The Birmingham (England) quintet The Toy Hearts launched their second album When I Cut Loose (Woodville Records) on Wednesday,
That evening they performed songs from the CD at a release party at The Roadhouse, their regular venue in the city.
The creative core of The Toy Hearts is dad Stewart Johnson (banjo/Dobro¬Æ) and his two young daughters Sophia (guitars/vocals) and Hannah (mandolin/vocals). Together they write most of their songs and the girls are the most prominent vocally. They are supported by Howard Gregory (fiddle) and Lauren Rogers (double bass/vocals).
I spoke to Sophia Johnson about the new album ‚Ä¶‚Ä¶‚Ä¶‚Ä¶..
How many songs are there on the album and who wrote them?
“There are eleven songs on the album and they are all original. We feel very strongly about writing our own songs. Not only is song writing a personal creative impulse/compulsion, which we simply cannot ignore, but writing is key in defining the Toy Hearts sound and we hope it will allow us to make our own mark on the bluegrass genre with its fine heritage of song writing.
Me, (Sophia), dad and Hannah tend to write as a unit, one usually brings the initial idea but we all play a part in the song’s completion. We always credit the songs Johnson/Johnson/Johnson. Our bass player Lauren wrote the lyrics for one track on the new album; I’ll Keep Waiting.”
Who sings lead on the various tracks?
“Hannah sings all the lead. She has worked very hard training her voice and listens incessantly to singers like Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams and her current favourite Bradley Walker. The harmonies are all done by me and Lauren.”
Are there any instrumentals?
“There are no instrumentals on this album. We put Piccadilly Special on the first CD; it was named after the Piccadilly Theatre where dad was working as an actor and musician in West End show Jailhouse Rock. We kept meaning to write one for the new album, we started writing Creekbluff Drive while we were in Texas, but we never finished it in time to record. I guess it turns out Hannah and I have a lot of things to say, ha ha!”
Where and when were the recordings done?
“We recorded it at Gighouse Studios in Leamington Spa. It’s a lovely studio out in the country with no distractions, unless you count the two goats in the field next door! We recorded all the instruments live, in separation booths, along with a guide vocal. We then overdubbed the vocals and some solos. We wanted to keep as live a feel as possible, as we did not have the facility to do so on our last album, so we did minimal editing and overdubbing to the live tracks!”
What label is it on and what distribution do you have?
“We have put the album out on our own label Woodville Records, as we did with our first one. You can buy the album at our gigs, on our MySpace and website (website currently under construction…. grr!… will be up and running as soon as possible) and in most of the independent record shops in our home town of Birmingham, eg Polar Bear and Jibbering. We are currently negotiating for American distribution with Genuine Recordings, Austin, Texas.”
When I Cut Loose was mastered in Nashville and features the band’s trademark mixture of traditional and contemporary bluegrass, swing and country.
Four songs from When I Cut Loose, namely Sly North Wind, The Angels Sing To Me, Montpelier Street and Giving You Back You can be heard by visiting the band’s MySpace page.
A quick look at their gig guide suggests that The Toy Hearts are Britain’s hardest working bluegrass band at the moment, having toured Texas in March and acted as the sole UK representative at The European World of Bluegrass Music in Holland in May. They are just back from appearances at a festival La Roche-sur-Foron in the French Alps near Geneva, a production promoted by the France Bluegrass Musique Association. Additionally, they have dates in various parts of the Midlands as well as one in Bristol and another in London
They plan to be at the IBMA World Of Bluegrass convention where they will showcase at the International Suite, September 30, 0:30am
The band’s first release, If The Blues Come Calling received a very favourable review in the October 2007 edition of Bluegrass Unlimited and similarly positive comment from the British Americana music publication Maverick that same month.