Given our general focus on Americana music in this part of the world we thought we’d publish our favourite local releases from Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Some of these will also appear in our main Americana albums of the year list but until then, here are local folk who released music that caught our ears and had us returning to their albums a number of times over the year.
1. Marlon Williams – Marlon Williams
“Though this solo debut has been a long time coming he has toured and built a strong reputation as a live performer across Australia and NZ and that experience has filtered through on this superb album that never falters or loses its sense of wonderment across thirty-five playing minutes.”
2. James Thomson – Cold Moon
“The balance and symmetry of Thomson’s writing is a standout facet of his music. From blues to country, folk to New Orleans flavours, through the positive vibe of love songs to the darker desolation of characters at the end of line he nails them all in mood and lyrical imagery”
3. Lost Ragas – Trans Atlantic Highway
“That ability to hammer out a brisk honky tonk rhythm one minute and then craft a late night whisky-sodden ballad of heartache highlights the band’s magic. Combined with the way they apply tonality to their songs, both vocally and instrumentally, Lost Ragas have created an album of timeless quality, full of dark and graceful beauty.”
4. Nadia Reid – Listen to Formation, Look For The Signs
From the same studio that has seen the likes of Marlon Williams, Delaney Davidson, Tami Neilson and Aldous Harding comes Nadia Reid, already an accomplished and mature songwriter with a voice that resonates with deep sensitivity and emotion. She has a folk style that balances poetically between soulful and melancholic earthiness with a nod to fellow NZ’er Tiny Ruins, Mazzy Star and someone like Beth Orton. Simply beautiful and mesmerising.
5. Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid
Neilson has quickly followed up her breakthrough album Dynamite! with Don’t Be Afraid, an album that came to light in the shadow of the sad passing of her father. She meets that grief head-on and continues to mine the rich and diverse vein of country, soul and rockabilly that has, in recent years, seen her take out numerous awards. Don’t Be Afraid finds her continuing to expand her musical palette with confidence and personality.
6. Perry Keyes – Sunnyholt
Keyes should be lauded in his hometown of Sydney for his songwriting that paints an accurate and incisive picture of the city’s life on both its shiny surface and often devastating and tragic flip-side. Instead he finds greater audiences in other cities but perhaps his muse operates most succinctly and poetically when on the outside looking in, giving blood and oxygen to a myriad of characters both real and imagined yet wholly believable.
7. Raised By Eagles – Diamonds In The Bloodstream
“On their second album Raised By Eagles eschew some of the ragged country rock moves of their debut and head for classic songwriting territory with excursions into power pop and acoustic balladry. By carving out their own niche in the world of alt.country Raised By Eagles should widen their appeal with this accomplished sophomore album.”8. Ruby Boots – Solitude
“Ruby Boots’ ability to draw from a number of roots music styles is what cements Solitude as a benchmark release. She can evoke the late-night bar through the bottom of an empty whisky glass vibe as vividly as the carefree open highway, key tenets of what makes the fast rising local Americana music scene so popular. It’s the ups and downs of real life live encapsulated in song and Ruby Boots has captured that and more on her world class debut.”
9. Mark Lucas – Little Town Blues
“Mark Lucas normally fronts the Dead Setters but here he steps out on his own with a collection of intimate and restrained songs. Lucas has decorated his compositions with fiddle, banjo, piano and even tuba without ever distracting from the personal and sometimes socio-political content of his lyrics. Small Town Blues is an exemplary example of Australian songwriting, full of beautifully restrained playing and honest songwriting.”
10. Tex Perkins & The Dark Horses – Tunnel At The End Of The Light
“Up close, intimate and cocoon-like it feels warm and inviting, irrespective of the melancholic subject matter. It never allows the personality of any one individual to overshadow the collective sound, mood and transportive qualities of the music.”
11. Lo Carmen – Everyone You Ever Knew (Is Coming Back To Haunt You)
“It inhabits it’s own netherworld of woozy, ghostly musicality; the perfect setting for Carmen’s voice and songs. She adds soul to slowcore and mystery to melancholy and the result is an album that will draw you in deeper and deeper with each listen as you fall under her atmospheric spell.”
12. Joshua Seymour – Rope Tied Hope
“Possessing a husky, straining, half-whisper of a voice Seymour paints a warm patina over the dozen songs which adds a lived-in quality to his elegant songwriting and rich arrangements. An accomplished and impressive take on the haunting corners of Americana music.”
13. Jess Ribeiro – Kill It Yourself
“Ribeiro has created an all encompassing mood on Kill It Yourself. It drifts on a dreamy plane, heavy-lidded at times, quietly strident at others. It’s a rewarding shift from the country sound of previous releases but above all it’s an excellent example of graceful and mature songwriting.”
14. Dan Parsons – Valleywood
“There’s a light touch to his music that at first gives it a breezy, occasionally easy-listening sound but behind the sunny and drifting pop melodies there are tales of troubled souls trying to find their way. Above all it’s the rich tapestry of freewheeling melodies that will win over listeners on Valleywood.”
15. Fanny Lumsden – Small Town Big Shot
“NSW songstress Fanny Lumsden has dug into the geographical and emotional psyche of small towns on her debut album. Small Town Big Shot is an accomplished album that deserves to be recognised in Tamworth and Newtown (and on the world stage) for its accessible, strong and honest songwriting.”
16. Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes – The Mountain
“Lachlan Bryan is one of those artists that straddles the worlds of commercial and alt. country, equally comfortable in Tamworth or an inner-city bar. The Mountain finds him exploring a more soulful sound complete with weeping pedal steel, fiddle, piano and shuffling drums. There’s a consummate range of styles here that will satiate all types of country music fan.”
17. Papa Pilko & The Binrats – Till The End Of The Road
“Tried and true influences are at play but the way the band combines them is a winning formula. John Lee Hooker, Tom Waits, C.W. Stoneking, New Orleans soul, voodoo funk and gothic country course through the ten songs while singer Cyrus Pilko channels fire and brimstone.”
18. The Heartache State – The Heartache State
Nick Barker (The Reptiles) now writes and records under the alt. country banner of The Heartache State, harnessing the melodies of the Jayhawks and Black Crowes with the swagger of You Am I and Drive-By Truckers and the results are balanced, brittle and freewheeling country rock songs that slowly but surely edge their way under your skin.
19. Ben Mastwyk – Mornin, Evenin’
With weeping pedal steel, shuffling drums, beautiful harmonies and a direct line to heartache, Mastwyk has captured the soul of country music (from George Jones to Gram Parsons) on an album that celebrates and continues the tradition of the classic country form with betraying it’s origin and creation in the suburbs of Melbourne.
20. Andy Gordon – New Albion
Operating in the netherworld between ethereal and rootsy country-folk music and the dreamy and hypnotic realm that Neil Young’s Dead Man inhabits, Gordon’s New Albion requires time and attention to discover the subtlety and grace which make up some of the album’s finest qualities.
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