Album review: JAMES REYNE – Toon Town Lullaby

JAMES REYNE – Toon Town Lullaby

Bloodline [Release date 10.07.20]

The haunting, wistful title track, ‘Toon Town Lullaby’, takes us back to Reyne’s finest, post Australian Crawl hour, on his “A Whiff of Bedlam” album, released in 1994. That was the moment he truly found his voice as a solo artist, and his achingly yearning delivery on ‘Toon Town…’ seems somehow to echo those moments.

“Toon Town Lullaby”, the album, his first for 8 years, confirms that flying solo suits him. The pop rock days of his band are out of sight now, great memories yes, but confined to a past that is very different to the present.

In the same way that politics is reputedly shaped by people and events, so has Reyne’s latest recording. Oblique references – to artists like Warren Zevon, David Allen Coe and Jimmy Buffet – pepper Reyne’s lyrics. In itself a pointer to Reyne’s musical direction.

The songs are linked by personal experience, but each one is treated as a unique entity. ‘Burning Books’ sombre, unhurried journey through man’s destructive impact on the environment and ‘Low Hanging Fruit’s scathing judgement on the music industry (with echoes of Buffy StMarie’s ‘The Big Ones Get Away), are slow tempo, widescreen affairs that ultimately end on an upbeat note.

‘A Little Ol’ Town Just South Of Bakersfield’, pushed along by rattlin’ percussive rhythms and the rude strums of an acoustic guitar, and ‘Trying To Write A Love Song’, underlined by observational humour, have a precise narrative clarity that is generally unique to great storytellers. Effectively, Reyne convinces us that the distance between trying to make it in LA, and trying to write a love song really isn’t all that great.

You can’t help but see that there’s an underlying note of optimism running right through the album, no matter the subject matter. And that emerges triumphantly on ‘This Time’ and ‘Last Great Love Affair’. These are Reyne’s sometimes painful excursions into the past, butting up against the natural born rush that comes when life reinvents itself.

“Toon Town Lullaby” is clearly an album that’s unafraid to display the scars of youthful mistakes, but is reassuringly honest about survival and lessons learned the hard way. ****

Review by Brian McGowan

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