Personnel: Stephen Duffy (vocals, guitar, drums); Claire Duffy (vocals, strings, keyboards); Melvin Duffy (pedal steel guitar); Nick Duffy (banjo, accordion).
Audio Mixer: John Paterno.
Photographers: Nick Duffy; Stephen Duffy.
The Lilac Time return with their first album of all new material in eight years, and their first since primary songwriter Stephen Duffy and bandmate Claire Worrall were married, with the life-affirming and aptly titled No Sad Songs. Replete with tunes about love, weddings, and romantic inspiration ("All I want is what you bring me/Christmas Eve as a child"), it's clear Duffy is in a more optimistic frame of mind here than on 2003's melancholic and crisis-themed Keep Going. Combined with a positive, even grateful outlook, the album's instrumentation consisting of mostly acoustic instruments, including all manner of stringed ones, makes for an at once dignified and down-to-earth indie pop spin. "The First Song of Spring" kicks things off with a simple tempo count followed by elegant, slow-building drama -- there are strings, timpani, guitar, pedal steel (by former bandmate Melvin Duffy), banjo, drum kit, and more -- but it's very controlled if orchestral, and still remarkably intimate in sound and message: "Have I told you that I love you...today?" The folkier, guitar-based, and equally sweet "She Writes a Symphony" talks of starting a family and commands without sarcasm, "Don't let your wings get in the way." Love is in the air, and most of the album follows in kind. "A Cat on the Long Wave" has minor chords and lyrics of ghosts and mystery, so not every song is swept up in proclamations of devotion, however, it's more like a dream or meditation than anything to contradict the album's title. Duffy isn't pushing boundaries on this record but is still writing really proficient songs. The most interesting track in an unconventional way is Nick Duffy's quasi-instrumental "Rag Tag & Bobtail" with rhythmic banjo, drums, sighing pedal steel, and complex time signatures. There's no need for longtime fans to pine for the Lilac Time's earlier material here; No Sad Songs is a quintessentially solid and affective offering from the band, and with the continued rise of indie folk stylings well into the 21st century, the Nick Drake-inspired approach they've been loyal to since the '80s might not be embraced by the masses but should at least find itself in fashion. ~ Marcy Donelson