Heartfelt music beyond borders

Toy Hearts: Giving bluegrass a makeover.
Toy Hearts: Giving bluegrass a makeover.
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it’s nothing to do with roots.

It is the heart that matters with good music.

And nobody can deny that the Toy Hearts have plenty of genuine emotion for the music they play.

Music that crackles with true feeling and flair.

It is authentic bluegrass and western swing.

In fact it is so authentic that you would think it was rooted in the other side of the Atlantic. But the Toy Hearts hail from Birmingham.

They are Stewart Johnson (banjo, dobro) and his daughters Sophia (vocals, guitar) and Hannah (vocals, mandolin).

They have become one of the hottest acts on the acoustic scene. Their reputation as an exciting and dynamic live act has developed along with their songwriting skills, culminating in 2010’s release, Femme Fatale, which was recorded in Nashville.

The album demonstrates the trio’s equal ability at a wide range of musical styles, from hot-club swing, to country love song, to bluegrass instrumental.

But make sure not to fall into the trap that this is mere mimicry. For the clear conviction of each member of the Toy Hearts, and their love for their music marks them out as true originals.

This is evident whether you are knocked over by the heartbreak in Hannah’s voice, or her sister’s guitar playing, or their father’s multi instrumental talents.

Since making their first record in 2006, they have played across the UK, Europe and USA, headlining shows and opening for the likes of Robert Plant, Imelda May, The Hot Club of Cowtown and Ricky Skaggs.

They are now on tour promoting fourth album, Whiskey, to be released on their own label.

It was recorded in their home studio in Birmingham and edited and mixed by Grammy nominated Ben Surratt in Nashville.

This is their first offering to include half original material and half covers.

While previous recordings have been more acoustic and bluegrass orientated, this is an homage to some of the other genres that inspire the band, particularly western swing, rockabilly, jazz and blues.

Lyrically it deals with the fallout from failed relationships, heartbreak, lonesomeness and issues of self control, but despite this, the feel of the album remains determinedly upbeat, there is definite joy and even humour in both the playing and songs.

The Toy Hearts are at the Rock@Matlby, Wesley Centre, Blyth Road, Maltby, next Friday. Tomorrow’s guest is Anna Shannon.

LUCY Wainwright Roche is daughter of singer-songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche, who, along with her sisters Maggie and Terre, make up The Roches. But Lucy is showing that she is a major talent in her own right, having already earned herslef a Grammy. Her songs have been compared to those of Richard Thompson, Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin.

Lucy initially bypassed the family career choice of music to teach in New York City but in 2007, she decided on music as a full-time career. She is at the Greystones on Sunday.

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan are at Chesterfield Folk Club tomorrow.