Philly’s Toy Soldiers were featured on The Key Studio Sessions once before, but back then it was a completely different band. Ron Gallo was still at the helm, and the music was still a romping rootsy Americana-blues pastiche, but the scope was through the roof by comparison. Fluctuating between seven and eleven members (I believe nine were in the lineup the day we recorded, but records from that era are spotty), there were horns, backup singers, folkified instrumentation (banjo, uke), and gang vocals; all various things that made their 2009 debut LP Whisper Down the Lane sound really really big.
The newly-released sophomore album The Maybe Boys also sounds big, but the band has grown more focused. Through various personnel changes, Gallo is playing with an entirely different crew: Dominic Billett on drums, Bill McCloskey on bass, Matt Kelly on guitar and
Luke Leidy on keys. They’ve been together long enough (two-plus years) and play out with enough frequency that Toy Soldiers is a massively well-oiled machine that blew through its return Key Studio Session in no time flat. The band even had time to squeeze in an unreleased ragtime jammer called “Street Sweeper,” and tack on a punk-ish homage to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” at the end of “Tell The Teller” (pretty funny).
Beyond the band’s tightness and lighthearted air, this new record find Toy Soldiers being musically adventurous in a different way – not through pileups of instruments and voices, but by stretching its musical vernacular. My favorite moment in our session was a sleek performance of “Tomorrow To Today,” a number rooted in poppy Afro-Cuban jazz. It’s a sound and rhythm that I couldn’t imagine the Toy Soldiers orchestra of yore pulling off, and here’s to hearing more of that as the band continues to grow. Toy Soldiers celebrates the release of The Maybe Boys this Friday, September 13th at Johnny Brenda’s; get tickets and information here, and download the session below.