Most families keep a bowl of fruit on the dining table. Hannah Acfield’s kept one full of maracas, tin whistles, clap sticks, and harmonicas, which helps explain how the Melbourne artist ended up with a guitar in her arms years later. Acfield’s folk songs cover the stuff of ordinary life”the beginning of a new relationship, the end of a long one, and the little traumas that make us who we are. On the sublime This One Knows, the singer recalls the first blush of love with an acoustic guitar and warm, lilting vocals that show off her antipodean cadence. But don’t believe us”Gotye himself says that Acfield’s voice engages you instantly. This One Knows is summery melody steeped in nostalgia that’s best played while driving with the windows down. But not all memories are as warm. On My Tomorrow Acfield recounts a violent mugging, and produces a defiant folk rocker in the process. Tragedy and tambourines are strange bedfellows, but under Acfield’s artful guidance, everything’s in its right place.
Gerald Edward doesn’t need much”just a guitar, his voice and a community. The singer-songwriter shuffles between the Jersey Shore and Brooklyn, sharing the stage with a rotating cast of musicians or performing solo. If you have any doubt that the man is a troubadour, take into account the fact that he named his band Inland Traveler. When it came time to record an album, Edward split the record between his full band and just himself. The result is a collection of indie folk dazzlers with a country tilt. Stripped down, clarified melodies like the folksy Promise and the mesmerizing, elegiac Put The Breaks On prove that Edward can deliver with just the bare essentials. But he can also kick up some dust and does so with his band on the stomp-n-thump of Sweet Revenge and the driving rhythm of Sweet Revenge. Pulling double duty works for him”let’s hope he can keep up the grind.
Fans are empirical proof of an artist’s allure. But fans who are willing to finance an album signify a draw that’s more powerful than average. Seconds into hearing Erin Ivey sing, you’ll understand why so many of her followers were willing to cough up some coin to help her latest record, Broken Gold, see the light of day. The singer-songwriter delivers beauty and adventure in equal measure. Bestowed with a high, feathery coo that caresses each note, Ivey often sounds more like a Parisienne chanteuse than a folk singer based in Texas hill country. Chocolate begins with the assertive strum of guitar, building only slightly with the twinkle of xylophone and tiptoeing pizzicato strings. Sparse and intimate, the love song likens Ivey’s sweetheart to a confection that leaves her wanting more. I can never have just one, she sings. We know the feeling. A single serving from Ivey will leave you craving seconds of the folk singer’s sweet songcraft.
Chris Henderson grew up listening to his father’s old bronze radio, transfixed by the warm, old-time music that crackled through its speakers. So it’s easy to see the inspiration for his band, Bronze Radio Return. Blending folk, blues and jazz, the band churns out joyous music with a vintage patina. The bombastic Down There features a roughshod orchestra of trilling organs and twanging guitars. You’d think theirs was a purist approach to folk if not for the scorching guitars riffs and spacious percussion that make parts of Down There sound more like The Secret Machines than Mumford & Sons. The mood here is ecstatic and convivial”the spreading warmth of your first glass of bourbon leading you into a dizzy barroom sing-a-long. Shake, Shake, Shake continues the rapture with stomp-clap percussion and a sailing chorus brimming with romanticism. Henderson’s endearing croak is similar to Marcus Mumford’s, and on Digital Love he uses it to lacquer the dusty jazz melody with laid-back sex appeal. I’m an analog man with a digital case of you, he rasps. That blend of analog and digital is precisely what makes Bronze Radio Return a band worth tuning in to. That’s an order.
Not all who pick up a violin end up in the orchestra pit. Rock music claims its fair share of classically trained musicians, especially those wielding a stringed instrument. Darlingside has a couple among their ranks, namely a cellist and violinist. The addition of guitars, drums and a mandolin steer the music away from strictly classical into more nuanced terrain. Like, for instance, Good Man”grassy folk rock full of high lonesome soul. Or Malea, which veers towards experimental string rock. Yawning violin, a cappella breaks, and a torrent of handclaps make for a haunting, curious groove. The Catbird Seat is more wistful, cinematic fare built with baying violins and softly strummed acoustic guitars. Darlingside keep a lot of space in their songs, letting the strings tell much of the story. So far, we’re loving what they have to say.
Xoe Wise‘s bio begins, Xoe Wise is a heart from a dream, a mind from the ocean, a thought from a memory and a musician from the lack of difference between the three. Thankfully, her music is less inscrutable. Here’s our interpretation: Xoe Wise is a North Carolina singer-songwriter with a talent for beachy, sing-a-long folk songs. Think Colbie Callait meets Elliott Smith. Multi-tracked vocals, acoustic guitars, twinkling keys and shuffling beats permeate her music. NC 101 is soft and diaphanous, with breezy vocals that nudge the melody along. Sail and Take Me Away are folksy acoustic pop nuggets that share the same sunny insouciance. But our favorite has to be My Heart, a romantic gem where Wises’ lovely voice sails up the scales. Heart from a dream, a mind from the ocean”yeah, maybe. All you need to know is that she’s good. Put on this Carolina girl’s music and it feels a little less like winter.
Once Stephanie Bosch emerged on the Edmonton scene, it didn’t take long for people to sit up and take note. Within one year of the release of her first EP the Canadian chanteuse was being asked to play with the likes of Steve Earle, Tracy Chapman and Sara McLachlin. Why all the fuss? Put on Flash Freeze and you’ll get it. Bosch is not only the owner of a lilting voice, coated in honey and treacle, but she’s a gifted songwriter, too. A doleful violin, guitar and drums combine for a searing strike on Flash Freeze, but if melancholic waltzes aren’t your thing, skip over to My Room for a playful romp or Broken Hearted Fool for a mischievous vagabond shuffle. Bosch is one of those songwriters who’s hard to corral into one style or genre. But her free spirit makes for a more interesting trip.
No one said you can’t write a good country song living in the urban Northeast, but it may be true that you’ll find more fodder on Southern terrain. Singer-songwriter Shawn Byrne make the pilgrimage from Boston to Nashville in pursuit of a career as a country artist, writing songs for the bright stars of Nashvegas and earning a SESAC award along the way. His music is canny, upbeat and polished to perfection. Tough As This Town celebrates the quiet nobility of small town life with big hooks and a vivid, visceral chorus you’ll want to sing along to. Simpleton is another romp and roll. Harmonicas wheeze and basses thump like a jug band that’s just getting warmed up. We happen to like the moodier stuff, from the driving, full-tilt gallop of That Train Keeps Me Up All Night to the dusty blues shuffle of Ol’ Cook Pot. Byrne’s a great songwriter ¦ it’s only a matter of time before his rep spreads beyond Nashville city limits.