As reported here some time back, Sophie Johnson had decamped to the States, leaving the future of The Toy Hearts very much up in the air. Well, it would seem that, after fifteen years, they are on hiatus, but, in the interim, has arisen Hannah Johnson and The Broken Hearts, a new project fronted by sister Hannah on vocals, guitar and mandolin, and with father Stewart on steel. Joined, as occasion demands by either Simon Smith or Buzby Bywater on Double Bass and Chris Shirley or Howard Gregory on Guitar, the new outfit have shifted direction slightly, sticking with western swing but adding old-school honky tonk country and blues to the mix. They’re out gigging now and new material is in the works.
Now a complete set of Duffys with Stephen, wife Claire, brother Nick and pedal steel player mate Melvyn, THE LILAC TIME return with their ninth album, No Sad Songs (Tapete),a title that pretty much sums up a collection of songs infused with odes to love, couched in dreamy melodies that marry the band’s pastoral folk pop sensibilities with the occasional splash of psychedelia. Nodding to his recent marital status, there’s a track called The Wedding Song while She Writes A Symphony has them talking about starting a family.
That sense of renewal is evident from the opening track, The First Song Of Spring, with its celebratory lyrics and swirling strings while, conjuring a different season, the softly waltzing title track talks of Christmas Eve and evokes images of fireplace hearths and stockings hanging rom the mantelpiece. With its dig at big businesses and tax avoidance, a a reference to Mervyn King, Babylon Revisited is a more poppily uptempo, almost carnival affair with a steel drums feel while, inspired by a California earthquake, the psych-folk The Dream That Awoke Me shifts the scene to a desert haze and the summery Prussian Blue suggests a Cornish transplant of the Beach Boy’s Smile visions.
Nodding to a very English heritage, Nick Duffy’s instrumental Rag, Tag & Bobtail shades its folksiness with Eastern and Occidental colours before the otherworldly minimalistic A Cat On The Long Wave sees the album out with icy keyboard notes as Stephen sings how “life’s a dream to be lived.” Sweet dreams are made of this.