Album Review | Proper | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5
Sean Taylor is a London based Folk Blues performer. He is a master with the guitar and has a voice that seethes with presence and power. Flood and Burn is his eighth album since Corrugations in 2007, Sean is never less than very good on record, but since hooking up with Mark Hallman in Austin Texas he has found his unique voice and an excellent foil. Flood and Burn is a perfect starting point to discover Sean Taylor, especially as time may decide that this is his strongest album in a 10 year recording career, certainly feels that way now, till the next one anyhow. “Codeine Blues” the album opener is a superb track. It opens with jazz piano and a huge saxophone with its keys flapping, breathy and expansive like Jan Garbarek in mid flow. Sean’s vocal evokes a 21st century John Martyn, slurring and bending, snaking round the notes like a third instrument. Add a sublime second vocal from Jaimee Harris, a testifying Hammond Organ and the track just soars. It reads like a heartfelt love song as Taylor likens his love to a drug. The title however suggests a darker affair like Van Zandt’s “Waiting Round to Die” where Townes finally finds one friend that won’t desert him in his final hours. If this track with its anthemic ‘beautiful day’ riff doesn’t end up on a million, coffee table hip compilation CDs there is something very wrong with the universe. Walk With Me, Sean’s excellent fourth album was recorded in Dublin with Trevor Hutchinson from The Waterboys. Sean’s Family are Irish and he connected with the spirits of Yeats, Wilde and Yeats while there. There is some of that Irish lyricism in “A Good Place to Die” as the rich fast paced vocal brings Mike Scott, of The Waterboys, enlightened streams of consciousness to mind. Sean revels in the romantic lifestyle of the journeyman troubadour and the lyric bubbles with timeless folk blues references. Sean bends and shreds a killer electric guitar too, he may be name checking his Gibson acoustic. But he does it while furrowing his face and pulling a solo that is pure Gilmour. “The Cruelty of Man” has a beautiful jazz vibe, brushes, smooth guitar and a perfect muted trumpet, but like the best of Simon & Garfunkel, there is a fist in the smooth jazz velvet glove, as Taylor grapples with the iniquities of the world and the cruelty of man. “Troubadour” is another anthem to the journeyman musician, sweetened with a glorious pedal steel. “Run to the Water” is a blues anthem from its compressed lead vocal, the shimmering electric guitar and Taylor’s ‘Charlie Musselwhite’ harmonica stabs shadowed by Andre Moran’s fine slide. “Life Goes On” is another album highlight, where a heartfelt but slight lyric is given depth by Sean’s superb voice, proving he could sing a shopping list and it would be sublime. Here he is soulful like early 70s Marvin Gaye. Long time collaborator Hana Piranha features on violin. Title track “Flood and Burn” is a Blues standard in the making, that if stuck under the noses of Ben Harper or Eric Bibb would make huge waves of interest in Taylor the interpreter and songwriter. “Beauty to the World” is another album highlight, it crackles from the first moment of Taylor’s wonderful picked acoustic. The vocal is another slurred, slippery masterstroke, with the lyric and the delivery evoking that 2am bottom of the bottle moment when through the glass you glimpse perfection. Taylor and Hallman layer guitars around the vocal, the wobbly piano is a sonar ping through the alcohol fog and everything is just perfect. What you hear on this track is he sound of the two guitar players having a great time, lost in the joy of playing. “Bad Case of the Blues” features a wonderful Tom Waits Leon Redbone Vipers lounge vocal as next to you in a late night bar, Sean Taylor whispers secrets into your ear, while Hana Piranha leans in with a ‘Grappelli on drugs’ jazz violin part. Sean Taylor’s take of “Heartbreak Hotel” manages to own the well visited classic. From the John Lee Hooker steal riff at the star, through the tempo change, the slap guitar riff and the train harmonica he makes it his own. Superb duet with Eliza Gilkyson too. Longtime live and album collaborator Danny Thompson plays on “Better Man” the final track. His cathedral sized Double Bass sound opens the track and his stops and slides punctuate the track adding still more gravitas to Taylor’s vocal. Wonderful English dance music is evoked by the interplay between the guitar and double bass, imbibing the track with a Pentangleness if there is such a thing. The song is a love song, to a lover or to us the listeners, the troubadour’s audience and describes how we lift and make him a better man. Listening to this album on repeat through headphones I’d like to assure Sean it’s a two way thing, his voice, his guitar, his music, his often spiritual lyrics carry the listener to better places and better spaces. Turn it up for Hana’s violin on this track and lose yourself in that too. Final mention for the sequencing of the album, as the fading piano chord at the end of “Better Man” blurs into the start of “Codeine Blues” if you have the album on repeat. Further indication of the subtlety, layering, care and grace that’s gone into this album. Buy this album if you are a fan of Sean Taylor, buy this album if you are a fan of intelligent folk blues music that transcends genres, buy this album if you want to be ahead of the beard stroking list making critics, as this is surely going to feature large in those end of year ‘best of’ lists. “Oh yes Flood and Burn, excellent isn’t it, bought it when it came out, played it to death, made me a better man”.