Toy Box No.2 is a 6-track EP.  It follows the release earlier this year of Toy Box No.1 and again features a selection of Hewerdine originals, which further enhance his reputation as one of our best songwriters.

Instrumentation across the album is sparse: Hewerdine’s guitar, plus the accordion of Alan Kelly on four tracks.  Vocally it’s all down to Boo, with Eddi Reader supplying some ethereal backing vocals in the last seconds of Amen.  Kelly’s accordion playing does much to add colour to the four songs on which he appears.  Understated and never intrusive, his playing makes a positive contribution to the sound, especially on Limelight and Harvest Gypsies.  Production, by Mark Freegard, ensures that vocals and instruments are clear and well-balanced, with Hewerdine’s voice to the front of the mix on all the songs with the exception of Stone In Your Shoe, a swampy, slightly threatening, blues number and one of my favourite tracks.

Follow My Tears and Harvest Gypsies are both songs about migration: a woman’s journey to New Zealand for a new life with her new husband, and the lives of migrant agricultural workers of California.  Unfortunately neither song tells a strong or original tale and they fail to match the impact of the EP’s other tracks.

The standout song for me is Limelight, a mournful waltz-time song with a particularly strong lyric, although not so obvious that I understand what’s going on, and Hewerdine’s best vocal performance of the CD.  The album packaging, by the way, is a joy.  The artwork, by Vivien Hewerdine, reminds me of children’s books and toys of the 1930s and supports the rather nostalgic feel of the music: a visual treat.

Bruce Lindsay

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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.