I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with someone:
Someone – “They just don’t make good music anymore these days… there’s nothing good on the radio…I end up listening to all the old stuff ‘cos it’s just so much more exciting, less manufactured…”
Me – “You just aren’t looking in the right places”.
Well, I’ve decided to share my top 10 albums that I’m enjoying every month. They may be newly released, they may be years old, they most likely aren’t on most mainstream radio and, as much as possible, I’ll be sharing them via bandcamp or a platform where you can actually buy the album to support the person who actually made the music. You all know that I do not think very highly of the streaming platform model, despite it’s convenience. So if you love any of these albums – put them on your wishlist and buy it if you can. I love building my collection on bandcamp – it’s so much more personal.
Apart from being a wonderful way to share music of those I admire, this monthly list may also give you some insight into where some of my influences are coming from when it comes to my own composition.
A Reckoning Bell – The Magic Lantern – 2021
This album is one of my absolute favourites right now. I came across The Magic Lantern, (Jamie Doe), a few years ago and spent a lot of time listening to his 2014 release Love Of Too Much Living – from which I learnt ‘Air at the top’. I very much loved his solo piano release My Soul Is A Strange Country, at the end of 2020. I must admit that I have found so much in these releases that I have yet to explore his other albums in depth, but I fully intend to. A Reckoning Bell seems to resonate something very deeply with all its honest lines and spectacularly intimate orchestration – I always find myself shedding tears on every listening.
Our Songs Not Songs – Kristin Berardi and Sam Anning – 2019
I’ve been a Kristin fan ever since I saw her win the 2006 Montreux Jazz Vocal Competition. I remember her incredible dexterity and depth of improvisation, the way her hands expressively trace all her vocalisations and her absolutely enormous, genuine smile. This album is super intimate and simple in its instrumentation. Mainly Kristin on vocals and Sam on the double bass. It allows so much breath and space to explore the music, and in this exposed setting you truly hear what masterful and warm musicians they are. I recently added ‘More than we need’ to my repertoire and learning it made me realise how impactful simplicity is in song writing. I particularly love how there is both a love of song and improvisation in this album.
Sa – Parvyn – 2021
I met Parvyn through the folk scene, and had a particularly wonderful time connecting with her and her husband Josh at the Stringmania folk camps. Parvyn has been performing music and dance all her life – and this album is a really incredible synthesis of her songwriting, grounding in Sikh devotional music and Indian classical music and dance, her love of electronica, jazz, soul and pop. It’s just really damn cool. I’ve never heard an album like it, and I particularly love how she has used the voice in so many layered facets to create textures, rhythms and harmonies in the production and arrangements. Spoiler alert – I’m actually joining her full band on keys for our double bill at Brunswick Ballroom July 15, and I can’t wait! Learning the intricacies of this music has made me appreciate it even more!
Lamp Lit Prose – Dirty Projectors – 2018
I love this album. I keep coming back to it again and again since first listening in 2018. This is one of Laura Altman’s favourite bands. Laura plays with me in Chaika and I’ve known her since she was 4 – she has had a lot of musical influence on me! The production choices on Lamp Lit Prose, and generally in all Dirty Projectors recordings, are extremely bold. Hard pans, wacky textures, strident tones. It is SO incredibly groovy and I find myself absolutely having to sing along. ‘I have energy’ is a popular choice of sing along tune at home when… I have energy! ‘Bluebird’ makes me melt with it’s creamy harmonies. There are also some particularly amazing live renditions of some of these songs on their live release Sing The Melody, which I highly recommend checking out once you fall in love with this album first. This is also a band to become easily fascinated with their history – as it is essentially the brainchild of David Longstreth and has undergone incredible changes and developments. I do love being able to hear true journeys from one album to the next!
Lily-O – Sam Amidon – 2014
I’ll let you know now, there will be a Sam Amidon record in every one of these Favourite albums of the month… until I run out of Sam Amidon recordings to put here! I chose this one because it features the singular voice of Bill Frisell – and I love the story Sam told about going to every one of Bill’s shows when he was in town and always giving him a cd of his music. It’s really heartening to see how your inspirer can become your collaborator. I believe my friend Luke Chapman (guitarist in Emily-Rose and the Wild Things) introduced me to Sam Amidon. Or possibly Chris Stone (Fiddler also in E-R and the WT). Either way – all of Sam’s albums have been on repeat for me throughout 2018 to 2020 in particular. I am really fascinated with the way he combines traditional acoustic folk sounds with electric, amplified and synthesized sounds. And his singing voice just pulls you in like no-one else.
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau – 2016
I heard Brad Mehldau live a couple of times in my uni days, when I used to try and soak up any jazz possibility there was in earshot. I was studying classical piano at the time and so immersing myself in jazz and improvisation was liberating. I only came across Chris Thile when I was introduced to the Punch Brothers late in life in 2018. I’m sure I’d heard him in passing when friends played me awesome new-grass and bluegrass albums. In any case, this melding of the folk and jazz worlds in this exploratory album tickles all my fancies. Again – I love that it is based around songs but with beautiful instrumentals. From Bob Dylan to Gillian Welch and originals from both Chris and Brad, it’s one for the repeat button.
The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers – 2015
This is the album that Luke Chapman sent me when I asked him to send an album that changed his life. I have to say it then changed mine.
When a band can successfully include Debussy and Scriabin in amongst their truly mesmorising original songs, well I think we know that it’s a band for me. The opening track Familiarity is an absolute masterpiece of arrangement, textures, balance … and such a journey. I first heard mention of Punch Brothers when Brisbane songwriter and cellist Monique Clare did a beautiful cover of their tune ‘My oh my’. “My oh my what a wonderful day we’re having, we’re having. Why oh why are we looking for a way outside it, outside it?”.
Speaking of Monique Clare – I know it’s not a full album but this single from her upcoming album you simply MUST listen to and wait in great anticipation for her to release the full album…
Lucy Wise & The B’Gollies – Lucy Wise – 2011
This album has steadily been on high rotation in my collection since I heard these songs live at the 2011 or perhaps 2012 National Folk Festival. Lucy is one of Australia’s best songwriters. She is really really good and I am really really grateful to call her a friend. We only usually get to see each other at folk festivals, but it is always a lovely time. I’m also very excited at the possible prospect of her coming to play at concert at Peppermint Grove Studios… I’ll keep you posted!
The album features some cream of the folky crop – Chris Stone on Fiddle, Holly Downs on Double Bass, Misha Herman on accordion and scotsman Graham McCleod on guitar. Lucy’s vocal delivery is always so genuine, clear and vulnerable. Her lyrics always speak straight to your heart. I’ve recently really enjoyed learning ‘Early Risers’ from this album.
Midnight and Closedown – Lau – 2019
This is a very recent edition to my favourite listening list. I had a period of loving Lau a few years ago and I’ve been having a wonderful time re-discovering them. They are so successful in the way they fuse acoustic and electronic synthesized sounds. I particularly enjoy listening to this album on drives. It has a deep, pulsating drive and gritty tenderness, shadowed always by both the buzz and stillness of the night.
An Ancient Observer – Tigran Hamasyan – 2017
Many folks in the jazz world are a Tigran fan. For me, his music scratches an itch that wants the classical sculpting, the rock heaviness, the nerdy rhythmic intricacies and the over arching, profoundly soulful melodies – all within an instrumental context. It definitely goes beyond any one genre or description, and fully encapsulates what a beautiful composer and improviser he is. I especially like the element of through composition in many tracks and the distinct Armenian inflections in his playing.