Disclaimer: if we missed any albums, it is not deliberate, we did our best to find all folk albums released in 2016. If you feel we’ve missed some PLEASE let us know so that we can plug the gaps!
Fraser Browne’s reviews
Candice Milner – Evergreen
Candice Milner, 18, is another Lyttleton musician. Produced by Ben Edwards, the stunning Evergreen has touches of what we should surely by now be calling the ‘Lyttleton sound,’ but it also has an occasionally different trajectory, with more poppy numbers such as ‘Run For It’ or ‘Exaggerate.’ For more of our thoughts see here.
Catgut & Steel – Long Ride Home
Long Ride Home is good, traditional folk music, centred around the duo of Mark Mahoney and Anna Bowen, who between them play fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo and more. With some great storytelling songs, including some seasoned with wry humour, this is the sort of the album that grows on listening.
Jocee Tuck – Mt. Dora
Reminiscent of the more theatrical side of Sufjan Stevens (think Come On! Feel the Illinoise!), Jocee Tuck’s album Mt.Dora is full of her trademark xylophone-driven sound, along with a band that includes guitars, banjos, a brass section and a whole lot of beautiful harmonies. Recorded at Little Monster Studio (Dave Parker) and Black Orange Studio (Vivek Gabriel), Mt. Dora generally sounds upbeat and positive – a great soundtrack for summer.
Looking For Alaska – Self-Titled
Filled with sweet folk-pop tunes, mainly centred around beautiful guitar, piano and strings, Looking For Alaska is certainly a happy sounding record. There are some beautiful quieter, reflective tunes here, too, such as ‘Wanderers,’ which conjures up a sound like The Swell Season.
Dave Weir – Food for Thought EP
Sixties influenced pop that’s guaranteed to get the toes tapping. Sounding like Rubber Soul with some Kinks-y psychedelic swathes shimmering through, Dave Weir certainly knows how to write a good tune. Along with some witty lines that make you smirk. Looking forward to an album.
The Frank Burkitt Band – The Parade EP
Coming hot on the heels of last year’s album, The Parade has some moments that really shine–, such as when the band kicks in (with fiddle, double bass, and mandolin) on ‘Night Wind’, and in opener ‘The Parade,’ which has sincere and delicate storytelling, stripped back to just vocals and acoustic guitar.
Mali Mali – As A Dog Dreams
Mali Mali’s work is filled with storytelling lyrics and a talent for dreamy soundscapes. As A Dog Dreams is full of hypnotising works that can transport you somewhere else, such as ‘You Chose Your Friends Carefully’, ‘D.I.M.’ and ‘Nice But No Soul.’ With the beauty of acoustic guitar and subtle synthesisers washing over a lot of the tracks, it is filled with clever songwriting moments and lyrical introspection that makes it deserving of multiple listens.
Mice on Stilts – Hope for A Mourning
Mice On Stilts are an amazing live act, with the six members swapping an array of instruments, and Hope For A Mourning does an impressive job of replicating their dynamism. It’s worth noting that this isn’t strictly folk, but rather is mostly alternative or progressive, but folkies will find plenty to love here, as it’s an amazing album with some truly inspired lyrical moments. For more of our thoughts see here.
Miles Calder & The Rumours – Self-Titled
This five-piece band from Wellington deliver a strong alt-country/ folk album with some great tunes incorporating guitars, harmonica, organ and a tight rhythm section. The Ryan Adams influence is obvious, but they do what they do well, and they really shine when the band’s personality comes to the fore.
Steve Abel – Luck/Hope
For his third album, eight years in coming, Steve Abel delivers another deliciously dark collection with Luck/ Hope. An album that grows on you, this is a record with some beautiful touches – one that is happy to sit in slower and quieter melancholic moments, and drink deep in despondency.
Streets of Laredo – Wild
Wild builds on the indie sound that Streets of Laredo developed with Volume I & II, with a big and fun sound that is full of hooks without usually getting that poppy – though they’re not shy of that either (see ‘Trap For Young Players’). With some tasty brass, as well as rustic production which makes the drums and guitars at times sound quite fresh and live, as well as the distinctive vocals of Dan Gibson and sister-in-law Sarah Gibson, the band are making noise in their new home in Brooklyn.
Tattletale Saints – Self-titled
The second album from Tattletale Saints takes the band in different directions than the largely acoustic sound of How Red Is The Blood, which won Folk Album of the year in 2014. A good comparison point is ‘Kathleen,’ which features on both albums, the second effort fittingly darker, grimier, and with a bigger band sound. Musically, Tattletale Saints revels in jazz sensibilities, good Americana-styled folk that draws on some prescient storytelling, including some interesting autobiographical lines.
Will Wood – Magpie Brain & Other Stories
Will Wood returns with his second album, which is a country-infused offering that often journeys through Kiwi themes. Produced by Ben Edwards and including a number of well-known guest musicians such as Dave Khan and Reb Fountain, Magpie Brain & Other Stories is a well-crafted, thoughtful record which features some beautiful fingerpicking guitar and ethereal dark folk (somewhat reminiscent of Kiwi legends like Delaney Davidson), along with some wry lyrics (see ‘Magpie Brain’ and opener. For more of our thoughts see here.
Finn McLennan-Elliott’s reviews
Into the East – How To Turn A Blind Eye
Easily one of the strongest openings to an album all year. Is a brilliant follow up to debut album and hints at the diversity the duo could offer. It’s a great shame to see them fold as a band, we are hoping to see them get going again one day. For more of our thoughts see here.
The Veils – Total Depravity
My honorary mention is from ex-pat Kiwis, The Veils with an alternative album that barely touches on ‘folk’. Despite this, it’s here because it is a brilliant album. Finn Andrews writes haunting songs, brings out the most of the band’s musical range and crafts a stunning album. This one is just the latest of them. Go try it out, something a bit different.
Luke Thompson – Hosts
It is no surprise Luke’s latest, Hosts, is up for the Tui for Best Folk Album. It’s a delicate, calming and slow building listen, with understated guitar and lilting, atmospheric vocals. The album never really takes off tempo wise, there are no drums or driving tracks to make you sit up and dance, but it’s the perfect insight into this songwriter’s mind and a showcase of his guitar playing and touching lyrics.
Hopetoun Brown – Look So Good
I have been raving about Look So Good since release. It is a step up from their debut last year, both in instrumentation and in songwriting. Beautiful ballads mix with raucous banging dance tracks that I can never resist singing along to. It’s almost blues, almost jazz, almost funk, who knows. For more of our thoughts see here.
Delaney Davidson – Devil In The Parlour
This album snuck up on me. It was a limited vinyl release, which I happened to come upon. It’s all recorded live and is gritty blues, just as Delaney does it. It captures the feel that Delaney puts across live, no fussing about and no overdubs. Such a tasty version of In the Pines too, no year is complete without a new version of that to sink your teeth in. Try and get your hands on this one.
Greg Fleming – To Hell With These Streets
Greg Fleming’s latest offering is a collection of songs looking at the honest truths of day to day life. Opening track ‘City’s Waking Up’ isn’t all sunshine and brunch on the deck, it’s more that awfully slow and difficult climb to work in the wee hours, through multiple coffees. The Working Poor, as the band are called, really drive these songs, transitioning from slow and sludgy to driving, direct and almost aggressive. A solid offering from the band, promising a live show that will be well worth a look.
Cabin Fevre – Full Moon Riding High
Tom Cunliffe – Howl and Whisper
This is my pick of the year. Yet another stunning album recorded at The Sitting Room in Lyttleton with Ben Edwards. Howl and Whisper is delicate, intricate, lyrically breathtaking and full of songs that should be part of everyone’s playlist. With touches of fiddle, slide guitar and horns the album is arranged to create a louder, larger sound than you’d hear with Tom playing live. Foot tapping and moving songs like ‘There’s Your Lord’, ‘Howl and Whisper’ and ‘My Woman, My Whiskey & Me’ are surrounded by touching ballads like ‘Old Moon’ and ‘Just Kids’. Howl and Whisper is the whole package, an album we will continue to recommend for many years and a brilliant debut from Mr. Cunliffe. For more of our thoughts see here.
Matt Herrett – Time EP
This little four track EP came as a surprise to us this year, and it couldn’t have been better. It perfectly captures Matt’s songwriting, intricate and delicate guitar playing. ‘One Little Smile’ is uplifting, warm and very understated. Solo and acoustic, with some help from fellow Taranaki musicians, it’s a quick listen but a perfect collection of folk songs.
Kim Bonnington – Self-Titled EP
A short and sweet EP from one of those well known names within Wellington folk. The songs sound like ones that we’ve heard before, or definitely should have, a testament to Kim’s work with numerous bands and her ability to craft songs that sound like classics. The EP doesn’t break any boundaries, it’s good, honest alt-country, carried by Kim’s songwriting and vocals.
Albi and The Wolves – One Eye Open
The album captures one side of the prolific live band, showcasing Albi’s (Chris Dent) songwriting and vocals, something that can often get lost in the no-holds-bar live show. ‘Keep You Warm’ and ‘I’m Not Free’ are just such songs, but they are well balanced by the all energy and upbeat nature of songs like ‘Workin’ Hard’ and ‘One Eye Open’. Perfect harmonies are all over the album and some blistering fiddle solos are well worth a listen. For more of our thoughts, see here.
Guy Wishart – West By North
An easy listening, uncomplicated album, West By North is Guy’s fifth album, and has garnered him a finalist slot for the Tui for 2017 Best Folk Album, and it’s easy to see why it’s liked. A steady and talented band keep things moving and there’s a bit of a country twang with pedal and lap steel from Glenn Ross Campbell. The album doesn’t stray from the path, with vocals simply delivered and an easy listening tempo.
Finn & Fraser