His fifth album in as many years, and his twenty-first studio recording in total, A Song I Can Live With falls firmly into what Taylor calls his stream-of-consciousness based songwriting, more spoken rather than sung and with rarely more than an acoustic guitar and Goran Grini’s keyboards for backing. I’ve seen him live a couple of times, and the album pretty much reflects what he does on stage, a mix of musings and anecdotes about things he’s done and people he’s known, some slipping into a guitar led melody. This is one of his more personal outings and, as you’d expect from someone’s who’s 77, veined with reflection on times and people past.
He talks about the lyrically sparse opening number, ‘Crazy Girl’, piano joining the guitar, as inspired by the many women he’s sung with over the years, its warmth further mellowed with a horn layering. The temptation of the character in the moody ‘Senorita Falling Down’ may be one of them, but of the many women who’ve been part of his life, his wife (that’s her with him on the cover, from a 1975 photo) is clearly among the most important and she gets her own tribute here with ‘Joan Joan Joan’, a note to tell her to stop worrying about things so much and let him smooth out the problems. You’ll be surprised how a song that talks about eating fish soup and Spanish mackerel can sound so romantic.
She’s there too in the inspiration behind the album closer, ‘Whisper Amen’, a gentle piano-backed benediction for those in need of blessing born from how, with time on her hands after her jewelry store went busy, Joan and some of her friends help youngsters with, among the things, reading problems. That theme of giving back can also be found on ‘Little Angel Wings’, a spoken account about the coach at a local rec center working with seven and eight year-olds as he teaches them as much about life a she does basketball, the track featuring three of Taylor’s grandchildren on flute and backing vocals and his long time guitarist John Plantania on Dobro.
The same New York rec centre, where he works out, is the anchor to ‘Until It Hurts’, a conversational song that references the passing of Bowie, who, he recalls, once lived a few blocks from Taylor’s local bar, and Lou Reed, the latter in reference to how fellow songwriter Eric Andersen told him how Reed had complimented Taylor on ‘Your Name Is On My Lips Again’, a song he’d written for Carrie Rodriguez. Listening to it feels like you’re in that bar sitting opposite Taylor as he tells you the story over a beer or two.
One of the more ‘sung’ tracks, ‘Hey Lou’ may also refer to Reed, but could also be just one of the many different folk Taylor’s met along the way whom he namechecks here, Joan, granddaughter Sammy, American football player John Maguire among them, for the generosity of spirit they have shown and the strength to carry the weight.
Accompanied by delicate piano, the Big Apple’s also the backdrop to ‘New York In Between’, a reflection on those with whom he’d have liked to spent more time, but how he, like many, has a hard time in staying in one place for long. The sentiment carries over into ‘Young Brooks Flow Forever’, except here the focus is on one person, a photograph of a young girl from many years (or ‘tears’ as Taylor puts it) gone by prompting memories of youth and thoughts of mortality.
Another very specific figure inspires the near six-minute ‘Los Alamitos Story’, John Cooper being a horse trainer at the titular southern California racetrack and, with a spoken intro as he recalls watching a horse racing channel, a song about life’s victories and how we deal with them.
Another example of the way life inspires his songs, the almost jaunty ‘Save Your Blues’ and ‘Your Money’ was inspired his daughter’s account of a holiday in Antigua and the upbeat nature of the natives despite their poor economic conditions, their celebration of life served as a contrast to the financial-obsessed attitudes in America.
And so to the title track, one of the last numbers written and, evocative perhaps of Kristofferson, a plaintive songwriter’s hymn as, backed by Grini on pump organ and Greg Leuiz on pedal steel, he throatily sings “Lord I’m asking you a favor.. before I go to bed as I pick up this old guitar.. and let feelings dance in my head let me write a song I can live with… forever amen.” The Lord has been answering Taylor’s prayers for decades.
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Artist’s website: www.trainwreckrecords.com
‘Senorita Falling Down’ – official video: