware of a new album being released later this year couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It became the sound track of my first Tasmanian Tour in July this year and is still on high rotation. The way he looks at a song is not only unique but refreshing, this you might not expect from someone who’s been doing it for over 4 decades, but thats the very reason he is still at the top of his game and why this is my pick of 2014.

KimbraCurtis Smith (Yetis)
KimbraThe Golden Echo
Kimbra has got it. Her vocal ability seems limitless and her sense of groove is spot on. Not necessarily “beautiful” or “folky” but I can’t stop listening to it. One of those artists who doesn’t appear to be restricted by any means, and through this is making me think about my voice and to explore it’s capabilities. Also, my brother, sister and I (half of Yetis) are half kiwi, and are way too proud of it. We believe everything that comes out of NZ is brilliant, such as Kimbra.

Royal BloodJoe Murphy (The Timbers)
Royal BloodRoyal Blood
Simply the album is a rocking banger from start to finish!! Influenced heavily by the White Stripes with a touch of Muse at times. Its been on rotation for weeks and responsible for a lot of head banging!!

Gon BoogalooMark Moldre
CW StonekingGon’ Boogaloo
This album was well and truly worth the wait. CW Stoneking managed to reinvent his sound whilst retaining his authenticity. I actually wonder whether he may own a flux capacitor and a DeLorean because there’s no doubt in my mind that he has just stepped out of a 1930’s speakeasy. The fact that he picked up a Fender Jazzmaster for this album and put down the banjo allowed him to swing a little harder and dig himself into deeper grooves. It’s a wonderful blend of blues, jazz and ragtime – yet there is also something here that is intangible and undefinable – and completely his own. Nobody wants to see me dance – I promise you that, but this album makes me want to get up on the floor.

Let It LieStu Larsen
The Bros. LandrethLet It Lie
I randomly met these guys a few months ago when they were on their way home to Winnipeg, Manitoba. They were a last minute support act for my show in Chicago and really blew me away, in fact, I should have been the one supporting them, they were phenomenal. There is something incredibly captivating about these four guys when they play and sing together, both on the stage and on their album. Let It Lie is out in Canada and set for release in the States and Europe in a month or so from what I understand. I haven’t stopped listening to this album since they snuck me a copy in Chicago, hopefully Australian crowds will have the chance to fall in love with them soon!

TemplesTanya Batt
TemplesSun Structures
This year I discovered Temples and thank golly gosh for that. Think the Beatles mix the best of Tame Impala on more psychedelics with the world’s best summer vibes. It suits every mood I’m in and compliments it perfectly. I was pretty much hooked from the first bar of the first song “Sun Shelters” on the album and have listened to the album in its entirety most days since. It gives me the warm fuzzy’s because I love the vibe so much.

Stray BirdsThe Mae Trio
The Stray BirdsBest Medicine
It’s extremely hard to communicate the strength and intensity of these three musicians on record, but the album is tracked live and what is captured is still enough to make it our favourite release this year. Lush, gutsy harmonies and warm acoustic instruments are part of the joy of this album, but the most exciting bit is the songwriting – there are some jaw-dropping songs on there. This is just such no-nonsense, straight up, great music to make you laugh and cry and sing along reeeally loudly!

Jack CartyRosie Catalano
Jack CartyEsk
Jack has the most delightful voice, pens lyrics that take you on little faraway journeys, and has recorded an album that includes a song I suffer withdrawals from (“Honey, Do You Know The Way Back Home?”).

HuskyJesse Lubitz (Tinpan Orange)
HuskyRuckers Hill
This is a mighty record. The soaring harmonies and tight arrangements wrap perfectly around the beautifully crafted songs. This is one of the best albums to come out of Australia in the past few years. Faultless.

Jacob WyldeHayden Calnin
Jacob WyldeIt’s All About To Go
I’ve been following folk artist Jacob Wylde’s music for some time, impatiently waiting for an EP release from him for far too long. He’s 18, from Perth and been very busy with school I imagine. Then one day, It’s All About To Go came along and (pardon my foul mouth) but… HOLY F*CK! He’s the musician the world’s been needing and I’m spreading the word and supporting this guy till the bitter end of my days. Please listen to Jacob Wylde. He’s a rare find.

Kate Miller HeidkeImogen Bel
Kate Miller-HeidkeO Vertigo!
I love the way Kate surprises you with each new album. She never rests on her laurels and she is impossible to pin down. This is what has kept her fan-base so loyal. On this album, she has found the perfect balance of her theatrical leanings with off-kilter pop hooks and her mixture of literal and absurd lyrics. I’m a huge fan of the production on this one and the subtle eighties pop influences that never sound obviously retro. I began following (stalking) her career since her first EP and she has been a huge inspiration to me. Thanks, Kate!

VariousLes Thomas
VariousAustralian Artists for Asylum Seekers
I was blown away by the Australian Artists for Asylum Seekers Christmas album, which was put together by Lindsay Philips and features 25 excellent local songwriters. Christmas albums have never done it for me before, but the quality of every song and the fact that all proceeds go towards supporting the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre make it a beautiful example of an artistic collaboration in the best traditions of giving.

Phantom RadioMichael Paolino (Husband)
Mark Lanegan BandPhantom Radio
I got into Mark Lanegan’s music this year and I don’t know how I got through the last 30 years without it. This album has a pretty diverse sound, going from incredibly soulful, organic southern/gothic rock to some synth experimentation with iPhone drum apps! Best track “Harvest Home”. All in all a great listen.

Possessed By Paul JamesIsaac Graham
Possessed by Paul JamesThere Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely
I stumbled across Possessed by Paul James (stage name of musician Konrad Wert) at a show in San Francisco a few years ago. I was amazed at his effortless and energetic performance and impressed by his ability to seamlessly switch gears between heartfelt folk ballads and fiddle-driven, foot stompers. Although he fell off my radar for a little while I recently tracked down his latest album There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely (2013) and was immediately captivated. Although it was released late last year I’m still claiming it as my favourite for 2014. Through his shrewd lyrics and restless performance, Wert seems to capture both the inevitable joy and loneliness of everyday life. The end product is a series of songs that are as heartbreaking as they are heart-warming. Standout tracks are “Hurricane”, “Where Does All the Time Go” and title track “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely”. Let’s hope he tours here sometime soon.

BeckMatt Dewar (Direwolf)
BeckMorning Phase
I don’t mean to split hairs, but I was vigorously torn between Faker, FKA Twigs and Beck. However I landed on Morning Phase because of its beautiful complicated simplicity. Despite the gusty blend of 60’s inspired psychedelic folk/rock, I’m constantly in awe of a man who can bring so much weight with such blunt phrases like “these are the words you use, to say goodbye”. It’s truly a lament of husky wails, lingering sadness and about 20 years of making records.

About FaceJaye Kranz (Brighter Later)
#1 DadsAbout Face
CAVEAT: I decided to choose my fav local release. It just seems like such an impressive time for Oz music, right? #1 Dads About Face flew in on first listen and still hasn’t left me. As per Big Scary, Tom Iansek is once again behind the production desk, wielding his sonic sensibilities in ways at once strangely familiar, decidedly new, and always astonishingly beautiful. I love how much he does with sometimes the simplest production choices and changes, doing only as much as the song needs. Love the collaborations, “Return To” being my standout. Also: a sax solo. (Equal first: Lowlakes – Iceberg Nerves)

Mia DysonLiz Stringer
Mia DysonIdyllwild
Idyllwild is such a playful and coherent bunch of songs. One of my favourites is “Based On Your Eyes”, a beautiful, honest and soulful love song that’s vulnerable and tender and heaving with feeling. It gets better with every listen which, for me, is a mark of a quality album. There’s a brashness to Idyllwild that I love. Mia seems to have reached another level of writing and playing. Just when you think it can’t get any better.

In The SilenceThom Lion
ÁsgeirIn The Silence
I’ve always admired artists who could mix organic instruments into their sound with electronic circuitry. So many try and fail, yet Iceland’s Ásgeir does it with supreme conviction. His release In The Silence had me intrigued and genuinely moved from the first listen. The Bon Iver influence can be heard throughout (especially in the layered vocal production and acoustic guitars) but Ásgeir carves his own sound through bleeps, bloops and R&B beats. The fact that these songs have been translated from their original Icelandic form to English makes the words all the more wholesome and endearing. His voice exudes a soft, pleading emotion, with ethereal qualities. “Kings and Queens” is a folky song, yet would not be out of place on a chillout sessions compilation. Punctuated by pulsing synths, lyrically it conjures beautiful imagery and a sense of wonder. “Torrent” is an absolute belter, with its anthemic piano line, the band joins in with the spirit of Arcade Fire. Do yourself a favour and check out his vulnerable yet grandiose take of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” on youtube, for an insight into his stunning live show.

ElbowOlivia Hally (Oh Pep!)
ElbowThe Taking Off And Landing Of Everything
Elbow’s arrangements hit you hard, even more so with this latest release. Guy Garvey’s lyrics make you smile, but not because they’re particularly happy. This is a great album, my favourite this year.

KimbraJames McKendry (Takadimi)
KimbraThe Golden Echo
This is not a lo-fi listen, it is as much about sound design and exploration of textures as it is about songs. On each track you can hear that great care was taken to a sculpt a piece of art, and not just write some catchy tunes that everybody would like. It still has Kimbra’s trademark quirky sense of melody but it is far more experimental and eclectic in it’s influences than Vows. There are strong influences of neo-soul, experimental electronic music and psychedelia present. Washy, armchair sinking moments of ambient bliss like those heard on Carolina are contrasted with some edgier and more confronting works like the tongue in cheek ode to nostalgia that is “90’s music”. All in all I’m blown away by this album. Go get it.

Emma SwiftJames Morrison (The Morrisons)
Emma SwiftEmma Swift
Emma really delivered with this album. The songs are full of conviction, and her voice is equal parts of beauty and sorrow. It’s a real late night record. The whole thing is understated and moody, the session band are subtle and tasteful, Anne McCue did a great job with the production, and there’s more than one moment that will bring on a blissful sigh (special mention to the chorus in “James”). Just go and listen to it, watch her live, fall in love with her, and if you meet anyone who belittles the state of Australian country music, throw this their way.

Daniel RossenShannon Carpenter (Sleepy Dreamers)
Daniel RossenSilent Hour/Golden Mile
I love Grizzly Bear so I was probably always going to love this. I’ve always been a big fan of his voice and guitar playing. Was really hard to choose a fav so I should give an honourable mention to The War on Drugs. Their album was ridiculously good as well.

The War On DrugsOllie Brown
The War On DrugsLost In The Dream
It’s the subtle change of the snare drum after the first chorus of Lost in the Dream. It’s the distant piano that melts away in your ears. It’s the shimmering tremolo guitars, driving 80s rock beats and Dylan-esc vocal delivery that makes this record timeless, refreshing and my favourite album of 2014.

S CareyRoscoe James Irwin
S. CareyRange of Light
S. Carey is mostly known for being the drummer and main backing vocalist in the Bon Iver live band, but his own solo records are amazing and place him highly as a genuine artist in his own right. He manages to blend live instruments and orchestration with manipulated ambient sound into something very haunting and really incredible. Once you’ve heard the opening track “Glass/Film”, you’ll be hard pressed not to listen to the whole record. “Crown the Pines”, with it’s free melody and layered double-stop fiddles, and “Alpenglow”, with it’s deep and powerful string arrangement, are both highlights.

The StavesRosie McDonald (RAPT, Folklore)
The StavesIf I Was
I’m really pre-empting as the full album isn’t out until early Feb but I’ve heard snippets of the songs on If I Was from the online trailer for the album and i love it already and have even pre ordered it. I don’t know if you are like me but I tend to judge if I like a song in the first few seconds and this sister act have the goods to deliver. I saw the family band – Emily, Jess, Camilla – at the Cambridge folk festival last year having not heard them before and loved their close harmonies and lovely poetic songs (like Wailing Jenny’s, Fleet Foxes, Crosby Still Nash & Young) but the band could crank when needed also. There is something very special about family voices together that finds a cohesive fullness and beauty. Ukulele, still the new black, was a feature as well as very nice guitar playing. I bought their album Dead, Born and Grown and have absolutely loved listening to it. Their Live at Cecil Sharpe House album is also sublime with a beautiful reading of that American folk ballad “Silver Dagger” made famous by Joan Baez. Like his year’s release pre release of The Blood I Bled From, If I Was was produced by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon in the wintry wilds of Wisconsin and will be on high rotation as soon as I have it in my hands.

Tiny RuinsJane Hendry (Broads, The Nymphs)
Tiny RuinsBrightly Painted One
I had been waiting for this album, as I am a massive fan. Kel (also from Broads) is also a big fan. I was lucky enough to see Holly do a solo album preview show in Melbourne a few months ago put on by the Melbourne Folk Club and she played the entire album in order from start to finish. It was such a beautiful, intimate show. And she’s totally lovely as well.

HozierMark Wilkinson
HozierHozier
A really impressive collection of songs. The production gives the album a rawness and a darkness which I really like.

The War On DrugsAidan Cooney (Boy Outside)
The War On DrugsLost In The Dream
A complete album and the sound of art being perfected over years. Culminating in this painstakingly crafted masterpiece. Beauty from start to finish.

Swimmin TimeTracy McNeil
Shovels & RopeSwimmin’ Time
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent conjure up the dead, awake the living and are in my opinion one of the best and purest forms of male-female–husband-wife country duo’s of all time. On this latest release they tread through deeper waters, transforming darkness into light, dirt into finely cut diamonds, all within just a few bars. I’m at times exhausted having gone on the journey with them but always better for it. Swimmin’ Time is magic! Hands down my favorite release of 2014. “There’s hope where you can’t see it, there’s a light after the storm”. I’m glad Shovels & Rope are around to remind us of that.

GirlAde Vincent (The Tiger and Me)
Pharrell WilliamsGirl
Great voice, great writing, full of fantastic hooks and well executed ideas. And I always love his production. My favourite pop album in years.

Angel OlsenJulia Jacklin
Angel OlsenBurn Your Fire For No Witness
This album sounds like 2014 for me. My housemates can attest that I have probably listened to it too much but it really hit me hard. She crafts really interesting songs which kind of meander but never lose focus. Her voice is this incredibly powerful thing that just cuts right through, she is one of the most unique and evocative vocalists I have ever heard. Some of the best moments on the record are when it’s just a strummed electric guitar and her singing in a whisper. It’s just beautiful heartbreaking lo-fi goodness.

The StavesSibylla Stephen (The Little Stevies)
The StavesThe Blood I Bled From
I am devastatingly slow when it comes to discovering to “new music”, even though I love it. These days, my two year old takes up most of my time (when I’m not concentrating on my own music), so I tend to catch onto things late, but I don’t enjoy them any less. The band I have discovered this year are The Staves. Their music moves me into a steady pace where I feel at peace. I’m pregnant again, and their album replaced my nightly 6pm-ish glass of wine (which is was very much missing!). I also want to shout-out to the best live band I’ve seen all year The Eastern, and the songs of Sweet Jean that featured heavily in the toddler music class my son and I have been attending at the Footscray Arts Centre, Rock On.

Ane BrunJames Lindsay (Breabach)
Ane BrunRarities
We really grew to be big fans of Ane when we were at WOMADelaide and Womad NZ together back in March this year. This album perfectly displays her serene voice, subtle lyrics and brilliant band.

VagabondLyn Taylor (Dear Orphans)
Stu LarsenVagabond
I waited too long for this album. Mike Rosenberg’s production of this album is sublime.

Gretta ZillerNick Payne (Dear Orphans)
Gretta ZillerHell’s Half Acre
I’m a sucker for a good turn of melody and Gretta’s EP has a plenitude of notes that turn in unexpected directions. I also like songs that can take me to a different time and place. The title track “Hell’s Half Acre” transported me straight away to Wyoming, and “the low country where those lands were so so bad … for me”.

HITSMark ‘Looch’ Lewis (Handsome Young Strangers)
HITSHikikomori
This may be a controversial choice nominating a flat out rock and roll band in this forum. But sometimes exceptions need to be made. HITS have delivered a staggering album which stands right up there with the best Australian rock n roll flag wavers before them. Think Radio Birdman, The Saints, The Hard Ons at their best – this album sits right up there with them. Quite possibly the best rock n roll band in the world ATM.

InterstellerLaura Bishop (Chaika, Laura & Susie)
Hans ZimmerInterstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
It starts with a soft theme reminiscent of the opening of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, minuscule in sound like a forgotten echo of humanity’s first footsteps into space flight; progresses to the magnitude of a full church organ with columns of air blasting through metal pipes, matching the enormity of rocket engines launching; later sits back to watch as an observer from afar with a simple yet beautiful piano theme; and even at points uses a theme that is similar to one I wrote myself over a decade ago for a short film about the Apollo 11 mission. Wormholes much? Who knows! Either way, it’s a jolly good ride.

New MoonFanny Lumsden
Sarah HumphreysNew Moon
Generally I am not into “love songs” or sincerity however this album makes me want to hug, love and high five everyone that is dear to me. The song writing is just top notch with equal parts heart, fight and spunk. I also really singing the songs into a wooden spoon and dancing around the kitchen. Also other tops were: Caitlin Harnett’s The River Runs North, Nikki Lane’s All or Nothin’ (yep girl power) and Del Barber’s Prarieography.

Tiny RuinsEmma Davis
Tiny RuinsBrightly Painted One
I was tremendously excited for this release. Holly’s first record, Some Were Meant for Sea, is one of my favourites – a beautiful piece of storytelling, cleverly told and delicately produced. This record has a little more of everything. More instruments, a little more electric, more variation and dynamics, but no less heart. It’s the perfect example of what happens when a musician grows a constant band around her. The arrangements become a little more thought out, the songs lift and fall a little more. Buy this record, wrap it up in paper, and leave it in the letterbox of someone brilliant.

Lily OJoe Gould (The Crooked Fiddle Band)
Sam AmidonLily-O
I bumped into good friend and man of impeccable taste, Mr Leroy Lee, at the Townie. It was 1:30am and luckily I wrote down the recommendation of this album. “You’ll love the beats” said Leroy. Beats? On a Sam Amidon album? He’s never been scared of percussion, but that’s not a comment to expect for the rustic strumming and plucking I’d enjoyed on Sam A’s previous outings. It was drizzly on my walk home, and I took an extra long way just to hear more as the early morning mistiness surrounded me. It perfectly suited the crystal clear production and voice filled with humanity. The version of “Groundhog Variations” is perfect, so try starting there. And if you see Leroy Lee around, get him to recommend your next favourite album.

Sun Kil MoonDarren Hanlon
Sun Kil MoonBenji
Sun Kil Moon had been one of those bands that, due to their bulky catalog and my own laziness, I’d never delved into. I couldn’t find an obvious doorway. I’d even played a show with them in Manchester a few years back, but it was a bad fit. The crowd watched me blank-faced and I felt self-conscious about displaying any kind of sunniness so just put my head down and plowed through. Mark Kozelek didn’t see me play but he was cordial in the bandroom and let me pilfer one of the bananas off his rider.
Just a few months back a good friend, in whose music taste I trust, implored me to listen to Benji, it was much more than a recommendation. So I took it very seriously and was, surprising to me, drawn into it right away by the croaky conversational tone and the stripped bare emotional tales he was telling.
A lot of the subject matter leans towards family, and is often confronting and candid. Lots of death and regret and tenderness. “I Can’t Live without My Mothers Love” is a far cry from your average Rock and Roll subject matter – and reminds me of first hearing Jonathan Richman sing about his wife in “Closer” – and just because of that is more Rock and Roll than any sex or drug reference. But there’s plenty of sex to be found. “Dogs” details the history of the protagonist’s (Kozelek’s?) early carnal explorations in erotic, graphic detail.
The songs are long, but don’t feel it. Like floating along on a stream where you’re too busy taking in the details of the surroundings to keep an eye on the time. The usual long-ingrained formulas of much popular music don’t apply here. The narratives are forthright and metaphor-free and the sparse instrumentation reflects this; it is subtle but inventive.
I’ve been thinking that as you get older poetry, for the sake of itself, can start to feel superfluous held up against pure message, or just plain truth. I’d spent my 20s trying to think up clever wordplay when now they can seem like window dressing. It’s not to say Benji isn’t clever. There’s so many surprising and inventive rhymes, or off-rhymes; it’s as if he’s tailored them to not quite fit so they jump out. And there’s a lot of humor, I actually laughed out loud hearing the line about his Dad flirting with the girls at Panera Bread. How often does that happen listing to serious folk music?
And it would take a hard heart not to find at least one tear. Listen to the story of his Dad’s downtrodden friend “Jim Wise”.
Very rarely, but every now and then, discovering a new band can pull back a curtain on a new way to approach songwriting, and another piece of the eternal puzzle falls away. I felt like this when I first heard Benji, ideas for about three new songs popped into my head. I feel like I have new tools with which to work.
I wonder if Mark Kozelek had an epiphany one day and a new horizon opened up, where the shackles of his old systems dissolved. Cause to me, as far as the lyrics go, this path he’s on feels limitless. Judging by his recent crazy slinging match with War On Drugs I hope this freedom of expression isn’t eating him up. I’m gonna go backwards now through his catalog to look for clues.
So listening to Benji has been a positive experience for me. I’ve also recommended it to other friends and they haven’t had the same experience, so evidently it’s not for everyone. But I’ve written this review without having listened to it for a few weeks now. That’s how vivid it still is in my mind.

Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2013

Listening to Records

In what is now an end of year tradition Timber and Steel are following up our own list of the top albums of 2013 with a piece that opens the floor to some of our favourite artists.

We reached out to musicians far and wide, from big international names to local up-and-comers, to get their thoughts on the best albums and EPs of the year and the result is once again incredible. If you ever wanted to know what the artists you listen to are listening to then look no further as we present to you Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2013:

Back on the MilksThomas Busby (Busby Marou)
The Starry FieldBack on the Milks
It’s almost impossible to slot this album into a genre because it covers almost all styles yet somehow it works perfectly. Mark Myers could be from another planet, because this seems to be a soundtrack from another world.

Picture of YouDarren Cross (Jep & Dep, Darren Cross Band)
Guy ClarkMy Favorite Picture of You
Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt have to be mentioned in the same sentence. The masters of the Texan Troubadour Genre- minimal powerful melodies and stories that change your mood-help you live. Townes is no longer around – Guy Clark is in his 70s, his songs getting stronger and more powerful. These guys wrote the rule book. Guy Clark’s latest album is amazing. In a world of autotune – Racscal Flatts / Taylor Swift mediocrity – a true country artist without any of the rhinestone cowboy bullshit is still alive and kicking and relevant and still breaking our hearts. I dare you to listen to “My Favorite Picture of You” or “Hell Bent On A Heartache” and not feel something. A true Inspiration.

Sam AmidonDevon Leger (Hearth Music)
Sam AmidonBright Sunny South
Because Sam Amidon is the most visionary folk artist of his generation. He understands musical traditions deep into his bones, and though he goes very far afield in his interpretations, he’s so grounded in the traditions that his experimentation serves as a vehicle to delve farther into the source material than ever before. He’s an uncompromising artist that reminds me again why I love folk music.

Melody PoolKristy Cox
Melody PoolThe Hurting Scene
The Hurting Scene has to be one of the most amazing debut releases of an Australian artist in a long time. It’s an album that more often than not touches on the topics of hurt and sadness – yet a notion of positivity shines through each of the songs. Melody’s vocals are shine on each track, however it’s her lyrics and the melody in each song that draw you in so you have to keep on listening! By far my favourite release of 2013! This girl is amazing!

Tiny RuinsOscar Lush
Tiny RuinsHaunts
For me, this six track EP has more depth and honesty than any other full length album of 2013. Tiny Ruins is the moniker of UK born, New Zealand based, singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook. Following up from her 2011 album Some Were Meant For Sea, the Haunts EP is a beautifully flowing fusion of modern folk, jazz and old-school country blues. Fullbrook’s rich and captivating vocals roll so smoothly over her laid back picking style as she draws you further and further into the veil of fog that hovers over this charming collection of songs. What I love most about Haunts is the way it pays tribute to so many traditional styles, from the Townes Van Zandt style of guitar on “Cold Comfort” to Fullbrook’s flawless cover of “Rolling Mill Blues”, yet I fail to compare the sound of Tiny Ruins to anything else because it’s also completely of its own world. I promise that this one really is worth all of your time.

Daft PunkKim Churchill
Daft PunkRandom Access Memories
Whilst I’ve been dancing around possible answers in my head I really have to go for one which I’ve barely stopped playing since I bought it. I know the whole world seems to have been won over, but Random Access Memories by Daft Punk has been my favourite album this year. It has such respect for music and its evolution over the past 50 years. It also has most of my favourite session players from as far back as the 60’s as well. Using drummers like JR Robinson and Omar Hakim and experimenting with things like Gorgio Moroder’s monologue over the top of those drums was incredible. Its the kind of music I dream of hearing and the ultimate experimentation in excess. Over a million dollars, 5 years the best studios and session players in the world and the occasional full orchestral and choir movements! Finally though, what mainly draws me to an album is the songs. Though I never thought I would look to Daft Punk for inspiration, the songwriting is really exquisite. Particularly the Paul Williams collaboration, “Touch’.

StreetsMike McCarthy
Isaac de HeerStreets
I am a huge fan of Isaac De Heer, his records are on high rotation here. On Streets Isaac continues on this well built path of unorthodox folk songwriting. Again, as on his previous two records, the production captures his quirky approach to writing and performing music. The melodies are strong, the lyrics are the kind you want to pore over and try to understand. Every broken piano sound and haunting backing vocal has it’s place in a very well thought out and enjoyable EP.

The PreaturesAshleigh Mannix
The PreaturesIs This How You Feel?
I cannot tell you how may times I have listened to this EP since it’s release. Its absolute killer first single “Is This How You Feel?” still has me shamelessly breaking out in dance wherever and whenever I hear it. I actually cannot stop myself! The entire EP is filled with a catalogue of influences – Fleetwood Mac, Prince and Neil Young are a few that I immediately note. Yet at the same time, The Preatures have their own captivating sound that I personally cannot get enough of. Listening to female lead, Isabella Manfredi’s voice makes me want to put on my LBD and leather jacket and paint the town red. While the lead vocals of Gideon Benson in “Dark Times” leaves me completely devastated that I’m not single … It’s funny where music can take you. Is This How You Feel? is the sound of a band doing what they do, and doing it fecking well!

Jim JamesIsaac de Heer
Jim JamesRegions of Light and Sound of God
A couple of years back I was struck by the Yim Yames EP Tribute To which is a collection of George Harrison songs – I loved how rushed the recording sounded, full of pure longing blasted into its delivery. I hadn’t heard anything about the Regions… album but bought it on a whim when I was wandering through Polyester Records, judging from the strength of that EP. What I found was a real grower with a gospel sorta vibe, mixed with huge drum sounds and wonderful imaginative lyrics and soundscapes. The whole album has a naivety and innocence about it that is captivating, flowing from song to song effortlessly, with a great instrumental track halfway through that lets it breathe. It’s well worth a few listens!

Stolen ViolinMark Myers (The Starry Field)
Stolen ViolinTemperate touch, Tropical Tears
I don’t listen to much music outside of the studio but I spent a lot of time with this album. It might not be everyone’s thing with it’s lofi guitars and hard to hear lyrics but I had tears in my eyes by the end of it.

Jimi HendrixJustin Thurgur (Bellowhead)
Jimi HendrixPeople, Hell and Angels
My album for 2013 is Jimi Hendrix’s People, Hell and Angels a previously unreleased studio album that was supposed to be the follow up to Electric Ladyland. This album is full of refreshingly strong, raw, bluesy songs with a healthy funk influence played by instrumentalists who are true virtuosos and unafraid of expressing themselves. The soul pours out of these recordings.

Keston Cobblers ClubRachael McShane – (Bellowhead)
Keston Cobblers’ ClubA Scene of Plenty
This sounds like a really fun band to be in! The rich instrumentation featuring tuba, squeeze-box, banjo, strings, percussion and vocals, coupled with catchy melodies and massed group vocals on the song “Beam” make you want to sing along, put on your dancing shoes and join the party. Keston Cobblers’ Club have a very refreshing DIY attitude to recording and packaging. They designed their CD case as a train set with cut-out-and-stick trains, tents and animals. Well worth checking out their videos on YouTube too.

Jimi HendrixBenji Kirkpatrick (Bellowhead)
Jimi HendrixPeople, Hell and Angels
I would have to say People, Hell and Angels by Jimi Hendrix is my favourite album of 2013. The reasons being I’m a massive Hendrix fan and although there’s nothing really very new on this release it’s a great collection of Hendrix tunes and displays his fluid mastery of the guitar very well. Also some nice cameos from the likes of Stephen Stills and Lonnie Youngblood. Essential stuff for us Hendrix geeks.

Midnight Follows MeJulian Cue (The Barons of Tang)
BJ MorriszonkleMidnight Follows Me
Ridiculous and beautiful, this album is essentially the mad ramblings of a one man band let loose in a studio. I love the every changing and complex compositions, demented keyboard sounds and the delicate balance between “tongue in cheek” and sincerity. Also it seems to me that BJ Morriszonkle is one of the finest male vocalists / crooners playing around at the moment. His voice makes this album. 5 out of 5 exploding cakes

Vance JoyWoody Pitney
Vance JoyGod Loves You When You’re Dancing
Since first hearing a demo of “Riptide” in 2012, i’ve been a big fan of VJ’s music and his debut EP didn’t disappoint! James Keogh has a killer voice and there isn’t a dull moment throughout the entire 5-track EP. All of the songs are beautifully written, yet simple enough to have you singing along after one listen. With catchy melodies, slinky ukelele strumming and powerful storytelling, it’s clear to see why people compare the great man to the likes of Paul Kelly and Bernard Fanning.

Vic ManuelScott Collins (The Mid North)
Vic ManuelBury Me Deep
Vic Manuel is someone you probably would not have heard of……yet. ‘Bury Me Deep’ is his first solo album and it is a cracker. A melding of folk, old-time and Americana, with lyrics that are as good as Leonard Cohen and Dylan. He can rip your heart out and have you horny as a hound in a matter of a few words. There are road trip songs, ballads, bluegrass toe tappers and dark tales from older days. The song ‘Oh Mother’ will have the hardest of you shedding tears. As a songwriter myself, i hold Vic in awe. I am amazed by him and a little bit (ummm…..whole lot) envious of his talent, he is quite simply Brilliant.

Vance JoyThelma Plum
Vance JoyGod Loves You When You’re Dancing
Because it makes me feel sad, but good sad.

Liz StringerCara Robinson (Hat Fitz and Cara)
Liz StringerSoon
I actually have been listening to the album Soon by Liz Stringer with its powerful tales of personal experiences written so poetically that grasps my attention every time it is played. With its beautiful delicate and honest intent it is a raw masterpiece. I love this.

Abbe MayEli Wolfe
Abbe MayKiss My Apocalypse
A diverse and experimental artist from WA, with quite few different releases. This album evokes an intense feel, from a strong and highly expressive woman – cathartic in love and release – in a lemon juice squeezed on a paper cut kinda way.

Chance McCoyJimmy Daley (The Morrisons)
Chance McCoy & The Appalachian String BandChance McCoy & The Appalachian String Band
I love old time music and this album by Chance McCoy & The Appalachian String Band is packed full of it. The newest member of Old Crow (replacing Willie Watson), and educator of Old Time Music at The Augusta Heritage Centre, West Virginia, Chance McCoy really knows his stuff. He is an amazing old time fiddle and banjo player with a really sweet sounding voice to top it of. The collection of tunes here feature some of my favourite old time numbers like “Lazy John”, “Greasy Coat”, “Little Birdie” and “Gospel Plow”, while also introducing me to some great tunes I had never heard before, like “Davy Come Back and Act Like You Ought To”. That’s the thing about old time music, it’s an endless well of incredible songs, I don’t think I’ll ever stop digging through them. With fantastic playing and singing, this album has a more slick sound that what you usually get with old time music and in that sense would be a great introduction for someone looking to get into this genre.

CapercaillieEddi Reader
CapercaillieAt The Heart of it All
This is a beautiful traditional album using the tradition and bringing it right up to date. Karen is one of my favourite Scottish vocalists and this album is class as is their live performances. A little bit of Scotland for your ears.

Josh PykeChris Collins (Tigertown)
Josh PykeThe Beginning and the End of Everything
One of the best song writers that we have in Australia, Josh has been a major influence on our music since the start. All four albums are filled with honest stories so it’s cool to be able to follow someone through different stages of their life. For a fourth album, this one seems to have a certain youthfulness and energy to it, which could come from having a toddler running around in this record. It’s a very Australian sounding record which is something we love and would love to harness ourselves one day. This album makes you excited about love, life and family.

Bobby AluBrianne Curran (Takadimi)
Bobby AluTake it Slow
Refreshing, groovy and chilled out all in one. Bobby Alu’s album of 2013 just makes you feel like having a great day!

Melody PoolKevin Mitchell (Bob Evans)
Melody PoolThe Hurting Scene
This is an insanely good debut album. The lyrics and songwriting are so good it’s hard to believe they come from a someone of such a tender age. The production is subtle and honest and Melody’s voice is weighty and substantial. She must be an old soul or something. I can’t get enough of this album.

Katie BriannaAndrew Wrigglesworth and Laura Coates (The Weeping Willows)
Katie BriannaDark Side of the Morning
Katie’s voice will instantly capture you but it’s her lyrics that will hold you; one part heartbreak, two parts introspection, a dash of sass and one hundred percent original. Her tone may evoke some of the greats (Iris DeMent, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Kasey Chambers…) but Katie holds her own and her album packs a punch. It’s definitely one of those rare finds you can appreciate from beginning to end without any temptation to reach for the “skip” button. Dark Side of the Morning is Americana at its best; at times dark and moody, other times hopeful, even audacious. Our favourite tracks are “What It Means”, “Dark Side of the Morning” and the vulnerable last track, “Risk it All”.

The VaccinesAndrew Davie (Bear’s Den)
The VaccinesMelody Calling
I bloody love this EP. We recently had the honour of touring with The Vaccines on the Mumford and Sons Full English Tour and we just had the best time. An amazing group of people and an incredible band. We listened to this EP religiously in the van between shows and I constantly had “Melody Calling” and “Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down” stuck in my head. Freddie’s guitar parts are so unconventional and interesting and the chord progressions and band dynamics flow in such a beautiful and unpredictable kind of way. It’s an incredibly inspiring piece of work and Justin’s songwriting has always been brilliant but just keeps getting better and better.

Kurt VileJordan Wilson and Benjamin Riley (Georgia Fair)
Kurt VileWakin’ on a Pretty Daze
It’s a beautiful sounding record. He’s a cool cat and has been a favourite of ours for a while. It’s a great record to get you through whatever you’ve been dealt, especially when combined with wine and cigarettes in your lounge room.

0Roscoe James Irwin
Ichiko Aoba0
A super beautiful (if not odd) collection of tracks from this Japanese alt/folk singer-songwriter. It’s strikingly bare, but really intimate as a result. You feel like you’re there with her, listening to her play her songs in your bedroom. The classically inspired nylon string guitar parts, mixed with Ichiko’s etherial vocal melodies create something really unique and honest, (even though I have no idea what she’s singing about). Track 8, “Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu” is a standout.

Ghost BoyGregory Alan Isakov
Sanders BohlkeGhost Boy
Beautiful and dark electric landscapes behind songs that make you dream, and remember how important music is.

The DronesMark “Looch” Lewis (Handsome Young Strangers)
The DronesI See Seaweed
This band is so far ahead of the pack it scares me. I didn’t think the Drones could top their last album Havilah – but they have. Gareth Lilliard’s lyrics slowly weave into your brain as always whilst the delivery and more specifically the passion in the delivery still kills me everytime. The final track “Why Write A Letter That You’ll Never Send” (all 9 minutes of it) is stunning. The best album from 2013 from Australia’s best band. Simple really.

Anna CalviBity Booker
Anna CalviOne Breath
Anna did not start singing until she was in her mid twenties. Now she is singing her hearth out. Her songs explode like colour onto a canvas. She slowly draws the listener into her world. Her guitar is like a voice, sometimes a weep, sometimes a laugh. This album makes me feel close to the beautiful beast she has within.

Josh PykeJackson McLaren
Josh PykeThe Beginning And The End Of Everything
(Ok I might be a bit biased but it’s a great album!). Josh sets the bar high and this record is an absolute cracker. Grappling poetically with legacy and morality. The BIG themes! Beautiful harmonies and clever arrangements. It sounds like Josh is having fun and that’s what I like about it.

Katy PerryGemini Downs
Katy PerryPrism
Yes I know we’re in an indie band and our taste is music is meant to be all indie and alternative – and primarily it is – but everyone has their guilty pleasures, right? For what it’s worth – chuckling at the new “Roar” film clip, feeling creative when looking at the fairyland live sets that this chick pulls off and winding up the windows in the car in order to sing along as loudly as possible was enough to bring Katy Perry to the top of the pile. Plus she got dumped by a tonne of record labels before she cracked it which makes her success all the more impressive.

Cloud ControlJosh Pyke
Cloud ControlDream Cave
I love Cloud Control, and this record really saw them push themselves, whilst still remaining true to the almost primitive innocence that their music captures for me. Al’s voice has taken on a strangled desperation in some songs that makes the whole thing a lot tougher in a very engaging way. Love it.

Sam AmidonBayden Hine (Packwood)
Sam AmidonBright Sunny South
An artist who’s work I’d been meaning to listen to for a few years dropped into my lap when I was asked to support his Australian tour earlier this year. I couldn’t have been happier! His albums are effortlessly beautiful, and his live set all the more so. Sam Amidon reworks American trad tunes from way back when into his own brand of contemporary folk. On his previous two albums he paired up with one of my favourite composers Nico Muhly (Grizzy Bear, Jonsi, Sufjan Stevens), but on Bright Sunny South he mirrored his live set – recording with minimal instrumentation as well as a few guest accompanists (most notably Jazz trumpet legend Kenny Wheeler – so, so cool). The winning track for me is “As I Roved Out” – my favourite choice for singing along to in the car when stuck in traffic. Freaks people out every time!

Christy MooreDamien Dempsey
Christy MooreWhere I Come From
A legendary Irish folk singer. 45 tracks that he wrote or had a hand in. An incredible album full of human spirit and empathy and stories and wisdom and humour, Christy is everything I aspire to be as a singer, a great role model, check out “Viva La Quint Brigada”, “Johnny Connors”, “The Boy from Tamlaghtduff”, “Lisdoonvarna”, “Whacker Humphries” or “Strange Ways”. Sublime.

The NationalIsaac Graham
The NationalTrouble Will Find Me
My brother bought me Trouble Will Find Me for my birthday this year. On his way to buy it he fell off his push bike and fractured his wrist in two places and ended up in hospital for a few days. He was all fine but the whole incident totally overshadowed my birthday. Fortunately he’d bought me such a great present so I forgave him. I’ve always had a passing interest in The National but for me this album is the perfect combination great songwriting, considered progressions, beautiful arrangements and flawless production. Not a bad song on the whole thing.

John SmithGibson Bull
John SmithGreat Lakes
There is something very honest about John’s music. You get the feeling he really believes in the songs he sings. This is certainly the case with Great Lakes. A beautiful album.

Sam BuckinghamHeyMun
Sam BuckinghamI’m A Bird
An album that tickles the senses with its dreamy folk-sical setting whilst hitting the high notes of honesty is one of the valiant traits of Sam as a musician. If she’s in love Oh, Bahbo she’ll say it’s so. If she’s got to Leave This Town, she will, but not without a song. A spirited gem in the indie music scene here in Australia, her recent live performance of this album when on tour with Buffalo Tales was a beautiful delivery of tunes that draws smiles on faces.

Kacey MusgravesFanny Lumsden
Kacey MusgravesSame Trailer Different Park
It surprised me how much I love this album so “trying to be a cool indie kid” wont fly this year for me as it’s a major label country pop album that has done it. It’s my hell yeah to “small town up-bringings” and overall is just a really well crafted album that lyrically has the right percentage of sass, apple pie and trailer parks. (Also I have serious caravan plans so it teams with the theme).

Vampire WeekendRoland K Smith
Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City
I’ve been pretty slack at keeping up with new music this year, but I’m okay with that, the good stuff I missed will find its way to me eventually. One record I did enjoy was Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City. The too-cool-for-school Indie rockers seem to have made the jump out of ironic subject matter and into more emotionally effective territory. I think it works for them. The production’s great too – mixing hard blues with vocal pitch shifters in “Diane Young”, the harpsichord is put to good use in album highlight “Step”, and industrial percussion in “Obvious Bicycle”. I’ll get around to listening to more new music once Bob Dylan stops releasing his excellent Bootleg series.

Big ScaryLittle May
Big ScaryNot Art
This is an album that I can listen to on repeat for hours on end, and it reminds me of staying up until 4am drawing and drinking red wine. It is a collection of beautiful songs produced perfectly with everything in it’s rightful place.

Rhye WomanBec Sandridge
RhyeWoman
Great title, magical album cover, a beyond brilliant opening track and sob-worthy film clips. Being a sucker for tales of heartbreaking romances, understated vocal melodies and gentle synths, this Canadian duo definitely have my vote. They had me like a fool playing “Open” on repeat for weeks. (Note: I may very-well still be sobbing and smiling and listening to this track whilst typing this).

VasenGeorge Jackson (The Company)
VäsenMindset
Swedish super group Väsen have produced a new album this year featuring their trademark melodic invention and effortless virtuosity, it’s simultaneously modern while still tradition based, balancing on that fine line, like they always do, with ease. The Fiddle, Nyckelharpa and Guitar trio offers unending creativity of textures throughout the album, defying their seemingly minimal lineup, and of course, there’s plenty of Polska’s to get your feet tapping to. These guys are simply, brilliant. I’ve had Mindset on repeat in my car and on my computer and have even learnt four of the tunes already. If you haven’t heard Väsen, do yourself a favor, this is a good place to start. If you know and love them already, this new offering is another classic.

Frank SolivanMustered Courage
Frank Solivan and Dirty KitchenFrank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen
This album has everything we appreciate in modern bluegrass. Flawless three part harmonies and the kind of virtuosic pickin’ that makes you wanna sell your shit on eBay, or work a lot harder. The band has a unique and modern take of bluegrass, while still maintaining integrity to the tradition.

Buffalo TalesPerch Creek Family Jugband
Buffalo TalesRoadtrip Confessions
We first had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Wes (aka Mr Buffalo Tales) at Wintermoon Folk Festival in May this year. Great voice, great guy, great songs, great performer, and (you guessed it) great album! It’s a gold mine of catchy, rootsy folk gems that always end up stuck in our heads!

Volcano ChoirMatthew Oastler (Little Bighorn)
Volcano ChoirReprave
I thought my fascination/addiction to anything Justin Vernon did hadn’t carried over when I first listened to Repave by The Volcano Choir, however his genius, and the emotions that come with it are slow burning. It has now been the only thing I’ve listened to for 3 months, and I hear something new every time. It feels a lot more anthemic and hopeful than any of his previous works. Only a special few can make you feel like Vernon does, and this album is a classic example.

CirclesLachlan Bryan
Chris PickeringCircles
I got to know Chris on the road in the USA and each night he quietly blew me away with not only his songs, but the way he played and sang them. His music is subtle – delicate but nourishing – filled with the warmth and self-deprecation that are trademarks of his live performance. Whenever Circles comes on my iPod I am reminded that CP is a proper artist, and I can’t imagine paying a fellow songwriter a greater compliment. Bravo Sir!

Kurt VileEdward Deer
Kurt VileWakin’ on a Pretty Daze
Whenever I describe Kurt Vile’s music to someone, I manage to make it sound like something to be avoided. Really long, meandering songs with numerous guitar solos and a guy mumble-singing in almost a monotone. But the textures and atmosphere in his music are so rich and evocative. I kept coming back to this record this year, and it has to be one of my fave driving albums ever.

Volcano ChoirImogen Clark
Volcano ChoirReprave
I’ve never found another artist whose songwriting moves me quite as much as Justin Vernon of Volcano Choir and Bon Iver, which is why I couldn’t wait for this album’s release. I think the best songs often take a couple of listens before you say “yes, I get it, and I love it”, which is what happens to me every time I listen to a project Vernon has been a part of. In Repave, the vocals are so raw and the dynamics so great that it just builds you up and tears you down in a kind of frenzy of emotion. To me, the album sounds like how I imagine listening to someone’s soul would sound – completely pure, heart-wrenching, honest, complex and unpredictable. That’s why I think this record is magic.

Loren KateSarah Humphreys
Loren KateMoving On
Loren is a folk artist like no other, her songs punch me right in the heart til I’m crying my eyes out and her voice is like honey. A beautiful record.

Neko CaseAchoo! Bless You
Neko CaseThe Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
We’ve both been huge fans of Neko Case for a few years, in particular her ’06 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, what an album. This record is just awesome as well. Her voice is beautiful as usual, and her lyrics are bad ass! “Man” is a particular fave. She writes absolute cracking pop songs, and the production of her records are always really rich and lush. I particularly love the edgier kind of grit and distortion that features a fair bit on this one, Neko gettin’ back to her punk roots via whimsical pop. So good!

Ainslie WillsAlison Avron
Ainslie WillsYou Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine
This record gives me all I need in music: tingles and toe taps. The subtle and sexy grooves combined with the beautiful and rich tone of Ainslie’s vocals get me every time. “Weighing The Promises” and “Liquid Paper” are the standout tracks for me. Miss Wills is representing everything that is right about the Australian music scene.

NgaiireSam Buckingham
NgaiireLamentations
I can’t quite say why I love this album. I think it’s a combination of her voice, interesting production and the fact that it’s not like anything I’ve listened to before. It feels experimental but perfectly thought out, bold but humble, surprising but familiar … truly creative and original.

DaughterHayden Calnin
DaughterIf You Leave
I played this album on repeat for the few weeks after hearing it for the first time. It’s depressing, but motivating, which is totally my kind of jam. Stand out track was, and still is “Smother”, with the lyric “I wish I’d stayed inside my mother, never to come out” it pretty much sums up the whole album. Daughter’s blend of shoegazey guitar lines, slow bass and simple, yet well composed drum lines, matched up with her gorgeous vocals and lyrics, is so mature, intricate and worth a listen.

Ainslie WillsAll Our Exes Live In Texas
Ainslie WillsYou Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine
The vocals and arrangements are incredible and Ainslie’s lyrics are so evocative. We particularly love “Liquid Paper” – such a universal sentiment. We listened to the entire album about a million times in the van on the way back to Sydney after we played a show with her in Melbourne. She also happens to be an amazingly good egg.

Mark KnopflerThe April Maze
Mark KnopflerPrivateering
This is actually a 2012 release but we only just discovered it … So it is new to us! A friend of ours who had toured with Mark Knopfler made us a mix CD for our Canadian tour and one of his songs was on there – we loved it, so we went online and bought the rest of the album. It is fantastic. It really takes you on a journey – lots of ups and downs and there are lots of goosebump moments. Our favourite tracks are “Haul Away” and “Kingdom of Gold” – these songs are super folky, just the way we like it. The production and instrumentation are spot on. This is a truly inspirational album for any songwriter. 100 stars.

JoJo SmithLucie Thorne
JoJo SmithStanding In The Lovelight
When it comes to soul not much beats being in the same room as JoJo Smith singing straight in to your heart. But this mighty collection – from one of our mightiest vocalists – comes pretty darn close. A national treasure!

Abbe MaySweet Jean
Abbe MayKiss My Apocalypse
Abbe May’s album is a blistering synth pop romp that takes you through all the ups and downs of imploding love. One of the many great things about this album is that she doesn’t “tell you about her feelings”. Instead, every song actually makes you feel something as a listener, which can be both uncomfortable and uplifting. It’s a funny, dark, smart, poignant and really well put together album.

The NationalEmily Barker
The NationalTrouble Will Find Me
I picked up this record just before heading out on a solo tour across the UK. It was a beautiful summer and I was driving myself around the country doing record shop in-stores and promoting our new record. Trouble Will Find Me quickly became my driving soundtrack. The songs are fantastic. Brilliant lyrics: a combination of abstract, ironic, heartfelt and just plain silly sometimes (ie. “I was teething on roses, I was in guns and noses”). I love the effortlessly, out-of-the-ordinary time signatures they use; the epic, but still intimate, production value; the melodies and arrangements; and Matt Berninger’s croonery, deep voice is always killer. A great record to drive to!

LordeRosie Catalano
LordePure Heroine
Given that we’re in an age where number one singles are as much about taking bootylicious selfies as writing good music, it took me a while to figure out how Lorde managed to dominate the Billboard charts, especially as my initial listen to her album Pure Heroine didn’t register highly on the excitement scale. I’ve happily eaten my words since then as Lorde and her producer Joel Little are a match made in heaven – the harmonies are beautiful, her lyrics take me to another world (albeit a teen world that I’m not sure I’d like to go back to), and I have a soft spot for Kiwis.

Mali MaliJack Carty
Mali MaliGather ’round the Goose Clock
I love this record because it feels anxious and intimate and fragile. The songs are strong, and tell their stories, but they go about it quietly so you really have to tune in to catch them. “Peace In My Chest” is the highlight for me, it feels like an affirmation.

Vance JoyPierce Brothers
Vance JoyGod Loves You When You’re Dancing
Since seeing him at The Hills Are Alive festival earlier this year, we picked up this EP. It’s a soulful and beautifully paced EP with awesome range from the indie pop rhythms of “Riptide” to the heartfelt and intimate lyrics of “Snaggletooth”. The crescendo in “From Afar” is our favourite. Well done sir. Well done indeed.

PikeletRose Wintergreen
PikeletCalluses
Entrancing from the very first listen (start with the track “Calluses”), this album still tickles my brain in unexpected and exciting ways. I’m not sure I understand it, but it’s unlike anything else I’ve heard, and I keep going back for more. YES!

Mark MoldreJessica Cassar (Jep & Dep)
Mark MoldreAn Ear To The Earth
If Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy were pushed out to sea in a rickety old boat they’d come up with something like this. Mark Moldre’s An Ear to the Earth is a boisterous yet soulful musical journey worth the fare. You’ll be stomping and crying and laughing, and if you’re lucky to catch Moldre live, you’ll be doing all three with a whiskey in hand.

PowerlinesBeth Stephen (The Little Stevies)
Mustered CouragePowerlines
I’m a sucker for great harmonies and catchy melodies, and Mustered Courages’ album Powerlines has both, so I’m a big fan. Powerlines was produced by Jimi Maroudas, who also produced our first album Love Your Band. And for me it ticks all the boxes of a great album. The songs remind me of those off Foggy Highway, by Paul Kelly and The Stormwater Boys; strong and well-constructed, front and centre. Followed secondly by great musicianship and vocal harmony to present the full kick-ass package. And although their musicianship is apparent, luckily for these talented lads their songs don’t need to be dressed up head to toe in an overkill of instrumental licks to try and hide a weak song, but instead have successfully shown off their musicianship when it counts and in a very tasteful way. When I listen to the album I hear it as a collection of great pop songs first, and secondly as a bluegrass album. And in my opinion I think that’s clever, and the sign of good bunch of songwriters. There’s also nothing more impressive than when a group can reproduce an already top-notch studio album to an even higher standard live, and that’s what Mustered Courage can do. It’s a tasteful album, one of great energy and diversity in mood and who sings the lead on each song, and I recommend a listen to anyone who calls themselves a music lover.

ArcWhitaker
Everything EverythingArc
The perfect sophomore release, Arc built on all that was good about Everything Everything’s punchy, dramatic and down-right enviable musical style presented by their debut album three years prior. It’s the kind of record we listen to and think “Man, how did they do this? How can we do this?” as we listen through every track on repeat. Incredible production – good luck topping that one boys (they will)!

Vance JoyMark Wilkinson
Vance JoyGod Loves You When You’re Dancing
Emotive vocals and great songs. “Riptide” has obviously been huge, but the rest of the EP really stands up as well.

AgapeCastlecomer
Bear’s DenAgape
Bear’s Den produce an organic brand of music that resonates in its beautiful and powerful simplicity. Disarmingly honest lyrics accompany soaring and often haunting melodies backed by 3-part harmonies, and there are obvious folk influences to their songwriting. These guys are a must-see live act, and seem to be going from strength to strength, recently following up in magnificent style with their new EP Without/Within. There is an unassuming and captivating charm in this EP that is hard to resist.

HaimImogen Bel
HAIMDays Are Gone
There seemed to be a lot of highly anticipated releases this year, and for whatever reason, I missed out on a lot of them! One band that caught my attention early on however, was HAIM. This is a really solid album – so many hooks jam packed into each song, both melodically and rhythmically. I love that these girls obviously love pop music, but they play around with structures and mix things up to keep it fresh and surprising. They are obviously very accomplished musicians but they never let it get in the way of creating fun, interesting pop music. Standout tracks: “The Wire”, “Don’t Save Me”, “Go Slow” (no filler on this album though!).

Steal The LightKyle Vause (The Timbers)
The Cat EmpireSteal The Light
This is my favorite Cat Empire album to date. I seriously can’t fault this album, every song is a winner. My top three tracks off this album are “Still Young”, “Open Up Your Face” and probably the first single “Brighter Than Gold”.

Lucy WiseNigel Wearne
Lucy Wise & The B’GolliesWhen We Wander Far From Home
It makes me very happy to nominate this album as my favourite for 2013. The first time I heard Lucy Wise, I was struck by the originality and honesty of her songwriting. There are so many layers at work in this ten song offering. She’s included songs about organic farming and broken families, sailing, family connections, sculpture gardens and even Google Earth! Three members of the B’Gollies double in their own right as The Sting Contingent and they, with Mischa Herman on accordion, bring sophistication and tastefully woven arrangements to Lucy’s beautiful songs. “Lay of the Land” and “Mother’s Song” are stand-out tracks. A slow-burner that keeps giving.

InnocentsKate Martin
MobyInnocents
This was difficult to narrow down so I’ll say that ONE of my favourite LPs of 2013 is Innocents by Moby. Seven of the twelve tracks are collabs, it’s nice cross-pollination. The highlight track for me is a very moving instrumental called “Going Wrong”.

Step BrothersAidan Cooney (Boy Outside)
PalmsStep Brothers
A vehicle back to care free summers that lasted for ever. Yes that feeling. Play loud! Jump around aimlessly. Throw shapes at friends. A real shot in the arm. This shit works.

Josh PykeDan Acfield (Dan and Hannah Acfield)
Josh PykeThe Beginning And The End Of Everything
I must admit that although I’ve been listening to lots of music that’s new to me this year, most of it was not actually released this year! However, I have been enjoying Josh Pyke’s recent release The Beginning and End of Everything. After watching Josh Pyke perform tunes from this album from side of stage earlier in the year, I went home and immediately purchased the album. It’s deliciously folk-pop with that special (but evolved) Josh flavour which is quite difficult to not enjoy.

Josh RitterJack McNeill and Charlie Heys
Josh RitterThe Beast in Its Tracks
Josh Ritter has always been a favourite listen, he seems to grow more subtly insightful with each new album. A thoughtfully connected collection with the ghost of the Golden Age of Radio walking quietly through it. Ritter has the knack of catching you off-guard, gifted with a quiet wit, a sharper tongue than most and a real eye for the detail.

Warp and WeftEmma Davis
Laura VeirsWarp and Weft
Laura Veirs makes me happy. In fact, I think I would go as far as saying, I love her. Her unique way of phrasing things, her incredible ability to put into words the way that nature effects us, the delicate but interesting production- I couldn’t get enough. Laura’s newest release, Warp and Weft once again seems to deliver that Veirs-y charm that I have grown fond of. It is definitely a more mature album than Saltbreakers and the slightly Fleet-Foxy previous album July Flame. Some of the tracks are a little rockier with the beefy sounds of her Gibson shining through, and the arrangements are loaded full of weird and wonderful instruments, but the songs don’t seem to get lost at any point. Every little thing has its place and works together to carry her strong melodies and endearing way with words. As with her past releases, the album works well as a entire composition, so a little listening time is needed to start appreciating the tracks separately, but I think it makes this record a real grower. Overall, it’s a beautiful and carefully produced album that seems to communicate the warmth of nature and our place in it, so darn well.

Melt Yourself DownJoe Gould (The Crooked Fiddle Band)
Melt Yourself DownMelt Yourself Down
This debut is most original album I heard all year, a mix of electronics and afrobeat that is dark and danceable. Saturated sax riffs and tribal drums collide and make me feel euphoric that there’s still sounds out there I haven’t heard. What a great feeling to evoke in a listener!

LuxGordon Wallace (The Crooked Fiddle Band)
AfenginnLux
My album pick of 2013 is Lux by Danish band Afenginn. I have been a fan of the band’s “bastard ethnopunk” for a while now and their back catalog is well worth checking out. Lux is their latest offering and has quite a chilled out/ambient vibe and the most amazing fold-the-cd-digipak-into-a-lantern I have ever seen! Last year we realized we would cross paths at a festival in Sweden, so met Kim the main composer and became friends. The outcome of that is that they will be in Sydney playing at the Basement on the 16th January and Crooked Fiddle are lucky enough to be playing support! A great success of cross-continental mutual musical appreciation!

Big ScaryMark Leahy The Twoks
Big ScaryNot Art
After listening to Not Art I cannot help but walk around with a bounce in my step. This album is so confident, so diverse, so intricate and yet really simple. Fantastic production and really great songwriting. The performances have such dark commitment and awesome personality about them that I cannot help but love it.

Lucy WiseEmily-Rose Sarkova (Chaika)
Lucy Wise & The B’GolliesWhen We Wander Far From Home
I would say Lucy Wise’s newest album, When We Wander Far From Home. Her incredibly personal way of writing songs seems to capture so perfectly the very small delicate goings on of everyday life as well as the touching poignantly on deep environmental and social issues. All in a collection of songs that are truly beautiful and you cannot help but want to sing along with her.

The HeistCJ Shaw (CJ Shaw and the Blow Ins)
I have two:
Big ScaryNot Art
Beautiful and purposeful. Every nook and cranny of this album has been sculpted with the up most of care.
Macklemore and Ryan LewisThe Heist
A powerhouse. Big sound, big ego, big belief, big purpose. It is big and wonderful, makes you think and groove. It enlights and inspires.

Illawarra Folk Festival Reveals Full 2014 Lineup

Sarah Humphreys
Image Courtesy of Sarah Humphreys

Just a week or so after revealing their first lineup for 2014 the Illawarra Folk Festival has gone the whole hog and given us every single artist for the event. We could call out a bunch of Timber and Steel favourites that have just just joined the lineup – like Martin Pearson, Sarah Humphreys (above), Handsome Young Strangers, Jane Aubourg, Oh Pep! and Chaika – but instead we though we’d bring you one full list of all the musical acts:

Afenginn, Andy Irvine, Dom Flemons, Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys, Harry Manx Band, Jaaleekaay, John John Festival, Klezmorim, London Klezmer Quartet, The Beez, The Hollands!, The Latchikos, The Underscore Orkestra, The Whitetop Mountaineers, Astro Cobalt, Bitchpick, Harman and Hellens, Cassidy’s Ceili, Enda Kenny Band, Riogh, Ange Takats, Another Train, Australian Union Choir, AZ-I-AM, Belle Jar, Bernard Carney, Bygone Error, Chippo Days, Chloe & Jason Roweth, Fly With Me, Graeme Morrison All Stars, Greg Champion, Jim Green, Kavisha Mazzella, Lola Wright’s Keg Night, Martin Pearson, Matthew Fagan “Lord of the Strings”, Merryweather, Rough Red, Sally Harris & Little Big Smoke, Sarah Humphreys, Solidarity Choir, Swingaleles, The Three Sisters, Tia Juana, Wongawilli, Bazinga!, Big Erle, Bruce Mathiske, Frank Povah and Chris Cruise, Funkier Than Alice (and Friends!), Glenn Skuthorpe, Graeme Morrison All Stars, Handsome Young Strangers, Jane Aubourg, Kay Proudlove, Kenny Bartley/Super Kenny, Love In The Jungle, My Secret Window, Oh Pep!, Pete Thomas & Blue Salt Band, Shellie Morris, Smokehouse, The Lazy Farmer’s Sons, The Ribbon Gang, The Timbers, Tracey Bunn, Alison Johnston, David Beniuk, Gemma Glendenning, Glenn Skuthorpe, Kavisha Mazzella, Merryweather, My Secret Window, Patrick Lyons & The American Creek Band, Robbing Steve, Shellie Morris, The Lazy Farmer’s Sons, The Littlest Fox, The Miss Chiefs, The Ribbon Gang, Tracey Bunn, Another Train, Bob Campbell Band, Bush Music Club ‘URBAN SCRUB’, Bygone Error, Chloe & Jason Roweth, Chord-eaux, Christiaan Dolislager, Denis McKay, Franklyn B Paverty, Good Tunes Session, Illawarra Pipe Band, Kavisha Mazzella, Lola Wright’s Keg Night, Louisa Lawson Tribute, Songs you do not sing to children!, The Raglins, The Roberts Family Reunion, Ayanamsha, Beatmeisters, Belle Jar, Chaika, Dall’ Italia All’ AUstralia, I Viaggiatori, Mat Brooker, Mr Cuttlefish, Rapskallion, Ruido, SingGongGo, Somesing Laik Zat, Spirit of Serpentine, Spyglass Gypsies, Taiko no Wa, The Con Artists, Zumpa, Alison Johnston, Caitlin James, Harry O’Brien, Lucette, Melanie April, Nyssa and Alex, Paddy & The Wonderband, Rosie and the Bluesters, Shalani Thomas, Tim Lukey, and many more

The Illawarra Folk Festival will take place from the 16th to 19th January next year – for more information on the festival including how to get your hands on early bird tickets check out the official site here.

Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2012

Listening to Records

Not satisfied with just providing you with our own opinions around the best albums of 2012 we have once again put the call out to some of our favourite artists to find out what they’ve been listening to this year. And the response to this call has been simply astounding – over 90 artists sent us their number one album of 2012, along with a couple of sentences as to why it’s their number one, almost tripling the amount of submissions from last year and demonstrating once again just how personal and diverse everyone’s relationship to music can be.

Once again a big thank you has to go out to all the artists who contributed along with the dedicated managers, publicity people and record labels we pestered to get this piece across the line – you’re all amazing, dedicated, wonderful people who keep this great national (and international) beast that is the music industry alive.

And now it’s time for the blogger to pass his keyboard over to the blogged as we present to you Timber and Steel’s Artists’ Top Albums of 2012:

The Lion's ShareSarah Humphreys
Mike McCarthyThe Lion’s Share
Mike has a beautiful way with words and melodies, he can stir up feelings of love, loss, mystery and hope all in one album. Sometimes in one song! There’s a gentleness in this record, I can hear more love in his voice than ever before.

God Bless You AmigoRoland Kay-Smith (Roland K Smith and the Sinners)
Felice BrothersGod Bless You Amigo
After the brave, but often confusing album that was Celebration Florida, The Felice Brothers return to more familiar territory with God Bless You Amigo. “Her Eyes Dart Around” is a tear-jerkingly beautiful ballad, the off-kilter harmonies in “Lincoln Continental” blow my mind every time I hear them, and “Dream On” is a fantastically melancholic retelling of the Stagger Lee story. At 20 tracks it’s overlong, but the porch-strumming charm of the album makes each song a joy to listen to, and I should know, I’ve listen to this album plenty.

The AnecdotesSam Lee
Seamus Cater & Viljam NybackaThe Anecdotes
English Dutch duo based in Amsterdam who have written this chronicle of biographic songs based around cultural figures and steeped in folklore and alternative experimental theatre sound art. They have created this soundworld that is both sepia toned in 70s fender rhodes and melodic drum work and captures the sounds of revival and the monologues of obscure historical figures. A work of touching depth and simplicity.

Who's Feeling Young NowChris Stone (The String Contingent)
Punch BrothersWho’s Feeling Young Now?
Outrageously virtuosic instrumentalists, with super strong musical vision, brilliant execution, and a work ethic like no other … they are the tightest, most polished band around, and given the technical and musical complexity of there music, is both depressing and inspirational.

Carry Me BackBen and James Daley (Bellyache Ben and the Steamgrass Boys, The Daley Brothers)
Old Crow Medicine ShowCarry Me Back
This album has all the Old Crow trademarks: hard hitting blues, fast pickin bluegrass, honest singing and lyrics, great harmonies, and most importantly brilliant songwriting. The title track and “Levi” are both contenders for song of the year. This album (and Old Crow’s ever growing and ever impressive body of work) confirms them as one of the great modern American bands. I dare say when they are done they will be remembered as one of the great all time American bands.

Who's Feeling Young NowClaude Hay
SoundgardenKing Animal
This is easy for me: Soundgarden, King Animal, quiet simply my favourite singer of all time. I’ve been waiting for this release for ever, some classic dirty guitar and pure rock the world’s been missing.

The Lion's RoarTodd Sibbin (Todd Sibbin and the Opposite Ends, Traveller and Fortune)
First Aid KitThe Lion’s Roar
Besides the blatantly obvious reasons (fantastic singing, fantastic songwriting), Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes fame) has nailed the “atmospheric moodiness” vibe in his production techniques. It’s got that unmistakeable old school Bright Eyes sound, with slightly more polish

Into The BloodstreamWarren Fahey
Archie RoachInto the Bloodstream
I was never a hooked Archie fan but this new collection of very personal and aspirational songs really grabbed me emotionally. Archie has seen a lot of shit in his life including the loss of his partner Ruby Hunter and, over the past couple of years, some shocker medical hurdles yet he writes and sings in such an uplifting manner you feel the joy. It is also a craftily assembled album with a great choir, really tasty musicianship and some vocal acrobatics from Archie that I just wasn’t expecting. At one stage he produces a growl befitting the blues and soul and then his voice soars to the rafters. This is a really fine album

Carried in MindHat Fitz and Cara Robinson
Jeff LangCarried in Mind
This album of 2012 is one of those albums that more than manages to carry you away into another time and world. That’s what I love about a great album, it switches off the mind and lets the imagination take over and it does that completely. One song in particular is track 3, “Fisherman’s Farewell”, co written with his wife Alison Ferrier, a truly exquisite piece of writing.

LeelanauMatt Bauer
Dana FalconberryLeelanau
It’s rare when an album is as fully realized as this. It has everything I want in music: great lyrics and melodies, strange harmonies, beautiful arrangements, unexpected rhythms, a specific sense of place, an air of mystery, and just some kind of undefinable magic. Perfect from start to finish.

Mid AirMatt Walters
Paul BuchananMid Air
Paul Buchanan is the lead singer of one of the world’s most important and underrated bands, The Blue Nile. The lead singer’s first solo offering is a quiet masterpiece. Comprised almost completely of subdued piano, and smoky, hushed vocals; this is one of the most transformative, beautiful records I’ve ever heard. Buchanan, now in his late 50’s, croons like a more poetic and mournful Sinatra – reminiscing, regretting and reconciling through some of the most poignant and intimate songs ever recorded.

Born and RaisedAshleigh Mannix
John MayerBorn and Raised
Truthfully I’ve only listened to it a few times, but it was the first album that came into my head when asked about my favourite album of the year – and for good reason! Mr Mayer always surprises with the twist and turns he has taken when recording his albums. He’s playing with more of a country vibe in this one. In the second single “Queen of California”, there’s a lyric that says “Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung/After the gold rush of 1971”. There’s definitely a Neil Young-esque vibe throughout the album. I love it! It will be my soundtrack for hungover weekend’s in the sun!

HereTigertown
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic ZerosHere
A perfect way to follow up their first album Up From Below, they have captured the large group sound that they have live while still leaving enough space for Alexander Ebert’s genius song-writing and lyrics to shine through. This record always makes a loud appearance on our touring mix tape.

Farthest FieldMike McCarthy
Daniel Martin Moore & Joan ShelleyFarthest Field
Farthest Field sounds like an album recorded in a hall, live, with four beautiful microphones between two great songwriters. Sparse and incredibly beautiful is how I would describe it.

Mad BastardsJeanette Wormald
Alex Lloyd, The Pigram Brothers, Kasey Chambers and Shane NicholsonMad Bastards: Music From the Motion Picture
I found this late in 2011 and haven’t stopped listening to it. Great colours, great artists and oh so Australian. It’s fresh and it’s interesting and I really enjoyed the collaborations between Alex Lloyd and The Pigram Brothers. The movie is incredibly compelling too. A must see for people wanting an insight into the challenges of Australians living on the fringe.

DeathFrank Turner
Jim Lockey & The Solemn SunDeath
I’ve known Jim for a while and loved his work, but I always suspected he had a record in him that would take what he did from being good to being truly great. It was with great satisfaction, then, that I listened to this one for the first time. It’s everything I was hoping for, a perfect blend of country, rock, folk and something heavier and darker. Brilliant.

The Lion's RoarCallum Adamson (ahab)
First Aid KitThe Lion’s Roar
I’ve chosen First Aid Kit’s record for a few reasons.
1. The record is nothing more than great country songs beautifully produced
2. They are one of the few bands that are just as good live as on record
3. One of my “goosebumps” moments of this year was when I first heard “Emmylou” – I really really wish I’d written it.

DearEmily and the Woods
Keaton HensonDear
Keaton’s voice and lyrics cut through whatever is happening, wherever I am. There is an immediacy and strength to his words and his delivery is so full of emotion that it makes me want to cry with him. I believe in his heartache; it feels raw. This album truly reminded me how powerful it is when you tell it how you feel it. That’s my favourite kind of songwriting, and it feels exemplified in the way he phrases and sings some lines. My favourite song on the album is the closing track, “Party Song”; which is unashamedly bleak.

Stars and SatellitesThe Quarry Mountain Dead Rats
Trampled By TurtlesStars and Satellites
We were waiting for this album to be released and it didn’t disappoint. Got a good mix of slower songs and and the usual kick ass ones. Ear f*$#ingly good!

Trains I MissedNick Keeling (Mustered Courage)
Balsam RangeTrains I Missed
Balsam Range deliver straight up modern driving bluegrass at its best. They are world class pickers, songwriters and boy can they sing. The harmonies are super tight and I love how the vocals are mixed. It gives you that baseball bat of three part harmony hit, straight in the face.

Stars and SatellitesCoty Hogue
RodriguezSearching for Sugar Man Soundtrack
Okay, so maybe all these songs were originally released in 1970-71, but considering most all of us (at least over here in the States) had never heard of Rodriguez before this film, and the fact that these songs are absolutely BRILLIANT and beautiful, makes this my must listen to album of the year! (I should also include the original two albums that these songs come from)

Warm in the DarknessNadine Budge (The Stetson Family)
Liz StringerWarm in the Darkness
From the multitude of reasons why this is my favourite album this year, the overarching one is that Liz Stringer is authentic – the real deal. This album serves up some of the melting beauty of Liz’s slower songs that she has shown herself to be a master of – then whacks it for a six when she pulls out some big guns and rocks it out! It’s the triple threat of great songwriting, sublime vocals and kick-arse musicianship.

Hard RubbishLouise O’Reilly (Laneway)
Lower Plenty – Hard Rubbish
It’s stony dreamy domestic. We found it driving from Melbourne to Adelaide on our tour and it took us all the way home.

Off We GoDesert Rat Shorty (The Lurkers)
Jess and Richard ArrowsmithOff We Go
This year I have a toddler, and as a consequence, I’ve spent most of the year listening to my favourite kids CD. It’s real music for kids. No autotune, no synthesisers and no politically correct rewriting for kids (the pirates in the songs still drink rum!). The songs are all old English nursery rhymes played on traditional instruments. And our one-and-a-half-year-old loves it.

Black Vat TrioWeary Hobo and Rocky Mountain Slim (The Lurkers)
Black Vat TrioBlack Vat Trio
They are a Sydney-based trio with Rishin (trombone), Rascal (violin) and Bones (piano accordion plus drums) who play Klezma and Romani inspired originals and Eastern European Classics. Songs and tunes they perform from other traditions they acknowledge openly unlike some Australian bands in the same scene. What Black Vat Trio create themselves are soundtracks to my dirty old Sydney town. Songs like “Rapscallions” are reminiscent of Waiting for Guinness and the genuine, straightforward production of the album brings it out on top of the new releases of the year for me. This album keeps toddlers of all ages laughing and dancing!

Court The StormJeremiah Fraites (The Lumineers)
Y La BambaCourt the Storm
It’s a terrific album. Is it folk, is it world, is it singer-songwriter? I don’t know. And personally, I don’t care. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Just listen to the damn thing.

Spirit BirdNardi Simpson (Stiff Gins)
Xavier RuddSpirit Bird
I first heard Xavier Rudd perform over twelve years ago. I knew nothing about him but watched as he played and stomped and sang the young audience into waves of inspired frenzy. He was on the way up, he sounded great, the kids loved him and he had his own unique sound. He also played the yidaki or didjeridoo. Now as blackfullas we regularly walk around festivals and see masses of people dancing and trancing out to the sound of yidaki – but most times it is not being played by a black musician. And so we carry this with us a little bit, well I do anyway. I sat there and listened to Rudd and looked at the crowd and thought of all the brothers I knew who would never get the same chance or attention if they did. Ten years later an ‘Indig’ stage was funded at Bluesfest. We had got a gig and walked around starry eyed, shyly watching legends from the wings and spinning out on the greenroom facilities. We walked past dressing room doors…Blind Boys of Alabama, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Jason Mraz, Angelique Kidjo, and as we came up to Xavier Rudd’s room out popped his head: “Brother, come and be part of this smoking ceremony”, he asked my partner. I can only guess he didn’t see or recognise me. So in he went, into this stranger/stars dressing room and did ceremony. Four months ago I saw Xavier Rudd had a new album out. I assembled together all the little pieces of him I knew and I bought it. I wanted to understand something more of the man. I listened to his songs and let them soak into me and it was at that point that our worlds collided. Where first I was a young musician, starting to sing of my world and my special place in it – and compete with all those who were doing the same, now I was a searcher of stories and of deep, and meaningful connections. I had come to the place that perhaps Rudd was at all those years ago- creating narratives to forge and maintain relationships with people, place and country. As a musician Rudd has consistently taken steps towards the place that I too now wish to explore. To show others how beautiful it is when country sings back. I still haven’t met Xavier Rudd, I doubt whether I will but I think I am a little closer to understanding him and his music. And so I see this album Spirit Bird as more than a collection of songs, it’s a story about a man on a journey. And as he walks, so do we.

BlunderbussHenry Wagons
Jack WhiteBlunderbuss
Following the epic legacy of his other bands, there is no doubt the pressure was on, whether Jack admitted it to himself or not. All the publicity said this album was kinda throwaway, recorded when another artist cancelled his session at Third Man Records. Yet, when you tune in to the opening riff of the album’s opener “Missing Pieces”, you immediately realise this album is about to deliver in spades to all those curious ears pointed towards it. It sounds so smooth, rockin’ and analogue … and seems it would have been a blast to put together. Its sense of spontaneity and creative freedom translates through to the listener. A bluesy, garage masterpiece, gloriously thrown together.

Me and MoonHannah Acfield (Dan and Hannah Acfield)
Lydia ColeMe & Moon
As I suspected, iTunes confirmed this was my most played album of 2012! I met Lydia at the APRA Song Summit earlier in the year and she was so lovely it prompted me to buy her album. Me & Moon is a stunning collection of songs, the production is delicate and raw, yet so beautiful and clever. In this case, less is certainly more. Lydia has an exquisite voice that captured me straight away. The songs are well written, am honest tale of heartbreak and loss. I had an immediate connection with this album and have not stopped playing it. Beautiful.

BlunderbussDave “Christo” Christensen (Charlie Mayfair)
Jack WhiteBlunderbuss
By far the most soulful and energetic album of the year from a man that understands the effect that the women in his life have had on his personality and the insecurities it hides. Through big speakers this album is louder than anything else out this year.

Young Man in AmericaEmily Barker
Anaïs MitchellYoung Man in America
I love the mood she creates straight from the outset; pensive and alluring. Lyrically I think it’s phenomenal – it has a stream of consciousness element and repetition of themes: childhood; parenthood; growing up in America; stories we inherit. Instrumentally it’s killer too – I love the combination of woodwind instruments, mandolin, guitars, layered vocals, such rich textures always serving the songs. I get more and more from it every time I listen to it – there is so much depth in this record.

There's No Leaving NowLittle Bastard
Tallest Man on EarthThere’s No Leaving Now
It’s great to see a modern day artist maintain the quality of songwriting up to his fourth release. He has also manage to arrange and produce the music that keeps the listener interested and shows growth from previous albums.

The Burgh Island EPHeidi Waddell (Cordial Factory)
Ben HowardThe Burgh Island EP
All I want to do is sit in a cool, dark room with my eyes closed and breathe in the sounds of this EP. Since I heard Ben Howard’s song “Depth Over Distance” last year, I had been waiting and hoping that his new EP would be much the same and it is. I love that he’s not afraid of combining stillness and passion. He’s created something really unique; it’s deep and full and haunting.

Back at the Quonset HutKetch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show)
Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll BoysBack at the Quonset Hut
About 20 years ago, while Nashville was perfecting it’s recipe for the blandest batch of country music yet, a band called BR-549 was serving it up raw seven nights a week on the freaky streets of Lower Broad. This year Chuck Mead, BR’s longtime frontman, released Back At The Quonset Hut – 12 classic cuts backed by Nashville’s A-Team of sessions players, the color guard of pickers, the very men who made country music what the world knows it to be – true. It still is, and Chuck Mead proves it.

Race the LoserJohn Spiers (Bellowhead, Spiers and Boden)
LauRace the Loser
It’s got everything going for it. It’s hugely complex and experimental with some superb playing yet it bears up to repeated listening incredibly well. For me, the ability to listen to it on lots of different levels makes it the perfect album.

Adventures in Your Own BackyardPete Flood (Bellowhead)
Patrick WatsonAdventures in Your Own Backyard
Eerie, lush, cinematic and full of intriguing twists and turns – it’s like walking through a sunlit wood in late autumn. Pretentious but true.

GossamerSam Sweeny (Bellowhead)
Passion PitGossamer
It’s a perfect pop record. It combines musical simplicity with awesome technical complexity. Each track has new layers that keep jumping out at you at every listen, and to top it all, there isn’t a duff track on the album. It’s sublime music.

Time As We Know ItAdam McGrath (The Eastern)
Todd SniderTime As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker
We spend at least 100-150 days a year sucking up bitumen, roadside pies (best one in six years is the fish pie from wairoa on the bottom of the east cape of the Nth Island of NZ), junk from junk shops, and lung disorders from the air con, in all manner of wheeled transport around New Zealand, Australia and parts and ports beyond. There are basically three rules in the van, 1) Only let Flora the fiddle player drive when no one else can possibly manage it 2) Adam must listen to Waylon Jennings on any post 1am drives (and be allowed to sing along with gusto and a slight edge of drunken melencholy) 3) and when the shit gets bad, hard, or both then we must listen to Todd Snider bootlegs (Tales From Moondog Tavern Vol. 1-5 are particular faves) or Jerry Jeff Walker, they are our road guards. This year Todd Snider released Time As We Know It an album of Jerry Jeff Walker covers, it wouldn’t have mattered if it sucked (it doesn’t) the idea alone would have made it our album of 2012. If next year he does an album of Thin Lizzy songs our lives would indeed be complete.

The Idler WheelTexture Like Sun
Fiona AppleThe Idler Wheel…
Although I haven’t listened to too much new music this year this album is one that recently came to me, and floored me. It’s dark, melancholly and sparse, about what I’d excpect from a Fiona Apple album. Love the additional instumentation in some tracks (you can hear lot of things clanging in the background) – and her voice! This music makes me feel something more than most.

I've Got a Friend Called Emily FerrisJen Cloher
Courtney BarnettI’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris
The debut release from Melbourne based singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett was recorded in a friend’s lounge room in Thornbury. A lo-fi seven song collection of pop gems with plenty of psych-rock wig outs to boot. Original, often humorous lyrics tumble effortlessly over catchy-as-hell melodies. The first song, “Lance Jnr” opens with the lyric “I masturbated to the songs you wrote”. Nuff said.

The Stars Are Indifferent to AstronomyKevin Micthell (Bob Evans, Basement Birds)
Nada SurfThe Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
I’ve been a fan of this band since their seminal album Let Go around 10 years ago and they’ve barely put a foot wrong since. Their new album is another perfect template on how to write glistening power pop with intelligent, poetic lyrics. Underated? I think so.

A Different ShipHusky Gawenda (Husky)
Here We Go MagicA Different Ship
Interesting, infectious songs. A diverse album, but one that flows nicely from start to finish. Spoke to me immediately, before I had a chance to consider why – as all good albums do.

All The Little LightsHelen Croome (Gossling)
PassengerAll The Little Lights
A beautiful album with sweet and heartbreaking stories. Mike is an incredible story-teller who manages to find the perfect balance between memorable melodies and a descriptive tale. A favourite track would be “Let Her Go” with it’s beautiful lyric imagery. And the live version of “I Hate” is another favourite for it’s humour and honesty.

Out of FrequencyNikki Thorburn (ILUKA)
The Asteroid Galaxy TourOut Of Frequency
Danish psychedelic pop band The Asteroid Galaxy Tour are in a class of their own, and their second studio album Out Of Frequency proves just this. With more attitude and swagger than their debut album Fruit, this record is as innovative and refreshing as it is inviting. Drawing on array of eccentric, hypnotic and inviting sounds, they create a fantasy world that is deeply potent and entrancing. Chicago blues on “shrooms” and film noir on acid, it’s truly a case of the sum being greater than its parts.

Mirage RockMark “Looch” Lewis (Handsome Young Strangers)
Band of HorsesMirage Rock
On first listen its hard to believe this is the same band who put out the excellent Everything All The Time album back in 2006. Raw, loose and stripped back, Mirage Rock is everything that their debut was not. Folk purists may baulk at the move in a popier direction on some tunes and whilst I agree that it is not all an easy ride, stand firm! Because with repeated listening this record will reward you if you invest the time. As all great records should.

An Awesome WaveHayden Calnin
Alt-J (∆)An Awesome Wave
This is one of those albums that you tend to pick up and chuck on pretty much every day. In my eyes (ears?) Alt-J have delivered not only the most original sounding record of the year with their very infectious compositions and hauntingly fragile yet powerful vocal style, but also the best written as well. My personal favourite “Ms” off the album takes the cake for being my favourite track of the year as well.

Mirage RockGeorge Jackson
Brittany Haas and Dan TruemanCrissCross
Here’s something you don’t hear every day, unless you have the album like me. Appalachian fiddle goddess Brittany Haas meets Norwegian style fiddler and modern composer Dan Trueman. There is no music I’ve heard before that sounds quite like this, and to top it off the performers achieve that oh so important mix of stimulating both the body and the mind! This project is full of beautiful and mind bending new compositions by both Brittany and Dan. Mix in Natalie Haas on cello + guitarist Jordan Tice along with Brittany’s Crooked Still comrade Cory Di’Mario on Double Bass = a stellar line up. The tunes literally criss-cross the complimentary fiddle styles of Norway and Appalachia, developed with masterful ensemble arrangements and some demanding modern harmony.

JerildereeLachlan Bryan
Bill JacksonJerilderee
It’s actually pretty hard to write convincingly about Australia – most people end up stumbling over the awkward sounding place names, or struggling to extract poetry from our often brutal, frequently covered-up history. Bill and his brother Ross are exceptions to the rule. They write stunning songs together, and microphones just seem to love Bill’s warm, weathered voice. Jerilderie is full of great stories, and was my favourite record this year.

PrisonerEli Wolfe
The JezabelsPrisoner
Driving on tour we have been listening to The Jezabels Prisoner, which fits the landscape perfectly. Though it was released late 2011, I only bought Prisoner this year. It’s a great vibey album and Hayley is an amazing front woman.

How About I Be MeDamien Dempsey
Sinead O’ConnorHow About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
A blinding return to form by a fearless warrior woman who is my favorite female singer. Her song “Take Off Your Shoes” makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time I hear it, breathtaking.

Fear FunTom Busby (Busby Marou)
Father John MistyFear Fun
This album reminds me of why I love listening to music – it makes me so happy! The songs are cheeky and full of swagger, and somehow steers away from sounding arrogant. I love the production, including the small imperfections which are clearly intended. It is obvious that there were no rules when recording the record and this is probably why I can’t stop smiling each time I hear it.

Toward The Low SunAidan Cooney (Boy Outside)
Dirty ThreeToward the Low Sun
Choose your time wisely because I cried like a mother fucking bitch recently on a long haul flight listening to this album. Melancholy to get lost in and the dirtiest violin sound known to man give you an album that should be sold with a warning.

Music From Kennedy's PoolCourtney Barnett
Merri Creek PickersMusic From Kennedy’s Pool
I have seen the Merri Creek Pickers play live about 80 times. I’ve heard them rehearsing about 400 times. I adore the gentle genius of Alex Hamilton’s songwriting, the all-inclusive yet sometimes argumentative arrangement process and the fact that it was all recorded by the band themselves live at a farm in the middle of nowhere. This is a classic album that should transcend our generation.

Warm in the DarknessCat Canteri (The Stillsons)
Liz StringerWarm in the Darkness
Beautifully tasty arrangements, playing, sounds and songs across the whole album.

HereSam Buckingham
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic ZerosHere
It’s so full of joy and somehow, every time I listen, manages to remind me to stop and enjoy the simplest and most beautiful things the world has to offer, and I have to offer the world. I love the songwriting, the production is unique and brilliant but I think, more than anything, it’s the feeling of hope and beauty that sits inside every song.

El CaminoCat Colman (Billygoat and the Mongrels)
The Black KeysEl Camino
So many albums to choose from!! The Black Keys scraped in at number 1, mainly because it has such a full solid and infectious sound.

Carry Me BackJohn Flanagan (John Flanagan and the Begin Agains)
Old Crow Medicine ShowCarry Me Back
Having just traveled to the US this year for the first time I’ve fallen in love with the mountain music that is so prominent in North Carolina and Virginia. Old Crow Medicine Show clearly draw on a wide range of influences though I love the old-timey core to their music with the claw-hammer banjo and fiddle. There are a lot of references to places we recently visited: Virginia, the Shenandoah river, etc, so for many reasons the album brings back fond memories of traveling through the South.

The Lion's RoarElla Hooper
First Aid KitThe Lion’s Roar
First Aid Kit are so full of potential it hurts. I don’t think they’ve quite revealed all they will in years to come but Lions Roar boasts great lush production from Mike Mogis (a modern master) and the girls’ tight folk pop songwriting is just my kind of teenage day dream, sorry Katy Perry, but This is talent.

PackwoodJulia Johnson (Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens)
PackwoodPackwood
In all honesty, I spent much of 2012 rediscovering old favourites. I re-arranged my bedroom, which inadvertently meant it was much easier for me to use my record player. Dad’s impeccable record collection has been liberated from the garage and given a healthy airing this year. There is one 2012 release that has had a particular impact on me musically though, so that automatically catapults in to becoming my favourite release of 2012. Early in the year I supported Packwood and The Falls in Canberra, at The Front Gallery. Probably one of the loveliest gigs with some of the loveliest musicians I’ve played with all year, but I digress. I’ve never heard such an ambitious EP as Packwood’s. Simply a man, his banjo, and an orchestra. Yup, a 50 piece orchestra. With a banjo. I’ve been messing around with my banjo for a few years half-arsedly, but since hearing that EP I haven’t practiced my guitar at all. I can’t put my banjo down. So thank you Packwood, for re-invigorating my love for banjo, and sorry housemates and neighbours, I’m not going to stop playing my banjo any time soon.

Baby We Were Born to DieRosie Catalano
Jen CloherBaby We Were Born To Die
Each song on this 3-track EP is so special. “Call If You Need Me” has an incredible ability to transport me to a whole other world every time I listen to it, “Baby We Were Born To Die” leaves me awed by Jen Cloher’s way of looking at the world and the hand she has been dealt, and the lyrics in her duet with Courtney Barnett always manages to catch me by surprise and make me laugh.

Love This GiantSarah Blasko
David Byrne & St VincentLove This Giant
It’s a collaborative album that really works and feels very cohesive. The arrangements are really imaginative and it has the freshness of not sounding like anything else that’s out at the moment. The brass arrangements are fantastic. It’s a classic sounding record, it’s beautiful and rich and full.

A Creature I Don't KnowLiam Gale (Liam Gale and The Ponytails)
Laura MarlingA Creature I Don’t Know
I spent this year listening to some not-so-current music, and it seems I’ve got some catchng up to do considering the snippets of albums I’ve heard over the last twelve months. Of 2012’s offerings, Laura Marling’s A Creature I Don’t Know was one that caught my ear. It had a lilt toward that concept-album-feel, some tracks outright flowing into the next, like Floyd with banjos or something. There was this poem she’d written that came out shortly after the album was released that seemed to explore the record’s protagonist character; the Beast. It’d come up every now again, like it was teasing the other characters on the album. Trippy.

Phaux CiscoSivan (The April Maze)
VariousPhaux Cisco
It astounds me that some of the greatest songwriters of all time remain relatively unheard. James Cisco is one of them. This album was produced as a surprise gift for the songwriter and includes some great Melbourne musos doing versions of his wonderful songs. The album features versions from Jeb Cardwell, Dan Lethbridge, Jed Pickett & Kate Walker, Kate Crowley, The Shivering Timbers, Simon Hudson & Anita Quail, Adrian Whitehead and more. The songs are in chronological order of when they were written, from 1988 to 2012. Its a real genre journey and wanders through folk, rock, country, punk, soul and blues. We love it and listen to it on the road all the time.

The Great DespiserFanny Lumsden
Joe PugThe Great Despiser
To me his songs are like stories from those who don’t usually tell stories. This album feels like I’m moving forward on a monster of a drive where one has very minimal encounters with anything man made and at the same time feeling settled. Good one JPUG.

An Awesome WaveBity Booker
Alt-J (∆)An Awesome Wave
Driven by Joe Newman’s haunting melodies, vowel-curling words, heart breaking notes; each song on this album is an independent masterpiece: cohesive and scrupulous. Every track is rich in layered detail, synthesizing meticulous sounds of pianos, guitars and xylophones. “Taro” is a wonderful story and an adventure in itself. I can’t get enough of it’s obsessive melody, which reaches a haunting climax when Newman’s voice breaks in the refrain, missing the crucial note, but making it that much more important in its absence.

The Only PlaceEmma Davis
Best CoastThe Only Place
This album really just came at the perfect time. I had just returned from a long trip overseas and having had a few changes along the way I took some time out to live by the beach and write. There’s nothing really ground-breaking or creatively astounding about this record, it’s just a great record. Solid, well-constructed pop songs all the way through. It’s a more positive sounding album than the last, with cleaner production and perhaps less raw emotion but to me still has that distinct ‘Best Coast’ sound that I first fell in love with. The lyrics are beautifully simple to the point where I’m not sure sometimes how they get away with it, but they do. Overall, it simply made me feel good, and at a time when I needed it. I’ve listened to it so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if a few subconscious references to “waves” or “babes” make it into my next record.

The Money StoreMark Piccles (Tin Sparrow)
Death GripsThe Money Store
Possibly the most intense, in-your-face hip hop record I’ve ever heard, but it’s endless originality and almost tangible persona is undeniable. It’s not for everyone but if you can withstand the brutality of the initial listen, there is much to be discovered on second venture and beyond.

LonerismDean McLeod (Tin Sparrow)
Tame ImpalaLonerism
Some killer overseas albums this year but Lonerism is by far my favourite. It’s texturally amazing which is really important for me and I love Kevin’s song writing. It also expands the sound they crafted on Innerspeaker. Almost perfect psych pop. Plus after seeing them at Splendour this year I reckon they are one of the best live bands going. Conclusion: instant froth.

The Year of HibernationBen Cooper (Radical Face)
Youth LagoonThe Year of Hibernation
I’m never good at these lists. I’m almost always a year or two behind, as I tend to stop hunting new records while recording and then play catch up when I’m not. So this album was late 2011, but I was told that’s okay. Anyway, this is one of those records that feels like it was made in a bedroom and is all the better for it. It’s a record that makes me smile, and as the lyrics slowly became discernible I found I really liked them. I don’t often describe records as charming, but this one I do. And it’s good walking music. I like it a lot

Spring and FallJack Carty
Paul KellySpring And Fall
I got myself into a tis trying to choose between a bunch of amazing releases this year by First Aid Kit, The Falls, Leroy Lee, Tim Hart and Packwood (just to name a few) but when I stopped thinking too much about it and just went with my gut, I had to go with Paul Kelly’s Spring And Fall for my favourite album of 2012. I am not sure if it’s because I grew up listening to my Dad singing along to his records or just because of the beautiful, simple honesty with which he writes, but I find something about Paul Kelly’s records incredibly comforting, and Spring And Fall is among his best. Each song is a story in itself, and a paragraph in the bittersweet tale the album as a whole tells. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, just says it plain and true … Music for everyone.

Unfinished BusinessJessica Cassar and Darren Cross (Jep and Dep)
Wanda JacksonUnfinished Business
It was on our way back from our Jep and Dep tour of Germany, cheap flights with Air China, that we spent our last night in Frankfurt. With a giant stroke of luck, Wanda Jackson was performing a stones throw away from our crappy fluorescent pink hostel. After one song she blew us away. The devil’s girlfriend. Queen of Rockabilly. She is Rockabilly (no visible tattoos by the way). Her 2012 album, Unfinished Business, is mixed a saddlebag of rock, blues and country covers and originals that doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It’s a fun and sassy album that pays tribute to the era the 75-year-old pint-sized, tassle wearing old school banshee reigned in. Listen to it.

SomethingEdward Deer
ChairliftSomething
For me the realm of intelligent and visceral pop music was completely owned by the ladies in 2012 (see also the exceptional recent records from Bat for Lashes, Cat Power, First Aid Kit and Sharon Van Etten, to name just a few). But the album I listened to more than any other this year was probably Chairlift’s Something. It’s full of thrilling juxtapositions – spontaneous and energetic performances meet painstaking songcraft, super hooky 80s-inspired pop melodies sit alongside bizarre sounds you’ve never heard before in your life. Caroline’s angelic, crystal clear voice is used to deliver wounded and often darkly comic lyrics, while Patrick’s bass lines are just plain killer. The band has just released some early demos from this album and those bare bones recordings reveal just how much work went into making the finished product so great.

Summer SongsJake Holmes (Merri Creek Pickers)
My Left BootSummer Songs
This is the coolest album I’ve heard in such a long time, absolute stoner heaven. “Sharks in the water” will make your hair stand on end. Roll up and just put it on.

The LumineersAchoo! Bless You
The LumineersThe Lumineers
I (Ross) heard the single “Ho Hey” in about July, and it was love at first listen. Catchy, awesome americana-folk-pop. There’s a massive scene they are championing, and they’re doing it real well.

MuseumPatrick James
Ball Park MusicMuseum
I often love albums where you can discover something new in the music every time. For me, this is one of them. I happened to catch a Ball Park Music concert at the Metro Theatre in the latter part of the year and was blown away. Since then, I keep going back to this band and especially this record, even to the point of covering one of their songs at my own live show. The songwriting is so left of field and it never fails to surprise me. Every time I listen to this album, I feel it moves me in a different way and keeps me intrigued about their music.

HypnotisedThe Twoks
Pony FaceHypnotised
Mature, fuzzy, warm and dark. The sound of three lads who know exactly how their music should sound, but (having mastered the art of subtlety) don’t shove it down your throat. Hypnotised has beautiful layers and textures. Not only does the album creep up and grow on you, but each song does. Highlights are the amazing “Alabama” (featuring the coolest laconic percussive vocal) and the spirited “Holly Said”.

Who's Feeling Young NowJane Hendry (The Tiger and Me)
Punch BrothersWho’s Feeling Young Now?
I’ve been a big fan of these guys for a few years now and this album shows just how talented they all are. I love the way they are bringing together traditional bluegrass instrumentation and techniques with songwriting that is much more indie-pop. This particular album does this probably more than their previous releases, but their complex and intricate arrangements are still there in spades, coupled with some heartbreakingly good melodies. There’s quite a bit of swagger too! Top track (changes regularly for me) – “Hundred Dollars”, where Gabe Witcher (fiddle) takes the lead vocals and swaggers all over the place.

The RubensSally Balfour
The RubensThe Rubens
Soulful, rockin’ blues; can’t get enough of The Ruben’s debut album. This album stirs something new within me each time I listen to it, especially their single “My Gun”. That track always cuts straight through to my heart. It is no wonder The Rubens are this year’s triple j Unearthed Artists of the Year.

Seven DaysAndrew Drummond
Emmy BryceSeven Days
The songs are fun and catchy and full of 90s pop influenced goodness! The EP also showed what an artist (and team) with drive and vision can achieve in a short period of time, with numerous TV show appearances (both live and soundtrack) and a national tour. Seven Days by Emmy Bryce inspired me to keep dreaming.

Ashes & FireStu Larsen
Ryan AdamsAshes & Fire
I know it was released pretty late in 2011, but all year long I just always went back to it. A classic easy listening album. I love the simplicity, I love the instrumentation and I love the way Ryan Adams’ imagery takes me some place else. My favourite track off this album at the moment is the opener, “Dirty Rain”.

Warm in the DarknessLeah Flanagan
Liz StringerWarm in the Darkness
Liz is one of my favourite Australian songwriters. The quality of musicianship and songwriting on Warm in the Darkness is incredible and it’s nice to hear her rocking out with full band and horn section. There are moments when listening to this record that I suddenly get goosebumps. They remind me of how truly beautiful her voice is. Buy it. Favourite songs are “High Open Hills” and “Warm in the Darkness”.

Slay Me In My SleepPiers Twomey
Grand SalvoSlay Me In My Sleep
The paradox about Paddy Mann – aka Melbourne’s Grand Salvo – is how he’s both adored and celebrated while also being overlooked and unsung. His critically acclaimed albums come across (to me) like profound, melodically gorgeous, yet slightly awkward museum folk songs: pure and emotionally charged vignettes from another era. Enough has been written about 2012’s Slay Me In My Sleep being one of his very best. I’ll just add that the record’s “The Boy’s Story Of His Faithful Family Dog” reduces me to tears. If you’ve ever loved and lost a family dog – and if you let it – the song may evoke the same consequence in you.

Over The SunCountry Town Collective
Tinpan OrangeOver the Sun
We love Tinpan Orange’s new album. It’s quirky, unexpected and eerily beautiful. A bit like Portishead but more organic sounding, it could be the soundtrack to an old movie, a bit James Bond theme even? It’s definitely got some magic to it.

Swing Low MagellanSteven Barnard (Arbori)
Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan
I was surprised and satisfied by the peculiar and purposed brilliance of this record. It satisfies so many corners of my affection as it effortlessly showcased a band that are so deliberate and intentional. From the intricate electronic sounds scapes, to the biting crunch of guitar riffs, to the sweet and often bitter harmonics, dull acoustic tones, manic riffs, intimacy, mania … Lyrically prophetic both socially and emotionally and musically nostalgic yet completely original. I listened to it over and over as it continued to claimed my satisfaction.

Odd SoulPaul Brown (Arbori)
MutemathOdd Soul
This album came as a bit of a surprise to me. Mutemath have been a favourite band of mine for a while and they always do something different with each album, yet manage to create a sound uniquely theirs. Odd Soul is a masterpiece of musicianship which in my mind brings together the Mutemath feel to a very 60s soul and psychedelic sound. It is a fresh sound (albeit retro) in a market saturated in same sounding music! Fav tracks: “Cavalries” and “One More”.

RedJames Hutchinson (Arbori)
Taylor SwiftRed
We’re forgetting the biggest album of the year, the one that defines this generation and will go down in the annals of history as a watermark in the second decade of this century – Taylor Swift’s Red. It is my emotional comfort when I’m home crying myself to sleep over a lost boyfriend at night and the musical incentive to get me through the day.

Born and RaisedSibylla Stephen (The Little Stevies)
John MayerBorn and Raised
First let me say, I haven’t heard many new albums this year as I gave birth to my son in June. And like many first time mums I’ve just been tumbling my way through his first year trying to keep my head above water. It sure has been fun though, and one new album that we have sung, danced and gone to sleep to is the new John Mayer, Born and Raised. I know it’s cheesy, and it’s not all that “cool” to admit it, but I’m a big fan of his. I’ve always loved his lyrics, he had me at “I’ll never let your head hit the bed without my hand behind it” … Swoon … And on this new album he’s done it again. It’s full of songs I can’t stop humming and lyrics I wish I’d come up with. And he seems to have taken a little turn towards a more alt-country sound in some songs which I love. But all-in-all its just a great pop record, my favourite. Don’t judge me!!!

Young NorthZoe Elliot
The Paper KitesYoung North
The Young North EP has managed to stay true to the Paper Kites sound while still feeling fresh. My two favourite songs are “Leopold Street” due to the romantic nostalgia I hold onto of my grandparents, and “Paint” as its beautiful simplicity brought me to tears when I first turned it on sitting alone in my car – it takes a strong lyric to break me.

Goat Rodeo SessionsBayden Hine (Packwood)
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris ThileGoat Rodeo Sessions
Of all the albums that I heard over the course of 2012, the one that really stood out for me was Goat Rodeo Sessions – a collaborative album put together by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and one of my musical heroes Chris Thile. I first heard the album by way of a buddy, who told me I “had to listen to this”. Naturally I didn’t, until several months later whilst sitting in a car listening to The Punch Brothers’ latest album – at which point I remembered. The album’s title refers to a chaotic ruckus of sorts, a big ol’ mess that somehow just … works out in the end – exactly what this album is. I absolutely adore blended genres – especially blends of classical/folk/bluegrass – and so this album has been on high-rotation ever since! The stand out track for me is “Attaboy”, but if you can’t stand instrumentals and harmonies are your thing – “Here and Heaven” is sure to please.

TempestNigel Wearne
Bob DylanTempest
Yes, I’m another songwriter who’s a Bob Dylan fan but I had to choose this album because he’s still got it in spades. It’s more of a poetry reading these days but his phrasing is as good as it’s ever been. It’s pretty hard to beat a nasty 8 minute murder ballad and a beautiful 15 minute epic about the Titanic sinking. The man still has something to say!

The Rip TideJesse Lubitz (TinPan Orange)
BeirutThe Rip Tide
I started my year off with a live Beirut show in early 2012 and it’s stayed with me as one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. The songs on The Rip Tide seem effortless and the album flows as an album should flow. I love the quirky instrumentation and clever arrangements – it’s an album from a band who don’t sound like they are trying to sound like anything other than themselves.

Illawarra Folk Festival Sydney Showcase 2012

Handsome Young Strangers
Image Courtesy of Handsome Young Strangers

This Sunday 16th December the best of the Illawarra Folk Festival is coming to Sydney for their annual showcase. Taking place at The Cat and Fiddle, Balmain with nine artists across a wide variety of genres and styles.

The music kicks off at 12:30pm with tickets only $15 on the door ($10 for Festival pass holders). For more information check out the official Illawarra Folk Festival page here. The full lineup and set times for the showcase are below:

12:30pm: The Con Artists (Community World Music Band)
1:20pm: Pukara (South American)
2:10pm: Jan Preston (Honky Tonk Piano)
2:55pm: Shameless Seamus and the Tullamore Dews (Irish Pub Folk – featuring Jim
Moginnie from Midnight Oil)
3:45pm: Pat Drummond (Songwriter)
4:35pm: Nancy Kerr and James Fagan (UK Traditional)
5:25pm: Black Joak Morris
5:30pm: Volatinsky Trio (Russian Folk)
6pm: Black Joak Morris
6:25pm: Handsome Young Strangers (above, Colonial Bush Rock)
7:20pm Mike McClellan (Songwriter)
8:05pm: The Amazing 3 (Songwriter trio)
8:40pm: Okapi Guitar Band with Paul Mbenna (African)

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