He hasn’t even graduated from high school yet, but already Brisbane teen Xander Holmes is creating the kind of songs that musicians many years his senior would be proud of. His debut EP Ocean is an epic release made up of five tracks set to excite fans of artists like Matt Corby and Jeff Buckley.

Opening song and title track “Ocean” is an anthemic song that builds to a stirring crescendo. “My Will” and “Islands” are two of the strongest songs on the recording, in my opinion, with Xander’s dreamy vocals showing they’re up to the task, whether they’re contrasting with the urgent wailings of an electric guitar or keeping time with a driving drum beat. “Tidal” is an exquisite, atmospheric instrumental. A real master stroke. The closing track “Let There Be Light” is perhaps the EP’s most accessible song, a romantic piano ballad that really speaks to the heart. It’s much more stripped back than the other songs, yet for a track that speaks of love the way this one does I think the gentler touch works.

I love Xander’s voice and the way he’s built such beautiful soundscapes that complement it perfectly. Ocean is an accomplished EP that gives listeners a glimpse at a potential superstar of the future. It’s available now on a range of digital channels including iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify.

Young musicians have it tough. We’ve seen young performers make a splash on reality TV shows time and time again. They’re praised for having talent beyond their years, for being so good for their age, and then they’re soon forgotten about when the next wave of performers turns up. So it’s refreshing to see an artist like Ella Belfanti who has taken the time-honoured route of recording her debut release Going in Circles in her bedroom, then putting in the hard yards delivering it to music outlets like myself.

As a bedroom recording laid down with a two-line input audio, listening to Going in Circles is a very different listening experience than many music lovers are used to. Music has usually been polished within an inch of its life before we consume it. There’s something so refreshing about tuning into music that feels untainted like this.

I was instantly struck by Ella’s sweet voice. Not sugary sweet mind you, but pure and angelic with a commanding presence that draws you in. So do her lyrics. Songs like “Trying Not to Like You” and the irresistibly catchy “All of This” appealed to my inner teen who has never quite gone away. There’s such a quiet strength tempered by vulnerability in “Turn With the Tide” and “Make Up Your Mind.” “Focus” is perhaps the most ambitious song on the release, a haunting ballad that reveals an artist with so much potential. The closing track “Circles” is filled with so much longing, the perfect way to end this EP that explores early love and loss so eloquently.

Going in Circles is a collection of such good, organic folk songs. Songs that aren’t just good for the artist’s age, but good full stop. Ella shows great artistic instincts, building her sound with layered vocals and instruments (she plays everything from the guitar to drums, from flute to pencils tapped together in front of the mic!). Everything is in just the right place.

Remember the name, because Ella Belfanti has a big future ahead of her. Sydneysiders, you can see Ella play songs from Going in Circles at The Gasoline Pony in Marrickville on March 8.

I’m ashamed to write that Seven Long Years by Aussie expat Musketeer has sat in my inbox since late January. I’ve listened to it from time to time but I couldn’t quite get the words together to articulate my thoughts on it. So I left it there, knowing I wanted to write about it but waiting for the right time. As March approaches, I’ve decided there may not be a right time and it’s best just to push that writer’s block out of my mind and write.

Seven Long Years is such an interesting EP. It’s the short form of a concept album really. I’d thought that in four songs that might not work, that you’d need more material to really present a story without glossing over it, but Musketeer handles it beautifully. The EP tells the story of a 19th century British convict sent to Australia’s prison camp. It’s a tale anyone familiar with Australian history is well acquainted with, but one that should resonate with modern listeners in light of the ongoing asylum seeker debate.

The opening song and title track is the most upbeat number on the EP. It has a Mumford & Sons vibe that I really dig, plaintive but rollicking good fun. “Hollow” brings a more sombre and reflective tone to the EP. The following track “Johnny Red” is a stirring epic, a real highlight. “Ticket of Leave” rounds the EP out, leaving us on just the right note.

Musketeer’s raw, rich vocals and the lush orchestral arrangements bring the historic tale to life. The music has an interesting blend of nostalgia and new-folk vibes that instantly drew me in.

Seven Long Years is available for streaming and download on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp. You can also get a physical copy from Musketeer’s online store.

Tour dates are yet to be announced, but Musketeer promises to take the EP to audiences in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia.

Image used with permission from Musketeer

As you’re reading this review, I’m relaxing on Kangaroo Island. I’m in a far more chilled out mood than I was when I wrote this, because I’ve been cruising down the East Coast for five days now. There’s something about taking a cruise, where I have nothing to do and an obliging crew of staff keen to take care of me, that just helps the stresses of the everyday melt away. I imagine Tom Busby and Jeremy Marou were in a similar mindset, albeit probably without the premium beverage package, when they recorded Postcards from the Shell House.

The Shell House that Busby Marou’s third album refers to is an old building on Great Keppel Island. The duo used to play songs there sitting around a campfire early in their careers, so it’s only fitting that they return to their roots and to the Shell House on this recording.

The duo doesn’t veer too far from their usual path with this recording. If you loved the cruisy acoustic folk-pop of their first two releases, this will be right up your alley. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve heard it all before.

While the duo is typically upbeat, some songs play in the shadows. There’s a real sadness and longing to the opening track “Best Part of Me.” I heard wistfulness in “Every Last Day in Between” that really tugged on the heartstrings.

“Paint This Land” has a stirring, epic quality to it. I can imagine it becoming the signature song for Australia Day. It just has that right amount of gravitas without feeling overly grandiose. The duo is collaborating this time around too. We’re used to Nat Dunn playing in the electronic space, but her appearance on the dreamy “Sleep On It” is one of the album’s highlights.

Postcards from the Shell House delivers easy, breezy, good vibes with just a hint of melancholy. It’s another solid release from this accomplished Queensland duo.

Postcards from the Shell House drops on February 17.

Image used with permission from Warner Music Australia

The Overland is the result of years spent writing, recording, and performing for Greg Steps & The Not for Prophets. That might seem like a long time to develop an EP, but these musicians have made sure every song counts.

“Trying to Wake the Dead” is the perfect introduction to the music Greg Steps & The Not for Prophets make together. I was reminded of the music of James Taylor and David Gray as I listened. Those are big shoes, but there’s something so similar and rare in today’s musical landscape about the great storyteller quality in Greg’s voice and the classic blend of an acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin, and fiddle.

I found myself getting sucked into the story of “Railway Man,” that traveller so far from home. The following song, “Famous Last Words” gave me another story to identify with. Listening to it made me wonder why more songwriters don’t tell stories with their songs.

“Half a World Away” is my favourite song on the EP, a stripped back folk song that builds to such an honest, raw crescendo. “Early Hours of Morning” is a beautiful way to end The Overland. I love the harmonies and the delicate calm of this one.

The Overland makes such a strong impression in five songs. It has a timeless quality that’s so appealing. Greg Steps and the Not for Prophets will launch it with a show at the Wesley Anne in Melbourne on February 24. It will be available from that date on iTunes, Bandcamp, and selected music stores.

After a few stressful days, I was looking for music to soothe my soul. I found it in The Leaving, the sophomore release from Melbourne singer-songwriter Rough River.

Her name suggests a performer much tougher than she appears to be. Her voice is rich and smooth, comforting, and her songs show a vulnerability that’s so endearing. The presser calls Rough River a folk-alternative country performer, a description which goes some way towards explaining the diversity of this release. “Sea Air and City Lights” has an ethereal, mystical quality, thanks to its gentle instrumentation and Rough River’s angelic voice. “Band of String” has an unashamedly old-school country vibe, and those country roots are also explored in a sublime cover of “Tennessee Waltz.” While elements of gospel can be heard in the album’s closing track “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Whatever sound she’s exploring, there’s a sadness and longing that ties the tracks together. Songs like “What You Did,” “Sweet Saccharin,” and “We All Want” pack a real emotional punch, with simple melodies that let the lyrics shine through.

The Leaving is such a special album. It shows a performer coming into her own and being unafraid to show herself. Every song is wonderful in its own right, but together they are breathtaking.

The Leaving hits stores on February 17.

Image used with permission from Dusky Tracks

With five albums already under his belt, you might assume that Carus Thompson was running out of things to say. However, listening to his new album Island quickly dispels that myth.

Perhaps it’s because Carus hasn’t released an album in five years. Think about your own life and how much you’ve learned in that period of time, and you’ll soon understand why Carus has so many stories to tell. He’s also spent his hiatus working with groups like Headspace, Canteen, and the Australian Children’s Music Foundation. I can hear the way some of the people he encountered during that time has informed his work. Carus has also returned home to Fremantle, to a quieter life with his two children. That sort of move is bound to be good for the soul.

Considering all of those factors, it’s not really surprising that Carus has so much to say with this release. It tackles some deep topics here. He sings so eloquently about the ice epidemic in the single “Bush Fires.” He humanises the plight of refugees on Manus Island in “Reza Barati.” There are themes of isolation and depression that run through.

“Lies” may be the happiest sounding song about betrayal that I’ve ever heard. I love the juxtaposition of this sing-along melody with the cutting lyrics. “Go There With You” is such an honest love song. There are no frills about it; Carus just bears the soul. The delicate “Gone But Not Forgotten” is such a poignant way to end this exceptional album.

Island is so easy to listen to. You could slip it on at your next BBQ and it would add a relaxed atmosphere. But it’s so much richer than just a cruisy acoustic folk album. Tapping into the lyrics you hear so much wisdom and heart. I know I’m going to go back to it at a time when I can just drop everything and really hone in on those words, because I know it’s going to hit me more with every listen.

Island by Carus Thompson is released today. Look out for his live show at the following venues.

12 February 2017 – The Grace Emily, Adelaide (Matinee)
17 February 2017 – Mojos, Fremantle
25 February 2017 – Piping Hot Chicken Shop, Ocean Grove
26 February 2017 – Grampians Festival, Halls Gap
3 March 2017 – Republic Bar, Hobart
4 March 2017 – The Workers Club, Melbourne
5 March 2017 – Newtown Social Club, Sydney
10 March 2017 – The Quarry Ampitheatre, City Beach

When Sydney soul singer Josue released his first EP Bad News in 2015, I thought he was the second coming of Tevin Campbell. I loved his voice and the way he was making music that took me back to my teenage years. However, he’s decided to shake things up with his new 3-tracker, M.o.D.

Josue tells us that M.o.D can mean anything we want it to. “Mind over Distractions. Money overruns Dreams. Music over Drama” he helpfully suggests in the press release. But M.o.D is also the name of Josue’s brother and producer of this EP. His influence has taken everything I loved about Josue’s music but given it a fresh edge.

The single “Stay” is so smooth. Its instrumentation recalls an old jazz club, but the electro beats give it a more contemporary feel. “Million” is so bold, charged with energy. I love the way Josue’s soulful voice pairs with the wailing electric guitars. Josue goes out with a bang with “Erase the Sun.” He actually wrote this song when he was just 17 years old but it feels incredibly mature. It’s political, ambitious, and more than a little trippy.

As I listened to this EP I found myself thinking not of Tevin Campbell but favourite 90s act Maxwell, who took classic soul and created soundscapes around it. However, where Maxwell loved to sing about love and romance, Josue isn’t afraid to tackle grittier subject matter. He takes some real risks on M.o.D. but they all pay off.

Image used with permission from Stimulated Media

Kasey Chambers is something of a quiet achiever in the Australian music industry. She pops onto the radar every now and then with big singles like “The Captain,” “Not Pretty Enough,” and “Barricades and Brickwalls,” but there’s not a lot of fanfare when she releases albums. However, when they’re full of quality songs like her 11th studio album Dragonfly, there really ought to be.

You might assume that at number 11 Kasey might be running out of steam. Yet Dragonfly shows she’s still a singer-songwriter with plenty to say. There are 19 different tracks on the album in all (“Ain’t No Little Girl” is given two separate treatments). I’ve felt shorter albums than this drag, but the songs are all of such quality I can’t imagine what she could have left out. The album was recorded in two separate sessions – the Sing Sing Sessions were conducted under the guidance of Paul Kelly while the Foggy Mountain Sessions sees Kasey’s brother Nash at the helm. Despite the two different locations and producers, the album comes together beautifully as a cohesive whole.

“Pompeii” is the perfect introduction to this album, a banjo-driven number with a traditional country sound and sublime harmonies from Kasey and her backing band. It sets the scene for an album that has a classic sound deeply rooted in the country music upon which Kasey was raised. I love the gospel-tinged fun of “Golden Rails” and the old Southern blues feel of “Shackle & Chain.”

However, I feel Kasey is at her best when she’s baring her soul. “Ain’t No Little Girl” is powerful stuff which hit this female writer hard. The title track is another master stroke, with intimate lyrics which are so moving.

She’s just as compelling whether she’s telling the story of someone else, like in the exquisite “Behind the Eyes of Henri Young” or the haunting “Annabelle,” or her own story with great humour and a country twang in “Talkin’ Baby Blues.”

Dragonfly features collaborations with a first-class collection of musicians. While she shines in solo mode, duets like “Romeo & Juliet” with Fance Voy and “If We Had a Child” with Keith Urban are some of the album’s highlights. Other tracks like “Jonestown” and “Satellite” aren’t listed as duets, but the strong presence of other voices that complement Kasey’s so beautifully make them feel as if they are.

Dragonfly is released today. Kasey will celebrate its release with a string of shows around the country.

26 January 2017 – West Tamworth Leagues Club, West Tamworth (with Bernard Fanning)
9 February 2017 – Botanic Park, Adelaide (with James Taylor and Bernard Fanning)
10 February 2017 – Taronga Zoo, Mosman (with Thelma Plum)
11 February 2017 – Sirromet Wines, Mt Cotton (with James Taylor and Bernard Fanning)
12 February 2017 – Hope Estate Winery, Pokolbin (with James Taylor and Bernard Fanning)
14 February 2017 – Orange Ex Services Club, Orange (with Bernard Fanning)
15 February 2017 – Albury Entertainment Centre, Albury (with Bernard Fanning)
17 February 2017 – Eastbank Centre, Shepparton (with Bernard Fanning)
18 February 2017 – Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo (with Bernard Fanning)
19 February 2017 – Lakeside Wendouree, Ballarat (with Bernard Fanning)
21 February 2017 – Canberra Theatre Centre, Canberra (with Bernard Fanning)
22 February 2017 – Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul (with Bernard Fanning)
24 February 2017 – Empire Theatre, Toowoomba (with Bernard Fanning)
25 February 2017 – Saraton Theatre, Grafton (with Bernard Fanning)

“Being” was one of the songs that really stuck with me last year, as much for its playful good vibes as its unexpectedly grotesque music video. So when this Melbourne-based Millington’s EP hit my inbox, I couldn’t want to give it a listen.

Listening to “Believe” again reminded me just how much I love the song. Without the film clip distracting me, I noticed little nuances about it that I hadn’t before. It’s such a solid little folk-pop song. “Tweet” shows a jazzier side of Millington’s music. I half expected him to start scatting in this very cool track. The raw emotional opening of “Spark in the Dust” really drew me in. I’d heard hints of Millington’s rasp before, but that lovely rough part of his voice is used to great effect in this song, where it’s complemented by the resonant hum of a didgeridoo. “Love Handles” is pure pop fun. “Sleep Tight” is the most stripped back song on the album, a mellow reggae-tinged number that is ideal for lazy Saturdays. Fittingly considering it’s the title track, Being gets another outing with the Kitchen Sink Remix closing the EP. Personally I’m not sure I needed this quirky take, but it does bring another complexion to the EP’s big single.

The Being EP is released on January 21. See Millington playing songs from his EP at the following Victorian gigs.

15 January 2017 – Mordy Supper Club, Mordialloc
21 January 2017 – Bella Union, Carlton (EP Launch)
29 January 2017 – Godskitchen, Mornington
3 February 2017 – The Cally, Wonthaggi

Image used with permission from This Much Talent