Timber and Steel’s Top Albums of 2017

Merle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank Folk It’s Friday – 6th January

TFIF

This Week in Folk

All the News From The Week That Was

– New Zealand folk duo Tattletale Saints hit Australia this week with dates in NSW and VIC. Details here

– Folk singer Kate Burke released a sad and beautiful track titled “All For Me”. Details here

– Popular Adelaide folk night The Porch Sessions is touring through SA, VIC and NSW this month with Stu Larsen, Luke Thompson and Tim Moore. Details here

– US folk rockers Thompson Springs have announced an Australian tour with Maia Marsh. Details here

– Experimental folk group Vanishing Shapes announced a January tour. Details here

– Tasmanian folk punks The Dead Maggies released their new single “She”. Details here

– This week’s Illawarra Folk Festival has an amazing lineup including Andy Irvine and Luke Plumb, FourWinds, Tattletale Saints, The Whitetop Mountaineers, Tim O’Brien, Wallis Bird, Daniel Champagne, Echo Deer, Handsome Young Strangers, Lime and Steel, Mandy Connell, Martin Pearson, Nigel Wearne, Shanty Club, The Squeezebox Trio, Tinpan Orange, Big Erle, Jane Aubourg, Joe Mungovan, Kay Proudlove, Shelley’s Murder Boys, The Lurkers and many many more. Details here

– Indie-folkers Winterbourne announced a February tour. Details here

Ryan Adams released his Neil Young-esque new single “To Be Without You”. Details here

– English big-band Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band have announced their new album Big Machine. Details here

– Banjo master Noam Pikelny has announced plans for his first official solo album Universal Favorite. Details here

– Sydney Americana singer-songwriter Katie Brianna treated us to a new track “Sticks and Stones”. Details here

Citizen of the World released their new video “In The Moment”. Details here

Releases This Week

11 Short Stories
11 Short Stories Of Pain & GloryDropkick Murphys
iTunes

Timber and Steel Recommends – Go To This Gig

The Porch Sessions On Tour feat. Stu Larsen, Luke Thompson, Tim Moore

Porch Sessions

Adelaide’s popular folk night The Porch Sessions hits the road with shows in South Australia and Victoria this week featuring Stu Larsen, Luke Thompson and Tim Moore

Friday 6th January – The Cantina, Robe, SA
Sunday 8th January – Illowa, VIC
Wednesday 11th January – Lorne, VIC
Friday 13th January – Melbourne, VIC

Gigs Next Week

Acoustics Anonymous feat. Mckenzie Kay, Jon Maratheftis
Wednesday 11th January – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW

Áine Tyrrell
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, TAS
Friday 13th January – Rosny Barn, TAS

Alanna and Alicia
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Andy Irvine w/ Luke Plumb
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, TAS
Tuesday 10th January – House Concert, TAS
Thursday 12th January – Smith’s Alternative, Canberra, ACT
Friday 13th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Blue King Brown
Friday 13th January – Mona Vale Hotel, Mona Vale, NSW

Courtyard Sessions Presents Imogen Clark
Friday 13th January – Seymour Centre, Sydney, NSW

Cygnet Folk Festival
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet, TAS

Deadwood 76, Dave Favours & The Roadside Ashes
Friday 6th January – The Gasoline Pony, Sydney, NSW

Don McGlashan
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, TAS
Wednesday 11th January – Grand Poobah, Hobart, TAS
Friday 13th January – Brookfields Shed, Margate, TAS

Dubmarine, Circle of Rhythm, Matiu Te Huki, New Venusians, Queen Porter Stomp, Deejay Bentley, Deepchild (DJ set)
Friday 6th January – The Factory Theatre, Sydney, NSW

Folkswagon feat. Scott Rudd, Thompson Springs, Maia Marsh
Wednesday 11th January – Cafe Lounge, Sydney, NSW

Fourwinds
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, Cygnet, TAS
Wednesday 11th to Sunday 15th January – Illawara Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW

George & Noriko
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Gregory Page
Friday 7th January – The Caravan Club, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 8th January – The Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW
Thursday 12th January – Leadbelly, Sydney, NSW
Friday 13th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Heartbreakers Sessions feat. Jamie Hutchings, Ben Horder
Sunday 8th January – The Bearded Tit, Sydney, NSW

Honey
Sunday 8th January – Mudgee Brewing Co., Mudgee, NSW

Hootenanny feat. Echo Deer
Sunday 8th January – Miss Peaches, Sydney, NSW

Illawarra Folk Festival
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Bulli, NSW

Jaron Freeman Fox & The Opposite of Everything
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, Cygnet, TAS
Sunday 8th January – MONA, Hobart, TAS

Joe & Harmony’s Trippy Hippy Band
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Josh Pyke & Bob Evans
Friday 13th January – Esk BeerFest, Launceston, TAS

Katie Brianna
Thursday 12th January – Leadbelly, Sydney, NSW

Kirsty Bromley
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, Cygnet, TAS
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Lake Street Dive
Friday 6th January – Howler, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 7th January – Summer of Soul, Mossvale, VIC
Sunday 8th January – Caravan Music Club, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 13th January – Sydney Festival, Sydney, NSW

Nigel Wearne
Saturday 7th January – The Witches Garden, Mitta Mitta, VIC
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Ramblin’ Nights feat. Dan Brodie, JD & The Hungermen, Gana & Scotty
Saturday 7th January – Django Bar, Sydney, NSW

Roadhouse feat. Cruisin’ Deuces
Thursday 12th January – Miss Peaches, Sydney, NSW

Sharon Shannon
Friday 6th January – Mick O’Malley’s Irish Pub, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 7th January – The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Friday 13th January – Caravan Music Club, Oakleigh, VIC

Summer Sets at Hither & Yon feat. Aidan ‘Jazzy’ Jones
Sunday 8th January – Hither & Yon, Willunga, SA

Tattletale Saints
Friday 6th January – Tanswell’s Pub, Beechworth, VIC
Saturday 7th January – Minya Winery, Geelong, VIC
Sunday 8th January – House On The Hill, Melbourne, VIC
Tuesday 10th January – Some Velvet Morning, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday 11th January – The Witches Garden, Mitta Mitta, VIC
Thursday 12th January – Petersham Bowling Club, Sydney, NSW
Friday 13th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

The Outside Track
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, Cygnet, TAS
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

The Porch Sessions On Tour feat. Stu Larsen, Luke Thompson, Tim Moore
Friday 6th January – The Cantina, Robe, SA
Sunday 8th January – Illowa, VIC
Wednesday 11th January – Lorne, VIC
Friday 13th January – Melbourne, VIC

The Saloon Daddies w/ Peasant Moon
Sunday 8th January – The Midnight Special, Sydney, NSW

The Settlement
Saturday 7th January – The Star, Port Fairy, VIC

The Spin Drifters
Wednesday 11th January – The Basement, Sydney, NSW

The Whitetop Mountaineers
Friday 6th January – Smiths Alternative, Canberra, ACT
Saturday 7th January – The Metropole, Katoomba, NSW
Sunday 8th January – Petersham Bowls Club, Sydney, NSW
Monday 9th January – Quarterdeck, Narooma, NSW
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW

Thompson Springs w/ Maia Marsh
Wednesday 11th January – Folkswagon, Cafe Lounge, Sydney, NSW
Friday 13th January – The Front, Canberra, ACT

Tim O’Brien
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, Cygnet, TAS
Wednesday 11th January – Caravan Club, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 13th to Saturday 14th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW

Timberwolf
Saturday 7th January – Here’s To Now, McLaren Vale, SA

Vanishing Shapes
Friday 6th January – 5 Church Street, Bellingen, NSW
Thursday 12th January – Byron Fine Music House Concerts, Byron Bay, NSW

Wallis Bird w/ William Crighton
Friday 6th to Sunday 8th January – Cygnet Folk Festival, Cygnet, TAS
Wednesday 11th January – Small Ballroom, Newcastle, NSW
Thursday 12th January – Newtown Social Club, Sydney, NSW
Friday 13th to Saturday 14th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW

Winter Wilson
Saturday 7th January – Music By The Sea Festival, Sandgate, QLD
Wednesday 11th January – Upper Lansdowne Hall, Upper Lansdowne, NSW
Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th January – Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW

Friday Folk Flashback

“Father Had A Knife/Salonika” – Lynched

If you haven’t discovered Irish band Lynched yet then prepare to meet your new favourite trad artist.

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