Timber and Steel’s Top Albums of 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Morrisons Return With O Brother Where Art Thou? Tribute Shows

The Morrisons
Image Courtesy of The Morrisons

Sydney pickers The Morrisons are heading to The Vanguard in Newtown in May for another round of O Brother Where Art Thou? tribute shows. The classic Coen Brothers film has inspired a generation of folk musicians and getting the chance to see iconic songs like “Man of Constant Sorrow”, “I’ll Fly Away” and “You Are My Sunshine” performed by musicians of The Morrisons’ calibre is not to be missed.

On the 6th, 7th and 8th May The Morrisons will be joined by local musicians Brian Campeau, Lucky Luke, Georgia Mooney, Hannah Crofts, Katie Wighton and Luke Escombe along with comedian Tommy Dean for Man Of Constant Sorrow: A Tribute to the Music of O Brother Where Art Thou?. If you’re keen to get to one of these shows get in quick – tickets are selling fast. Check out The Vanguard’s official site for more details.

Interview: All Our Exes Live In Texas

All Our Exes
Image Courtesy of All Our Exes Live In Texas

I count myself lucky that BIGSOUND this year gave me the opportunity to finally sit down with all four members of quartet All Our Exes Live In Texas in the same place. Elana Stone, Katie Wighton, Hannah Crofts and Georgia Mooney are all celebrated singer-songwriters in their own right, dividing their time between their solo careers and their alt-country girl-group. I took the opportunity to chat to All Our Exes Live In Texas about how they juggle their different musical projects, playing soccer with their childhood crushes for their new film clip and how they’re feeling about their upcoming tour.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You guys started as a bit casual, “hey let’s just get together and play”, but there seems to have been a shift in the last few months towards making the project more focused. What’s fueled that decision.

Katie Wighton: I don’t think any of us were actively looking to make it a project. It was fun the first time we did it and then people kept asking us to play and then asking us to record a CD. Then we got a really great booking agent recently and he sort of made it a bit more serious. It’s still really fun and that’s kind of the main aim. We want to stay friends and we want to still have fun.

GHE: Do you now have to plan your writing and practicing sessions a bit better?

Hannah Crofts: We definitely recently have had heaps of shows we’ve had to work towards. A lot of the time when we practice I feel like it’s practicing for the next thing coming up. We want to write our album next year so we want to go away for a week and actually spend some time together.

GHE: Can I ask a little bit about the writing process. You’re all fantastic solo artists in your own right. How do you decide what’s going to be an Exes song and what’s going to be a solo song?

Georgia Mooney: I don’t know. It’s quite hard. I suppose our solo stuff is all slightly different in genre. We individually write songs and then we bring them in and then we workshop them together. And that’s really nice – having everybody’s input on your song and then being able to play other people’s songs. It’s a nice break from just doing your own slog.

GHE: And I guess the styles are different enough. If you feel like writing a country song or you feel like turning one of your songs into a country song you have the All Our Exes Live In Texas outlet.

GM: Sometimes we do our own songs and just kind of change them up. Rearrange.

HC: Reggae versions is my solo project.

GHE: I’ve seen you do some Exes songs in your solo set Hannah. And I think out of everyone here your solo stuff is the closest to All Our Exes Live In Texas?

HC: I think it’s just because I only know how to play three chords. I just write my songs with those three chords and bring in a three chord song set. [laughs] I think that’s probably why!

GHE: I know you’re out their promoting your solo stuff at the moment Elana which I don’t cover on Timber and Steel because it’s not really folky. How do you divide your time between Exes and your solo stuff.

Elana Stone: That is a horrible question.

GHE: Sorry!

KW: She doesn’t mean it’s a horrible question she means it’s a horrible feeling to have to do that.

ES: I guess I just have to do the most urgent things that I have to do. And I think lately these guys have been having to pull a bit more of my work load which is shit for them. Because I’m doing the solo thing, and we’re all self managed, it’s just so much work. And I guess I’ve spent a long time making this album now I really want to put it out in a good way. If anything I think what we all hope is that the Exes thing is a) a little vacation from our solo stuff and b) a little ticket to people’s awareness of our solo careers as well as with the band. We’re kind of hoping that the two things will kind of miraculously work together. Whether that actually happens or not we’re yet to discover.

KW: It’s cool though. I think it’s one of the best things about this project is that it doesn’t feel quite as lonely as our solo stuff.

HC: All sitting alone in our rooms writing songs about boys and crying.

KW: We’re four people all of whom are really keen and we love each other. It’s a project that we love rather than just one person really pushing their own bandwagon.

GHE: And you get to share the load as well. I talk to a lot of self managed artists and I know how much work it can be.

ES: The more you go to these sorts of conferences the more you realise just how much there is to do. Where do you become a creative person in the midst of all of that? It’s crazy.

KW: You need to delegate in such a big way and it’s vaguely more possible with four people. Like Hannah works in management and stuff so she’s a bit of a gun in that respect. It’s good to have different strengths that we sort of try to work to.

GHE: The new single is “Tell Me”. I really like that track. Is that the step towards an album.

GM: Yeah, it’s the first song.

ES: We’re going to try and do a few singles and then have the album out early next year.

HC: We have a video coming out where we play on a soccer team.

GHE: I’ve seen some stills from it. You’re playing against people like Lawrence Leung

GM: We got Phil Jamison! Hannah’s high school heart-throb.

HC: I was so nervous that when I met him I said “Hi I’m Han” and he said “Han?” and I said “…Nah”. And then I basically didn’t talk to him again after that.

KW: We had Jackson Gallagher from Home and Away who was exceptionally good at soccer.

GM: We all had fairly epic falls. It’s brutal. Hannah particularly get’s beaten up.

KW: It was quite funny because Jackson was like “we’ll do a slide tackle” and we were all like “oh yeah, a fake slide tackle”. But he was serious and did an actual serious slide tackle and Hannah went arse over tit.

GHE: Is the album going to be all original stuff or are you going to be breaking out the covers as well?

HC: Maybe one or two covers?

ES: I think we’re going to try and make it all originals.

KW: I think we’ve got enough originals to cull the covers.

GHE: Because you started as a cover band right?

GM: We started in a hurry. James Daley from The Morrisons organised this gig and said “you guys should be a girl band and you should do a 20 minute set”. I learned how to play the mandolin…

KW: Georgia bought a mandolin a month before the gig.

GM: And then we hurriedly got some songs together and we played one original.

KW: Which is fairly dodgy and I may not want to play it ever again.

HC: It’s our anthem! I even had the chords – C, D and A – written on my ukelele, stuck on the top, so I could remember how to play my ukulele.

KW: We’ve come far.

ES: We have come far. That gig was special though. We were really excited and really nervous and there was something really magical in the air.

GHE: I think I’ve seen Youtube clips of that gig.

GM: Oh god! I’ve deleted those now.

KW: I still feel like we played at a night of country music with these amazing guitarists – Miles Frazser who plays with The Morrisons who I was like “why am I playing before you? My guitar playing is just horrendous”. And now we had a gig where Miles was like “your guitar playing’s really great. You’re playing really well”. I nearly fell over. I’ve improved! When actual guitarists are saying you’re doing a good job it’s a good feeling.

GHE: You guys are heading out on tour as well. Are you excited about going out on tour?

HC: We’re starting to go into some regional areas. We’ve never played outside of Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin before.

ES: We did play Brisbane.

HC: Yeah we did play Brisbane. But we’re starting to go to the regional areas of Australia.

GM: Like Ballarat!

ES: We’re really excited about touring. I think it’s going to be really fun. We’ll probably come back talking even worse than we talk now.

GHE: Well thank you for talking as much as you do now with me today.

HC: Thanks Gareth!

All Our Exes Live In Texas will be touring through October. Check out the full list of dates below:

Thursday 9th October – Shebeen, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 10th October – Main Bar, Ballarat, VIC
Saturday 11th October – Harvester Moon, Bellarine, VIC
Sunday 12th October – The Wheatsheaf, Adelaide, SA
Wednesday 15th October – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 16th October – The Courthouse, Mullumbimby, NSW
Friday 17th October – No 5 Church St, Bellingen, NSW
Saturday 18th October – Grand Junction, Maitland, NSW
Friday 24th October – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 25th October – Katoomba RSL, Blue Mountains, NSW
Sunday 26th October – Front Gallery, Canberra, ACT

Country Roads Interview: Katie Wighton, All Our Exes Live In Texas

All Our Exes
Image Courtesy of All Our Exes Live In Texas

This Thursday will see a homecoming of sorts with Sydney all girl super-group All Our Exes Live In Texas headlining Country Roads at The Oxford Art Factory – the same regular night they debuted at earlier this year. Made up of acclaimed singer-songwriters Elana Stone, Katie Wighton, Hannah Crofts and Georgia Mooney, All Our Exes Live In Texas have spent 2013 building a solid fan base and wowing the local alt-country scene. We managed to catch five minutes with one quarter of the band, singer/guitarist Katie Wighton, to chat about the band with the best name in Australia.

Gareth Hugh Evans: All Our Exes Live In Texas is a Sydney indie supergroup – how’d you guys get together in the first place? And why country music?

Katie Wighton: How did we get together? A bottle of wine, a couple of episodes of HBO’s Girls, an accordion solo and bam! The band was born! We all fell in love with country music at different moments in our lives but I think the main attraction was the potential for some sweet, sweet harmonies. The song titles get us too – my personal favourite is “I Don’t Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling.”

GHE: You do a lot of covers of country (and non-country) songs. How do All Our Exes Live In Texas choose the songs in your repertoire?

KW: Our first gig was quite frightening. Singing felt totally natural to all of us but instrumentally it was fairly confronting! George [Mooney] picked up her mando about a month before the gig and I’d only ever played guitar for about a minute, in my room, 10 years ago. So we decided to stick to songs we knew for that gig. Since then we’ve been writing a lot and so a good portion of our set now is made up of our originals. One of us will bring in a tune we’ve written or we think will suit us and then the four of us arrange it together. Our rehearsals are fairly productive – I’ve been named the benevolent dictator. But they do go well into the night and involve a lot of laughter, wine and episodes of whatever TV series we’re into at the time.

GHE: There seems to be a really vibrant country music scene in Sydney at the moment. I always ask this of country artists but why do you think this kind of music is appealing to audiences in Australia’s largest city?

KW: Oh me oh my, I have no idea! I mean it’s about time – the genre has been around for long enough. I think people always love a sing-a-long, all-in-together situation and country music practically begs for that. Loads of killer harmonies, sung to often hilarious lyrics and some real opportunities for daggy dancing. What’s not to love?!

GHE: One of your first gigs as a band (if not your first) was at the very first Country Roads night. How are you feeling about returning to the Country Roads stage in its new home at the Oxford Art Factory? What can the audience expect from your set?

KW: It was our first gig, yes! We are super excited about returning to the Country Roads stage. It was such a fun night last time I can only imagine it’ll be great this time too. As a band we have a really fun time and bliss out fairly hard when we sing together. Hopefully that’s what happens to the audience too!

GHE: I also hear a rumour that you’ve scored the July residency at Folk Club. That’s got to be pretty exciting?

KW: When Melinda [Kirwin, The Falls] asked us to do Folk Club in July we leapt at the chance. It’s such a great vibe down there and it has a reputation of hosting some seriously awesome artists. We’re also looking forward to a solid month of gigs. We’ve got some pretty exciting acts coming to play with us too!

GHE: Finally, do you have the best band name in Australia?

KW: I think it’s entirely possible! I have to admit, when the girls suggested it to me (I was in Brisbane at the time) I wrote a text back saying “I’m not sure … Got anything else?” I’m the first to admit I was so very wrong!

Catch All Our Exes Live In Texas at the Oxford Art Factory this Thursday for Country Roads – more info here.

Sydney’s Finest Bluegrass, Folk and Country For One Night At The Vanguard

Bellyache Ben
Image Courtesy of Bellyache Ben and the Steamgrass Boys

On the 1st February some of Sydney’s finest bluegrass, folk and country bands will be pickin’ and pluckin’ their way to The Vanguard for the Country Roads. Dusting off their boots and slinging themselves on stage will be bluegrass masters Bellyache Ben and the Steamgrass Boys (above), country, folk and bluegrass extraordinaires The Green Mohair Suits, Canadian jungle folk band The River and the Road and Elana Stone’s new all girl country outfit All Our Exes Live In Texas featuring Georgia Mooney, Katie Wighton and Hannah Crofts.

Tickets for the Country Roads are a mere $18.80 (so much music for so little money!) with the show kicking off at 8pm. For more information check out the official Facebook invite here or head over to the Vanguard website here.

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