Best of 2012 - FOLK/SINGER SONGWRITER/COUNTRY
This is the sort of music that scrapes away at my dried, cracked veneer and actually makes me feel something. I don’t listen to as much country or folk music as I used to; certainly in the mid 00’s country and folk music dominated my listening habits as I discovered the joys of past greats like John Prine and Gram Parsons while fostering an obsession with modern greats like Steve Earle, Gillian Welch and The Jayhawks, not to mention the amazing scene we have here in Melbourne. These albums remind me of what it is I love about country and folk however - brilliant lyrics that are often both warm and cutting, surges of melancholy and that feeling of closeness to a song that comes only from music composed with true honesty. Serve with wine, and winter.
It’s a hard thing to convince a musician friend that you genuinely love their music, that you’re platitudes aren’t influenced by your friendship, that your opinions aren’t borne from prejudiced places. So I hope Matty Barker of Water Music knows that when I say this album is his strongest work yet that this is not a biased point of view, that I have listened to an ocean of music this year and that this stands up as one of my very favourite albums. Just like his earlier releases that I developed a fondess for well before actually meeting him, the thing that draws you into these songs are the lyrics and their unmistakably honest delivery. Barker writes songs like he breathes air, a constant flow of varied and beautiful creations that tell tales of longing and love, of good times and bad, of existential ache and wide eyed wonder. It was a joy to watch this album unfold as Matty added songs and withdrew them, providing a running commentary of what he liked and what he didn’t. I think it’s a great way for artists to interact with their audiences and I think Matty is doing truly exciting things with Bandcamp and his label Hawk Moth. Mostly though, I think he’s just a shit hot songwriter.
Favourite tracks : Wayward, Mountain, Eugene’s Ghost, I forget
When I gave James Irwin a plug in the midyear BCH round up I described him as a “ghostly poet”. Back then the haunting had only just begun and I can now say that this album has well and truly inhabited me, it is the record that I have listened to most of all this year, Bandcamp or otherwise. Created over a two year period, this is a superbly produced record that positively glows with strange and the beautiful moments, music that evokes the joyous moments of life while also gazing within to reflect on the endless galaxy that inhabits us all. That might sound like a stretch for a mere folk rock album, but allow yourself to absorb these lyrics, to be taken by the hand by Irwin into his curious and incredibly detailed world, and you may well undergo a similar transportive musical journey. I have such great affection for Western Transport, and such gratitude to Irwin for providing what I regard to be a grand musical achievement.
Favourite tracks : Bluedust, Hearts Like Old Cars, Ringing Bells, Anyone To Serve.
Another record that I love beyond words. I said things were going to get emotional didn’t I? The teaming of songwriters Boyd Shropshire and Chase King sure was a good one, to put it mildly. These are country rock and roll songs with a beautiful vibrancy, heartfelt laments and bustling rockers that stir something from deep within, something strong. It’s a feeling I get while listening to Uncle Tupleo or the Jayhawks, upon just hearing a few bars I get a little bleary eyed and start sighing and feel the need to loudly declare the love of said band. That’s how I feel about Slow Country. “Stars That Lead Us! Siiiiigh I love that song so much”. My friends can confirm this happening on many occasions throughout the year. You get the picture. There are also many poignant moments on this record that leave you stunned- “Song Was In The Mirror” and “One of the Few” are devastating, in an ecstatic-to-be-slowly-drowning-in-honey kinda way. What a pairing, what an album.
Favourite tracks : Starts That Lead Us, One of the Few, Down The Road.
Timothy Showalter produced his greatest work with Dark Shores, drawing on 70’s west coast country rock and 60’s folk to produce a towering album. Like contemporaries Phosphorescent and Iron and Wine, Strand of Oaks is a one man project that has grown from minimal beginnings to more expansive sounds. It’s a gentle beginning to Dark Shores with the sublime “Diamond Drill”, but rockers like “Satellite Moon” and “Trap Door”(one of my top tunes of the year) demonstrated Showalter stretching his wings to take the Strand of Oaks sound to higher, more exhilarating places. It’s his handling of dark country tales where he is at his most potent however, with “Maureen’s” and the title track being particularly fine examples of a songwriter at his absolute peak. A troubling listen at times, but it’s a majestic one.
Favourite tracks : Trapdoor, Maureen’s, Hard To Be Young.
What a thrilling surprise this was. I vaguely recall coming across this album late at night, possibly after a few gins, and my poor old eyes being extended from their sockets at the sight of the names of two such amazing songwriters side by side. Then my ears got in on the action and oh boy, my heart was next to go. I wasn’t as familiar with Donovan Quinn (the Skygreen Leopards) as I was Michael James Tapscott (Odawas) (one of my favourite musicians) but it proved to be a glorious paring of talent, both possessing immaculate voices and a songwriting style that was in a way traditional yet stretched somewhere skyward, towards cosmic folk. The distinct spectre of Neil Young floats through these sparse songs, with many being especially evocative of the acoustic recordings on Rust Never Sleeps and After The Gold Rush. I don’t know the backstory of this albums recording but it has a haphazard feel to it, as if the songs were created quickly after a spirited collaboration. It’s all the better for it, as such immediacy results in something vital, something built with the energy of a moment. Something special.
Favourite tracks : The People of Idaho, Many Safe Returns, Anne, Marlene Left California, OTW Marlene
Also in the mix: