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.

Watch the New Paul Kelly Video “Rising Moon”

Paul Kelly
Image Courtesy of Paul Kelly

Legendary Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly has just released his new video “Rising Moon”.

The track is taken from Kelly’s latest album Life Is Fine and features longtime collaborators Vika and Linda Bull on vocals.

Watch “Rising Moon” below:

Paul Kelly is heading out on tour through November – the full list of dates are here:

Friday 3rd November – Entertainment Centre, Darwin, NT
Saturday 4th November – Entertainment Centre, Darwin, NT
Tuesday 7th November – Convention Centre Great Hall, Cairns, QLD
Wednesday 8th November – Entertainment Centre, Townsville, QLD
Thursday 9th November – Great Western Hotel, Rockhampton, QLD
Saturday 11th November – Riverstage, Brisbane, QLD
Sunday 12th November – Regional Botanic Gardens, Coffs Harbour, NSW
Tuesday 14th November – Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre, Tamworth, NSW
Wednesday 15th November – Entertainment Centre, Newcastle, NSW
Friday 17th November – Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 18th November – MONA Mainstage & Lawns, Hobart, TAS
Sunday 19th November – Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney, NSW
Monday 20th November – Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney, NSW
Wednesday 22nd November – Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, Adelaide, SA
Thursday 23rd November – Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, Adelaide, SA
Saturday 25th November – Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, Perth, WA
Sunday 26th November – Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, Perth, WA

Riverboats Music Festival Announces 2018 Lineup

Riverboats
Image Courtesy of Riverboats Music Festival

The Murray River’s annual celebrations of live music, the Riverboats Music Festival, has just announced its 2018 lineup and Timber and Steel fans have so much to look forward to.

The headliners next year will be none other then Neil & Liam Finn, Kasey Chambers and Josh Pyke.

Joining them will be The Black Sorrows with Vika & Linda Bull, The Teskey Brothers, Henry Wagons & The Only Children, Gawurra, Mojo Juju, Neil Murray, Caiti Baker, Jazz Party, Tracy McNeil & The GoodLife and Eaten By Dogs.

Riverboats 2018 will present arguably the festival’s most eclectic and exciting lineup to date,” Festival Director David Frazer said. “It’s been a dream of ours to welcome Neil and Liam Finn to Riverboats for many years, and to be presenting these phenomenal artists alongside Australian icons including Kasey Chambers and Josh Pyke. is something we’re incredibly proud of.”

The Riverboats Music Festival takes place in the twin-towns of Echuca-Moama, two and a half hours north of Melbourne, from the 16th to the 18th February. For more information including how to get your hands on tickets check out the official web site here.

Kasey Chambers Announces New Album Dragonfly

Kasey Chambers
Image Courtesy of Kasey Chambers

Australian country music royalty Kasey Chambers has announced a very exciting concept for her upcoming album Dragonfly.

Due for release on the 20th January the album will feature two seperate sessions. The first, The Sing Sing Sessions, was produced by Australian music legend Paul Kelly, whilst the second, The Foggy Mountain Sessions, was produced by Kasey’s brother and longtime collaborator Nash Chambers.

The album also features a who’s who of special guests including Vika & Linda Bull, Keith Urban, Paul Kelly, Foy Vance, Harry Hookey, Ed Sheeran and Grizzlee Train.

“Working with Paul Kelly as my producer on one side of the double album Dragonfly was a dream come true,” Kasey Chambers Explained. “Paul brought out a whole new side of me, but then I also got to enjoy the comforts of recording with the person who knows and has shaped my original sound better than anyone, my brother Nash, along with my live touring band who have become a huge part on my sound. This double album shows who I am as much as any piece of work I have ever done.”

The track listing for Dragonfly along with two videos, “Ain’t No Little Girl” and “Satellite” are below:

Sing Sing Sessions
1. Pompeii
2. Ain’t No Little Girl
3. Summer Pillow
4. Golden Rails
5. Jonestown
6. Romeo & Juliet (with Foy Vance)
7. Talkin’ Baby Blues
8. You Ain’t Worth Suffering For
9. Behind The Eyes of Henri Young
10. Hey (with Paul Kelly)
11. This Is Gonna Be A Long Year

Foggy Mountain Sessions
1. Shackle & Chain
2. Dragonfly
3. If I Died
4. Satellite
5. No Ordinary Man (with Harry Hookey, Vika Bull & Linda Bull)
6. If We Had A Child (with Keith Urban)
7. Annabelle
8. The Devil’s Wheel (with Grizzlee Train)
9. Ain’t No Little Girl (FM Lounge Version)


Kasey Chambers will be touring throughout January on a co-headline tour with Bernard Fanning – the full list of dates are here:

Thursday 26th January – West Tamworth Leagues Club, West Tamworth, NSW
Tuesday 14th February – Orange Ex Services Club, Orange, NSW
Wednesday 15th February – Albury Entertainment Centre, Albury, NSW
Friday 17th February – Eastbank Centre, Shepparton, VIC
Saturday 18th February – Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo, VIC
Sunday 19th February – Lakeside Wendouree, Ballarat, VIC
Tuesday 21st February – Canberra Theatre Centre, Canberra, ACT
Wednesday 22nd February – Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul, NSW
Friday 24th February – Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, QLD
Saturday 25th February 25th – Saraton Theatre, Grafton, NSW

Falls Festival Review: Unmissable Acts

general_20160101-2Festival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Featured Artists: Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic, Meg Mac, Paul Kelly presents the Merri Soul Sessions
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

At every multi-genre festival, there is a variety of acts that are both very folky and others that may only just touch on the concept of what Timber and Steel covers. But at Falls Festival, I had three acts I could not miss, and I wasn’t disappointed.

weirdal_20160101-4I was a huge fan of Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic in my teen years, and I was delighted to see him included on the Falls line up after his string of hit parodies over the last 18 months. Never one to follow the norms, Yankovic started his much anticipated set from a disabled portaloo somewhere out the back of the stage and sang and danced his way to the stage with his hit Tacky – complete with cheerleader dancers. Weird ‘Al’s set was full of colour, energy, costume changes and read much like his early albums with segues and videos of historical footage and mock interviews conveying his quirky sense of humour and making time for his quick costume changes. I think these interludes were lost on a predominantly younger crowd who wouldn’t know how his albums include these kinds of quirks when played start to finish, however his recent hits Foil, Fat and Smells Like Nirvana still whipped up the crowds. I particularly enjoyed his high voltage performance of Now That’s What I Call Polka, a mashup parody of some of 2015s biggest hits from Miley to Psy, Gotye, Mackelmore and much more, really brought the crowd together. He brought both old and new to the stage, Amish Paradise and Word Crimes both got a spot and in all, his set was action packed and full of laughs from start to finish.

megmac_20160101-1Meg Mac is a name I’ve been hearing regularly on the radio and among friends, I’d been looking forward to catching her live and getting a real sense of her style. Performing on New Year’s Day at the Forest Stage, you know you’re on to a winner when crowds scramble to the front at the end of the previous act to wait the 20min turn over before her performance. The crowds were relentless and energised, this would be a great set, no matter what. As Mac took to the stage, resplendent in all black and large sun hat, her smooth, sumptuous tones washed over the crowd and the spell was cast. She commands both the stage and the crowd, sauntering from one side to the other, engaging with her fans effortlessly. Her rendition of Before Trouble only proved her status as a consummate performer, even though she only won Triple J’s Unearthed as recently as 2014.

Black was the uniform and it was a tight performance from all, from her backup singers to each band member. She sipped on honey to sooth her voice throughout  – she says she struggled while performing at Marion Bay, but you couldn’t tell from the superb vibrato and stunning vocals she delivered.

From an absolutely jam packed set, highlights included Never Be, Turning, Every Lie, and of course Known Better received rapturous applause, and every person singing along, only to be outdone by a superb a Capella opening and beautiful performance of Grandma’s Hands.

There is a certain pleasure in hearing an act at a festival sound just like they do on record, but being able to add to the chorus in voice, body and rhythm from the audience takes the whole experience higher. Meg Mac is a star on the rise.

paulkelly_20160101-4

I feel like I have waited my entire adult life to see a collaboration like Paul Kelly presents The Merri Soul Sessions. On the first day of the new year, I lined myself up in the perfect spot to soak up their entire Valley Stage show. From the get go, it was clear this is a slick set of friends who can bounce off each other and share the stage equally. A cool, soulful beat introduced the ladies and gents to the stage, Vika and Linda Bull, Clairy Browne, Kira Puru and Dan Sultan! The Bull sisters took the reigns with their contributions What You Want and Smells Like Rain that held the crowd captivated. I’ve never seen Dan Sultan as a backup singer but he took to the role well and provided his beautiful timbre to the depths of the harmonies.

Kira Puru’s Righteous Woman, achieved a tone of a more Australian soul than the traditional expectation and engaged the whole line up beautifully. Claire Browne, rocking a white full length jacket and matching two piece, gave a lamentful rendition of Where Were You When I Needed You. We are so used to seeing her as a brazen soul sister with her Bangin’ Rackettes, that it’s a wonderful contrast to see her collaborating on the Merri Soul Sessions and delivering something delicate and with a whole new aspect to her repertoire. Dan Sultan brought a more upbeat tempo with Don’t Let A Good Thing Go and had the audience begging for more.

The set suffered a major power outage, cutting everything except some basic stage lighting. A testament to their experience and years of performance, the entire troupe continued on playing, jamming, clapping, singing and engaging the audience in the front who all joined in while the issue was resolved. It took a few minutes to fix and as soon as the lighting and sound came back on, they rounded out their jam and swung straight back to pick up the song right from where they were cut off. It was a spectacular site and a seamless cover for the inconvenience.

The Merri Soul Sessions are a captivating collection of masterful musicians, working together to create mesmerizing, transcendent tunes that make any soul happy. Between them, they each have their specialty, Clairy Browne commands the stage and captivates the crowds with stoic stillness, Kira Puru brings her signature style melded with a gospel soul sound, Dan Sultan’s rock tinged melodies soar over the Bull sisters’ famous close harmonies, all creating planes of sound and story to explore.

In spite of the technical hitch, they played their entire album plus some surprises for the eager audience. The highlight towards the end was always going to be Dumb Things given the full Merri Souls treatment which was met with rapturous applause and every voice joining in from the crowd. But the most beautiful shared moment would have to be the very last, all 6 of them crowded around one microphone to sing, a Capella, a stirring Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air. Words cannot describe the hush of the crowd, the weaving of harmonies, or the electricity in the air. Simply magical.

Check out our Overview of the entire Falls Festival Byron Bay

Read of our Falls Festival reviews

Timber and Steel Highlights at Falls

Falls Festival Finds

The Gum Ball Announces First Round of Artists for 2012

The Gum Ball
Image Courtesy of The Gum Ball

The festival season juggernaut just keeps rolling on with the announcement today of the first round of artists for the 2012 Gum Ball. Set on a farm in the Hunter Valley, NSW The Gum Ball presents some of the nation’s best music in a relaxed, family atmosphere. Our contributor KT Bell described last years festival in her review as an “inspired event that creates one of the best feelings of ‘community’ that I have seen in a long time” and it looks like 2012 is going to deliver much of the same.

The first lineup for this years Gum Ball, held on the 27th and 28th April, has just been announced and once again it’s full of folk, roots and alt country goodness. Joining headliners Custard (who definitely aren’t folk!) are Jinja Safari, Ash Grunwald (feat. Vika & Linda Bull), Wagons, Kim Churchill and many many more.

With the first round of Early Bird tickets already sold out we recommend you get in quick for the second round which you can pick up via The Gum Ball web site. The full list of announced artists is below:

Custard
Jinja Safari
Ash Grunwald feat. Vika & Linda Bull
Wagons
Sietta,
Kim Churchill
Fire! Santa Rosa Fire!
Benjalu
The Joe Kings

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