The Toy Hearts
The Toy Hearts made their CD debut with 2006's 'If The Blues Come Calling' and followed it up two years later with 'When I Cut Loose'. Now they are back with 'Femme Fatale', which will hit the shops on 18 October. Having had the first two CDs on my personal playlist for a long time, I was delighted to receive an advance copy of 'Femme Fatale' for review.
The band has a strong family connection, with Stewart Johnson and his daughters, Hannah Johnson and Sophia Johnson, forming the core of the line-up.
'Bluegrass' is the official style of The Toy Hearts, but as usual with great music it's not so easy to pigeonhole, as we shall see.
The Toy Heart in action at The Sage's
Americana Festival earlier this year
The track listing reveals a substantial offering of 13 new songs.
1) Good For Me
2) Femme Fatale
4) This Little Kitty
5) Bet Good Money
6) Tequila and High Heels
7) The Beck is Rising
8) The Devil on the Wall
9) Tear Stained Letter
10) This Town
11) The Captain
12) Creek Bluff Drive
13) She Got There First
Lead Vocals and mandolin
'Good For Me' is a great opener, showcasing right from the start exactly what The Toy Hearts are all about. Musically, the playing is very accomplished; the gentle pace of the song allows each instrument to breathe. The trademark vocal harmonies - as beautiful as ever - are well to the fore.
It is a sign of the versatility inherent in a musical genre that the first tracks are so different. Following the Bluegrass starter, 'Femme Fatale' takes a turn into the world of Jazz and Western swing, while 'Carolina' is a journey into the world of the blues.
Harmony vocals and acoustic guitar
The fourth rack, 'Little Kitty' is a quirky, playful, uptempo number - a style revisited on 'Tequila and High Heels'.
There are still surprises in store. The penultimate track, 'Creek Bluff Drive' is an instrumental track, driven by exemplary banjo picking. As much as I love the Toy Heart vocals, this is one of my favourites on the CD. The pure musicianship firmly takes centre stage and it really is an impressive and delightful experience.
My other favourites are 'Good For Me', 'Femme Fatale' and 'The Captain'. The latter is a gentler number but nevertheless one with a serious message.
Guitars, Dobro and banjo
The Toy Hearts are a hard working band, constantly busy with live shows and still finding the time to write and record new material. There is a definite air of progression running through the three CDs. In all departments, this is definitely their best to date, hitting a consistently high standard of song writing, singing and playing right across the board.
The Toy Hearts in full swing
Those who find such words as 'Bluegrass' and 'country' a little on the scary side should put aside prejudice and preconception and follow the rapidly growing band of awareness that The Toy Hearts are the real deal.
'Femme Fatale', like all great music, grows on the listener which each listening. It's a CD I am more than happy to recommend, so keep an eye out for the general release in October.
For my review of The Toy Hearts in concert, click here.
To go to the official Toy Hearts website, please click here.