Gareth Hugh Evans’ Top 25 Tracks of 2017

2017

The final of our traditional end of year lists sees Timber and Steel Editor-in-Chief Gareth Hugh Evans sifts through all of the amazing music that was produced this year and pick his top 25 tracks. As always he’s tried to only pick one track per artist, although as you’ll see there’s some exceptions with different artists collaborating on different projects through 2017.

But enough of our jabbering – it’s time to get to the music. Without further ado we present Gareth Hugh Evans’ Top 25 Tracks of 2017.

1. Emma Davis – “Danger in Me”
Emma Davis just has a way of writing a song which draws you in and never lets go. With just a finger picked guitar, understated rhythm section, muted organ and reverbed vocals, Davis has created a piece of music that I genuinely put on repeat. The fact that there’s a very relevant social message underpinning “Danger in Me” just adds a depth to my appreciation of it. Thank you Emma Davis for producing one of the most beautiful three and a half minutes of 2017.

2. The East Pointers – “82 Fires”
For a band I almost exclusively associated with fiddle tunes, The East Pointers have delivered one of the best songs of the year with “82 Fires”. Co-written with our very own Liz Stringer about fires in Tasmania, “82 Fires” may be the most Australian song written by a trio of Canadians. There’s an epic feel to the song that shouldn’t be possible from three guys playing (mostly) acoustic instruments – but I’ve seen this song live and they get pretty close to reproducing the recording on stage. Try to listen to “82 Fires” on not have it stir something inside.

3. Willie Watson – “Gallows Pole”
No one interprets traditional American music quite like Willie Watson. Here he’s managed to take the Leadbelly classic “Gallows Pole” and turn it into a thoroughly modern, haunting piece of music which is a definite standout on his latest album, Folksinger Vol. 2.

4. The Morrisons feat. Georgia Mooney – “Long Time Travelling”
It seems odd to choose an a cappella song from a band that features some of the best bluegrass musicians in the country. But I just can’t get passed how delightful it is hear James Morrison singing over the combined voices of The Morrisons plus Georgia Mooney (All Our Exes Live In Texas). The harmonies, the dynamic variations, the passion – “Long Time Travelling” is pure joy.

5. Offa Rex – “Sheepcrook and Black Dog”
As you probably know by now we have A LOT of love for the 2017 Offa Rex album The Queen of Hearts. The collaboration between The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney is full of highlights and to be honest songs like “The Old Churchyard”, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Willie o’ Winsbury” are more likely to hit this year’s best of lists. But for me “Sheepcrook and Black Dog” captures the nostalgia of the late-60s/early-70s British folk revival better than any other track on The Queen of Hearts with its Steeleye Span style arrangement, crunchy Black Sabbath style guitars and Sandy Denny style vocal performance. “Sheepcrook and Black Dog” is vintage folk-rock for the modern era.

6. Laura Marling – “Next Time”
Laura Marling goes full Nick Drake on “Next Time”. The orchestral arrangement over the top of Marling’s inventive guitar tunings and finger-picking, along with her hushed but powerful vocal performance is so reminiscent of the late English singer-songwriter it can’t not have been inspired by his work. This is definitely the highlight of Semper Femina for me and it even comes with a video directed by Laura Marling herself.

7. The Young’uns – “Be the Man”
“Be The Man” was inspired by the story of Matthew Ogston, founder of the Naz and Matt Foundation which tackles religious and cultural homophobia, following the tragic death of his fiancé (you can read the full story here). The Young’uns have written a song which is not only powerful in its message, and deeply respectful to its subject matter, but also a wonderful compliment to the rest of their harmony-driven catalogue. Check out the video featuring Matthew Ogston himself.

8. Billy Bragg – “Why We Build the Wall”
When Anaïs Mitchell wrote “Why We Build the Wall” for her 2010 folk-opera Hadestown I doubt she knew how precient it was considering the build-the-wall platform Donald Trump ran on during his 2016 presidential campaign. Billy Bragg has been singing “Why We Build the Wall” for a few years now but it’s taken until this year for him to officially release it as a single. The political singer-songwriter has purposefully politicised the track and filled it with a jarring, electric guitar to great effect. Could this be the folk anthem for the Trump era?

9. David Rawlings – “Cumberland Gap”
The genius of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch is their ability to write songs that sound like they’ve existed forever and then produce those songs in such a way that makes it sound like they’re being “modernised”. “Cumberland Gap” is the perfect example of this – the track sounds so timeless yet so fresh at exactly the same time. That’s probably why it’s been getting so many comparisons to Neil Young.

10. Stu Larsen – “Chicago Song”
“Chicago Song” is exactly the kind of song you want from a singer-songwriter like Stu Larsen. Simple, catchy and foot-tappingly joyful, “Chicago Song” captures a little piece of magic.

11. The Ahern Brothers – “Comb That River”
Whoever decided to pair singer-songwriters Josh Rennie-Hynes and Steve Grady as The Ahern Brothers deserves all of my adulation. Their self titled debut album is an homage to the close harmony singing of The Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel, with “Comb That River” exemplifying their sound. Listen to this track and be transported back to another time.

12. Charlie Fink – “Firecracker”
I’m sure I’ve printed this elsewhere on Timber and Steel but for the reader’s benefit: Noah and The Whale’s 2009 album The First Days of Spring is one of my favourite albums of all time. So when ex-Noah and The Whale lead singer Charlie Fink releases a single like “Firecracker” that sounds like it’s been ripped directly from The First Days of Spring there’s no way this song wasn’t going to make my best of 2017 list.

13. All Our Exes Live in Texas – “Boundary Road”
“What if I want to be the one to fall apart once in a while?” has somehow become one of my favourite chorus lines of 2017. All Our Exes Live in Texas have taken on the lyrical challenge of the line, as well as the fight songwriter Katie Wighton had with her mum that inspired the line, and crafted one of the best songs from one of the best albums of the year. There is All Our Exes Live in Texas magic all over this song – with a simple “ooh” and “ahh” the quartet can elevate every song they touch. Lovely stuff.

14. Nick Mulvey – “Mountain To Move”
I’m going to make a prediction: “Mountain To Move” is the song most likely to appear on the soundtrack of sweet and quirky rom coms over the 12 months. Nick Mulvey continues to impress me with the way he crafts a song over a repeating melody line or guitar rhythm, building the simplicity into something more.

15. Julia Johnson – “Melissa”
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the new direction that Julia Johnson has taken with her songwriting in 2017. Moving beyond her work with Julia and The Deep Sea Sirens and working with producer Sarah Belkner, Johnson is producing some of the most interesting music of her career. I have a feeling “Melissa” is only the tip of the iceberg for what’s coming next from Julia Johnson and I can’t wait.

16. The Northern Folk – “Get On”
Despite the wealth of shows they’ve done this year I only managed to catch Melbourne folk 10 piece The Northern Folk live for the first time really recently. They manage to combine the indie folk sound of bands like The Middle East with the distinct groove that comes with having a saxophone heavy horn section. “Get On” epitomises The Northern Folk’s unique sound for me and was one of those songs that made me hit the repeat button again and again the first time I heard it.

17. Fanny Lumsden – “Roll On”
Want to know what it’s like to be an Australian artist on an endless tour of our country? Listen to the lyrics of “Roll On”. What I love about this track is its authenticity. This isn’t the Americanised version of the Australian outback full of dust kicking cowboys and pickup trucks. And this isn’t the romanticised nostalgic version of Australia either with its drovers and men-of-the-land. Instead “Roll On” is a song about about what its like to hit the road in 2017 complete with speeding fines, Gaytimes, roadtrains and small town bowlos. Keep writing songs like this Fanny Lumsden.

18. Paul Kelly – “Firewood and Candles”
After a few years of genre and experimental albums Paul Kelly announced his return to the classic Paul Kelly with the killer track “Firewood and Candles”. That rocking riff with Kelly’s vocals (ably supported by Vikka and Linda Bull) is just so damn catchy. If you wonder why everyone’s making such a fuss over Paul Kelly at the moment, why he’s winning awards and being praised at every turn, just listen to the songs on his 2017 album Life Is Fine, starting with “Firewood and Candles”.

19. Gretta Ziller – “Slaughterhouse Blues”
If someone asks you for the best voice in Australian Americana music then just show them Gretta Ziller. There may be some artists earlier in this list who you could squeeze into the genre, but as far as pure Americana music goes you can’t get much better than Ziller’s “Slaughterhouse Blues”. This is a modern track with its feet firmly in roots music. And that production! Perfection! More of this please Gretta Ziller.

20. I’m With Her – “Little Lies”
Before the release of “Little Lies” the American super-goup I’m With Her were really known for interpreting traditional music or covers of contemporary songs. But then this track comes along and solidifies the (probabaly assumed) fact that I’m With Her are a band to watch. Aoife O’Donovan has one of the best voices in Americana music, and it’s all the sweeter combined with the voices of Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz. And Watkins’ fiddle playing on this track is some of my favourite instrumental work in 2017.

21. BATTS – “Little White Lies”
I’ve been a fan of Tanya Batt’s music for some time, but it’s been her transformation into BATTS and the lo-fi, shoe-gaze, lyric driven songwriting that has come with it that has really caught my attention in 2017. “Little White Lies” is the second single released under the BATTS moniker and it’s by far my favourite, with its etherial production and confessional lyrics. I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from BATTS in the coming months and I can’t wait.

22. Taryn La Fauci – “Winter”
When her EP Cycling came out I messaged Taryn La Fauci and told her “Just wanted to tell you that I’m in love with your track “Winter”.” Above every other song on the EP “Winter” struck me, most likely because this year I lost my cat as well and the lyrics just resonated. This song was on repeat for a lot of this year – thank you for sharing it with me Taryn La Fauci.

23. Diamond Duck – “Marry Me By The Sea”
Another collaboration (this time between The Morrisons’ Jimmy Daley and Canadian-Australian singer-songwriter Brian Campeau) that evokes the close harmony singing of The Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel, Diamond Duck have made quite an impression with their first single “Marry Me By The Sea”. What makes this stand out for me is the way the Diamond Duck boys explore unusual, almost twisted chords in their accompaniment while maintaining a sweetness in their vocal delivery. Listen to the piano “solo” in the middle of the song and you’ll see what I mean – there’s something a little off kilter in the track and it’s absolutely delicious.

24. Stella Donnelly – “Boys Will Be Boys”
In the wake of the #metoo movement and everything that’s been coming out in the media over the last few months I think Australia needed a song like “Boys Will Be Boys”. Stella Donnelly has made quite a splash this year and with her amazing voice and lyrical chops I can imagine there’s big things on the horizon for the singer-songwriter.

25. Johnny Flynn – “Wandering Aengus”
The return of Johnny Flynn to music this year was heralded by this really quirky track and promised much from his new album Sillion. All the elements of what makes a classic Johnny Flynn song are here – his amazing voice, jangly guitar and subtle horn accompaniment – but there’s also something a little twisted about the structure of this track that I really really like. Definitely up there with my favourite Johnny Flynn songs.

Review: The Gum Ball 2012

Review by KT Bell, photos by Stu B.

In spite of all our good efforts, enthusiasm and eager anticipation following last year’s fantastic Gum Ball, Stu and I found ourselves behind schedule driving in to the darkness from Sydney, desperate to get to Lower Bedford for the 2012 Gum Ball and it’s stellar line up. We arrived at 9pm, just in the nick of time before the gates closed for the night. In the headlights of the car we set up our modest camping facilities only a few hundred meters from the main festival area with the roaring set of The Tongue as our soundtrack.

To my delight, we managed to catch the last act of the night, the newly reformed The Bakery. While not really folk, they’re worth checking out in their new format. After an extended period of absence, the band took on a new line up for the 2011 Woodford Folk Festival and their act has been going from strength to funky strength ever since. As the festival’s sound system fell silent, the crowd migrated to the silent disco to revel on in to the early morning. Amusingly to those watching from the outside, it looked like a silent, shuffling human zoo exhibit with the occasional rousing group rendition of some classic chorus. As the silent disco serenaded us with another round of “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot, ooooh, bop bop bop…” we headed to bed in readiness for a huge Saturday to come.

In the morning light, we rose to discover the sprawling tent city nestled among the gum trees and the impressive set up of the seasoned gum-ballers surrounding us. Complex lounge room style common areas complete with couches, tarps stretched over cars, vans and tents, lean to’s and all manner of camping comfort and conveniences. We stumbled off to the festival arena in search of coffee and breakfast, passing impromptu camp kitchens, gas cookers perched on tow bars and the likes with eggs, bacon and all manner of delicious smelling DIY breakfasts taunting and tempting us the whole way. Eating your breakfast in the very grounds of the festival watching the place slowly waking up as the morning fog burns off certainly starts that excited feeling that only this kind of festival can inspire.

Just prior to 10am, Stu and I positioned our camping chairs just to one side of the sound mix tent where we had an excellent view of the side by side stages, ready and comfortable for a long day of The Gum Ball. To start off the day and brighten up the morning for some rather dusty heads, the Perch Creek Family Jug Band bounded on to stage not dissimilar to the endless enthusiasm of the Brady Bunch or Partridge Family, and we’re bedecked in much the same garb. A 5 piece family outfit saw the stage awash with banjo, washboard and jug, acoustic guitar, harmonica and double bass all blending together in a wholesome family vibe. They produced great rhythm and a great way to start the morning. Recently turned 17, Christi has become the bad boy of the family, proving his status with a cover of Justin Townes Earl’s “If you ain’t glad I’m leaving, girl you know you ought to be”. The crowd quickly grew as daughter Eileen delivered a sultry cover of “Minnie the Moocher”. A bit kitsch but a whole lot of fun, their onstage family banter must have been what it was like for our Evan Hughes growing up in a folk family, as the kids all complain to mother Camilla that, in spite of her Train Whistle opening, they “don’t do the ready stances anymore”. But after some ‘gentle’ motherly advice and encouragement from the crowd (would I do a thing like that? *looks innocent*) they struck their very silly and quasi rock star poses and launched in to a bit of honky tonk, country tinged, bluegrass. It was all very cheesy, but in the right way for that time of the morning. I had to question whether there is anything this family don’t do? They are all multi-instrumentalists, Eileen tap dances with a mini banjo, the vocal harmonies while all the time sharing the spotlight and the instruments equally. And to round things out they finally brought out the jug in time for Christi to accompany the jug playing a saw in a lullaby style number. Family nights at their place must be amazing.

A little later in the morning we were treated to the Irish lilt of Roesy. A modest chap, he thanked his family, saying he wouldn’t be here without them. Performing solo with just his acoustic guitar, full voice and genuine story telling style, Roesy told tales and drew the audience in to his melody of worlds. Enjoying his set, I often felt like we may not have been at a festival but relaxing in Roesy‘s backyard while he told us tales of the songs his Dad used to sing.

Benjalu is a name I have heard but not a band I have followed so I was interested to see what they had to offer. From the outset, it was clear they were on fire, sounding really tight with an excellent mix of acoustic guitar and electric. Their indie sound is heavily grounded in roots with a dash of rock and a touch of folk to round out their style. With their subtle harmonies and great energy, they had the crowd up and dancing instantly and it’s no surprise their infectious sound had the audience in raptures. I really enjoyed their song about being hungover complete with bongos for that pounding headache feel with strummy acoustic guitar and harmonized melody to sooth the soul. We’d seen him lurking at the back of stage but it was a great delight to see a cameo performance on their last song by none other than tour buddy Kim Churchill. It was clear that they had great rapport which delivers an excellent collaboration, they worked well together on stage and brought their set to a crescendo finish. Benjalu was an utter highlight and I shall be watching them like a hawk.

You all know that we here at TnS love Kim Churchill and we’re always very happy to see him on a festival line up. He took to the stage in his one man band style as we’re so used to seeing him. He opened with echos of “Waltzing Matilda” woven throughout “Loving Home” which attracted a big crowd to his set, it was clear people were drawn to him and his sound. In such a picturesque setting, it was easy to appreciate such musical layers all produced live by one person! Currently touring with Benjalu, it was clear they are all very good friends. He told the story of how Benjalu‘s van had broken down 2 days ago, that they have been saving every cent from every EP sold to record a new album and that he would hate to see that money to go to a van. During his next song, “Revolution”, donation buckets were going around collecting donations to help fix the van. Using his ethereal loop echo to advantage his passionate performance in songs both new and old, (like his LA song, telling how he dislikes the big cities), Kim’s raw performance energy is apparent. Close up, you can see him tremble as he performs, hands as they strum, face as he plays harmonica. Title track from his new album “Detail in Distance” is very reflective, he has learned over the years that sometimes distance is the thing that helps you see clearly. Kim likes to tell stories between songs, of how they came about. By far the most compelling was about a song written in French Polynesia while on tour, “Bathed in Black”, and how on a bad day he chose to change his own mindset and outlook. How a man in his early 20s could be so wise is beyond me, but I am grateful Kim Churchill is such a keen and regular performer who can bring this wisdom to us all through his enthusiasm and music.

Wagons wasted no time getting deep in to the bluesy country goodness as they burst forth onto the stage. In the between song banter, Henry Wagons dedicate a song to all those bad choices made at festivals, and “I Blew It” rang around the festival arena. Jovial with the crowd, Wagons was not shy of dedicating the next song to all there, especially a woman in the crowd looking at him skeptically who he was determined to win her over in one song. A deep, pounding rendition of “Love Me Like I Love You” may well have succeeded. An emphatic “Willie Nelson” had the crowd singing along and Si the Philanthropist’s hip hop gave Henry a moment to wipe his brow and take to the drum kit. Wagons whirled through their set getting the crowd totally involved for an energy filled finale that left the gum trees ringing.

Mat McHugh had quite the following gathered at front of stage well before his set began. His solo set up included an acoustic guitar and laptop to provide a variety of additional backing sounds as he launched in to “My Mind is an Echo Chamber”. I thought to myself that he sounded like a stripped back Jack Johnson or Xavier Rudd. I looked him up on The Gum Ball site and realised he is the lead singer and songwriter of The Beautiful Girls. Cue the moment of feeling really ignorant, no wonder he sounded familiar. After touring solo in support of John Butler Trio, Matt discovered his new stripped back solo career and the Gum Ball audience seemed impressed with his new solo exploits.

I’ve been a fan of Ash Grunwald for a while and enjoyed interviewing him at Bluesfest last year, but Stu had hardly even heard of him and looked at me dubiously as I enthused about his upcoming set with Vika and Linda Bull. As Stu stood in the audience ready to photograph the set, he casually chatted to the crowd who not only echoed my sentiments, but got Stu intrigued and pumped for the set. Ash delivered a powerhouse opening, engaging the crowd with thumping kick drum, strumming rhythm guitar and wailing vocals, brought down to a cool, bluesy lament. With notes like gospel howls, Ash’s voice took over the Gum Ball arena and the crowd was transfixed. He then welcome Vika and Linda to the stage and using a loop recorded in Melbourne of Linda, which according to her “sounds like my grandpa” brought a whole new dynamic of sound to the festival. Ash sang and delivered running commentary throughout the set, nothing phases him. He explained that the chorus of his next song was inspired by The Hangover II, the tattoo faced “Demon in Me” from his new release Trouble’s Door. A diverse set, the next song built from a slow start into a speedy intro for “Shake that Thing”. With out hesitation he slid in to a cover of “Sail”. Ash’s voice carried over everything, electronic backing track, the swagger of the guitar and sultry backing vocals by Vika and Linda. An a Capella with a gospel style changed the feel of the set but still had the audience clapping and singing along. A grungy recorded backing loop accompanied “Raw” which true to it’s name has a raw sound and heavy dirty beat. At the end of the set, he thanked good friends Vika and Linda as this was their last performance together in the collaborative format for some time as Ash moves forward with promotions and tour for his new album Trouble’s Door. After the set had finished, Stu returned to our spot, grinning. Turns out Ash Grunwald had been awesome.

We had munched on some terrific festival food including the Wagons‘ endorsed wood-fired pizzas, and enjoyed dutch poffertjes for dessert and then it was time for the dessert finale of Jinja Safari. Their excitement was evident as they took to the stage, full of energy and life. Without hesitation they delivered their ethereal, tribal drum soaked intro, layered with harmonies and rich melodies oozing forth over the crowd with everyone swaying in time. Their set was smooth and sweet like treacle and the perfect ending to a rolling, rollicking, eclectic day of music. The keyboard was fanciful and lyrical and they all danced with their instruments while they performed, the bongos energetically shooting between phrases of songs.

We collapsed in to our camp beds exhausted but very satisfied by a fantastic festival with a well considered and varied line up to cater to a wide range of audience tastes. It’s hard to believe that The Gum Ball has been going for 8 years and hasn’t yet exploded in size or grown too big for it’s earthy and natural soaked site. We arrived home just after lunch and were really impressed to have fit a trip out of Sydney and so much music in to one weekend and still have time to relax before the working week started. Clearly the folks at Lower Belford and the surrounding Hunter Valley know how to put on a truly inclusive and inviting gig and the locals have discovered what a gem it is, now the Sydney-siders and Central Coast people just need to clue on and The Gum Ball will soon become a sell out success year after year. This year some punters had traveled form Canberra just to see headline act Custard and they wouldn’t have been disappointed with their set as well as the whole event. So it’s a sure thing that next year’s Gum Ball will have just as brilliant a line up and hopefully, as they note in their wrap-up blog post, a whole lot more people will come and enjoy the festival alongside the regulars.

New Festival Riverboats Announces 2012 Lineup

Lanie Lane
Image Courtesy of Riverboats Music Festival

Victorians are in for something pretty special after the brand new player on the festival scene, the Riverboats Music Festival, announced its inaugural 2012 lineup. Held in Echuca-Moama on the Murray River (two and a half hours from Melbourne) on the 17th to the 19th February, the Riverboats Music Festival lineup includes the likes of Tex Perkins And The Band Of Gold, Colin Hay, The Bamboos, Mark Seymour, Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission, Vika And Linda Bull, Lanie Lane (above), The Audreys, Clairy Browne and The Bangin’ Rackettes, Benny Walker, Ryan Meeking and The Bride Stripped Back. More than a couple Timber and Steel favourites floating amongst that list right?

Tickets for the Riverboats Music Festival are available now from the official web site.

Brunswick Music Festival This March

Lolo Lovina
Image Courtesy of Lolo Lovina

When you think about a folk festival you usually imagine driving to a normally sleepy country or coastal town, setting up a tent on a field somewhere and joining a temporary community of people who are all in the same place for one thing – fantastic live music. All of the major folk festivals, from Woodford to Port Fairy to Blue Mountains, are regional affairs. Even the National Folk Festival is held north of Canberra and one doesn’t have to venture into the urban environment at all to be part of it.

And this is what makes the Brunswick Music Festival different. Set up on Sydney Road in Melbourne’s Brunswick, the Brunswick Music Festival truly is an urban affair, making it one of the biggest (if not the biggest) city-based folk festivals in Australia.

This year the festival, now in it’s 23rd year, will be held from the 16th to the 27th March. The list of artists is pretty impressive and includes the likes of Crooked Still, Tony McManus, Andy Irvine, The Alan Kelly Quartet, Lolo Lovina, Flap!, Eric Bogle, Judy Small, Leah Flanagan, Shane Nicholson, Ted Egan, Vika and Linda Bull and the WooHoo Revue, just to name a few.

Details on the full lineup, playing times and tickets to the various shows can be found on the official Brunswick Music Festival web site. If you’re in Victoria or can get to Melbourne while the festival is on we think it will be well worth a look.

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