Aaron has posted another pair of review over at the Lonesome Road Review, neither of which are for albums I would necessarily independently seek out.
The first is my review of The Laws’ new album, Try Love. The Laws have played Alberta fairly frequently, but I don’t believe I’ve caught them live. I do know that they played some of the area bluegrass festivals several years ago. While there is nothing obviously wrong or lacking on Try Love, neither is there anything particularly distinctive or memorable about it. Your opinion, of course, may vary: I rated it 3.5 out of 5 because- while it doesn’t appeal to me- it is a well-crafted album.
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Philanthropists and songwriters. Partners and spouses. Canadians and world-travelers. Singers and jammers.
So a description of The Laws begins.
In just over a decade, the Ontario-based couple have established themselves as one of the more appealing and well-regarded duos on the Canadian folk and acoustiblue circuits, equally comfortable on a bluegrass festival stage and a quaint coffeehouse.
With Try Love, their sixth independently released album, John and Michelle Law further refine their approach to harmony rich folk music. Produced by Cape Breton multi-instrumentalist J.P. Cormier, the album has a bright, clear sound that places their vocals just in front of the artfully embossed instrumentation.
Songs such as “Love Again,” “Walking Away,” and “With My Heart” are unabashed country in structure and theme, certainly modern but without the rock ‘n’ roll overtones that have come to define contemporary country.
Elsewhere, “Rebel Cowboy Dream” and “Wherefore and Why” contain bluegrass shadings, with the latter having a bit of drive behind it, while “Who’s Keeping Score” gently swings.
“Beer Mountain Rag” is a full-blown bluegrass instrumental featuring quality picking from Cormier on banjo and mandolin.
Michelle sings most of the leads, and yet the album loses no momentum when John takes over. Powerfully voiced, on “In the Clouds” he may remind some of Canadian crooner Johnny Reid, but on “Try Love” he stretches—perhaps a bit too much—into John Hiatt territory.
Try Love is a pretty slick sounding album that will undoubtedly become a favorite of those who appreciate The Laws’ approach to roots music.
The other album reviewed is from the UK and comes from The Toy Hearts. I have to admit- I avoided this album for quite a few weeks because the artwork absolutely creeped me out. I realize it is staged to play up to the album’s title, but really…I just think it looks cheap, misguided, and distracting from what isn’t a terrible album but it looks like it is.
The Toy Hearts
3 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
With flirty vocals and a saucy image, The Toy Hearts are—if one believes the publicity attached to their website—at the forefront of a British revival of Americana sounds.
Despite having been immersed in bluegrass music, The Toy Hearts’ third album has barely a hint of ‘grass within its 50-plus minutes. Hailing from Birmingham, England this trio fronted by sisters Hannah (lead vocals and mandolin) and Sophia (guitar and harmony) Johnson bring to acoustic music a faux sophistication that is at odds with the bluegrass, western swing, and gypsy jazz they emulate.
While that isn’t intended as a compliment, neither is Femme Fatale unlistenable; there is quite a lot to recommend it as long as one sets aside notions of what roots music sounds like.
“Tequila and High Heels,” “Good For Me,” and the title track share a sound that some readers may associate with The Good Lovelies, the Canadian trio that connects the Andrews Sisters to the old-time, folk tradition. “The Devil on the Wall” is one of several songs one appreciates, especially with its unusual bridge and guitar interlude.
“The Captain” may be the album’s finest five minutes. This call-to-arms to personal empowerment finds the protagonist breaking the chains of manipulation and helplessness hardened by years of domination.
The sisters’ multi-instrumentalist father Stewart contributes resonator and banjo throughout, including on the lively instrumental “Creek Bluff Drive.” Every song benefits from his deft touch as mournful tones emanate from his Dobro and spirit springs from the 5.
Several names familiar to the bluegrass faithful appear on Femme Fatale. The Infamous Stringdusters’ Jesse Cobb handles much of the mandolin across this project, and Missy Raines assumes bass duties. Ex-Cadillac Sky’s Ross Holmes fiddles while former bandmate David Mayfield appears on vocals, electric guitar, and Mellotron, a keyboard instrument Google tells me was invented in Birmingham, completing the circle. Mayfield also produced the album.
The Toy Hearts are not my kind of band. They play around the edges a bit too much for my liking, not really committing to any one direction. Still, I can appreciate their vocal treatments, their emphasis on original songs, and their willingness to explore sounds that others may not.
Not likely an album that I’ll be revisiting anytime soon, but recommended if you appreciate The Greencards, Claire Lynch, and Sara Watkins.
I tend to like my roots music with a bit of gravel, and the isn’t too much grit on either of these albums. What they did do was challenge me to write about music that I didn’t necessarily personally appreciate- I was forced to listen to them with others’ ears because it was obvious I wasn’t the target audience. Hopefully, I succeeded in sharing a balanced treatment of the art created by these musicians. Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, Donald