Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins
Sean Taylor is an institution, an acoustic folk blues musician with a little street snarl. He sees the good in people while telling it straight and manages to avoid ever being a drippy acoustic hippy. Sean, travelling only by train between gigs as he doesn’t drive, is a twenty-first century troubadour, soulful blues voice with a touch of rap’s attitude. Fiercely independent, Sean has released pretty much an album a year since 2006 on his own label, honing his considerable guitar skills and a characterful voice across an amazing catalogue. With 19 years of playing bars, clubs, concert halls, festivals, cathedrals, arenas and house concerts, Taylor is the seasoned troubadour. Not slick, but at home and alive in front of an audience. The Green Note, Camden, is an old school establishment, high on ambiance and atmosphere and on a rainy night in October 2019 both the venue and Sean Taylor delivered a classic set.
“Heaven” the opening track, is a barbed and bruised examination of the world of “Needle Of Death”. The song, at a faster tempo than the version on Love Against Death, is stripped of some of its blissed fog, but tells the story of an addict from their perspective. The guitar skips and echoes classic pickers like John Martyn and Isaac Guillory, understated but assured. Because it’s Sean, there is an edge as his slurred voice and clouds of guitar evokes heroin fog with a compelling savage beauty, no boho romantic soft focus here. “Texas Boogie” is a superb folk blues, a mix of autobiography, travelling to the States and a joyful skip through Sean’s folk and blues touchstones. Seasoned Blues troubadour Taylor, with twenty years of hat n guitar travels, drops in some venue references. Unlike his acoustic guitar predecessors and obvious influences, Sean shoots very much from the hip and his lyrics are sharp and thoughtful, “Little Donny” is a barbed set of shots, with some wonderful vocals as he slurs and croons like a falsetto soulful angel. Like American musician Ani Difrano and English singer Ruth Theodore, Sean has some of the rhythm, cadence and patter of rap. “This Is England” is an unforgiving long hard stare at now, at us, guitar interludes and strums frame rhythmic, sharp lyrics with some stunning couplets with the machine gun staccato delivery of angry rap. Gil Scott Heron, stops, looks down and nods along. “Hold On” and the gospel “Calcutta Grove” are more ethereal, almost flamenco, still stunning, just more contemplative after the bite of the previous tracks. Sean uses space, making the strum and slap of his instrument and his righteous blues vocal sound like a band with a couple of guitars and a reggae bass player. Necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps there was room on the small Green Note dais stage, but whatever the reason, reimagined for guitar not gospel piano, “Perfect Candlelight” is an Americana love song triumph. “Feel Alright” from Walk With Me, has an infectious Steve Earle urgency and snarl. Taylor’s version of Skip James’ “Hard Times Killing Floor” has the delicacy and bounce of James’ Soulful delta blues, with Sean and the audience sharing James’ chorus wordless moan and making it all cook. “The Only Good Addiction Is Love” is a beautiful song and the answer to “Heaven”, love the fact that he references Cohen’s “Tower Of Song”, firmly connecting himself to the classic song writing tradition. In the moment, Sean blends his dreamy instrumental “Lorca” into the razor sharp melancholic blues of “Heartbreak Hotel”. “Nightmares” is a huge song from Calcutta Grove, the album version is a disturbing stream of consciousness lyrics over a jazzy piano and guitar, 71 Martyn meets performance poetry, a glorious moment of wing stretching. Live in October 2019, the song is paired back to lyrical poetry, angry guitar and that riffing chorus, when an admission of failure becomes just noise. Taylor the folk minstrel and career musician cuts his cloth accordingly, a huge album track involves into a tight and stunning performance. “The Path Into Blue” is a wonderfully honest and tender song about depression, there is an understated power in Taylor’s performance on what sounds like a perfect studio take until the applause at the end. “So Fine” is a Taylor signature song, a huge soulful John Martyn meets gospel burn out on Chase The Night. Live, solo at The Green Note, it’s reduced (like a fine sauce) retaining its intensity with some guitar pyrotechnics, that hypnotic metronome strum and fine lyrics. The words, like many of Taylor’s, have a Celtic soul, blues poet’s edge, where words are rolled and repeated like an emotional mantra. A few tracks before the end of the album this has a ‘turned up to 10, Roy Harper, even the kitchen sink’ feel of an encore. “Stand Up” has bite, with Sean’s observer’s eye unflinchingly looking around him, and weaving it into a righteous anthem with a touch of Marley. “Troubadour” is an affirmation, a feel good collection of true life observations over sparkling guitar with a wonderful soulful vocal and Sean drawing a lighter waving backing vocal crowd vocal from the Green Note as he carries them with him. Van Morrison would kill to have this much soul. I’m assuming given its ethereal feel that “Basho” is a nod to American guitarist Robbie Basho, there’s a clever flick between Graham’s “Anji” and “Hit The Road Jack” and Sean nods to his past troubadours and heroes, walking himself out the door, chatting to the audience like its his front room. This is the sound of a singer, musician and troubadour at the height of his powers, consistently delivering material that sits comfortably alongside the classics with a contemporary edge and relevance.
Choice Track: Heaven (NSV 502)