The third collaborative album by Bill and Rachel Taylor-Beales under their musical partnership name trawls some thirty-five years for what they call balladeering ‘dystopian maladies’, musings on time and existing within it, penned across the decades in places as diverse as Melbourne and Nottingham and finally coming home to roost.
Drawing on shared and individual influences, David Bowie and Tom Waits included, Bill on vocals and Rachel providing back-ups as well as sax, it ranges across musical textures, embracing baroque folk, blues, jazz and narcotic rock shapes, opening with the heady, atmospheric title track which, with its mantra like refrain, dazedly moves from a musical fug to the pealing finale.
Wrapping dissonant guitar notes around a 60s psychedelic pop melody ‘Seaside Town’ draws a picture of autumn years romance and memories before late night sax wails over the keyboard mists of ‘Old Blind Jack’ with its evocative chorus of “Tonight I’ll tame the dragon/All fiery orange and blue/I tattoo my arm to try and keep warm/And I do it just for you”.
The slurred ghost of Lou Reed hovers over the self-imposed isolation of the musically skeletal ‘How Many Times’ (“How many times do I have to tell you not to walk so close by my side?”), the images of emotional dislocation (Rachel echoing “it’s not unusual – to be alone”) percolating through the heavy-lidded, druggy sluggishness of ‘Heaven’.
Moving to a slow, weary sway, ‘Living On Concrete’ stems from Bill’s work as a socially engaged artist and creative practitioner wherein he uses music and portraiture to interact with people looking to find a voice and tell their story. Specifically, it was inspired by conversations with residents in a children’s hospice, hence the theme of mortality that pervades the lyrics as he sings about a woman whose “body was broken/Before she was born” who says she’s going “Some place better than here”, just sooner than she’d like.
Etched out on hymnal piano, the softly sung, somnolent ‘Neptune Didn’t Rise’ (“what’s a god supposed to do when the Devil is always new?”) has a gospel feel, reinforced by Rachel’s backing vocals, shifting to the musical box intro of the sparsely arranged, similarly spiritual musical colours of ‘Lay Down’, Rachel taking over the vocals for the play out lines “Gonna’ sink all the boats in the harbour now/You can dive, you can dive right in”.
Another musically pensive number, picked out on single piano notes and ambient backing, ‘Running Home’ (which reminded me a little of Procul Harum) is another example of Bill’s often impressionistic and evocative lyrics (“Ladies sit, mirrors on their laps/Waiting for the fine dust to fall/And the ladies sit wiping from their lips/Fine powdered sugar from the sky”), before things come to a close with the five and a half-minute splendour of the apocalyptic ‘Sometime Later’ which, opening with radio static, air raid siren, crackling beats and piano, has Bill, live from the Armageddon Broadcasting Company, providing the spoken narrative introduction before Rachel steps into the vocal spotlight for the chorus on a song namechecking and celebrating the musical legacy of Dylan, Waits, Joplin, Denny, Patti Smith and Gillian Welch and remembering “their kind words and wisdom” before the tower of song finally crumbles into the sea.
An album that requires you to sit down and let it soak in, it repays the time you spend. And, on top of which, all proceeds will go towards funding Picture Me, a project partnership between Hushland Portraits and Ty Hafan, a Welsh children’s hospice, to provide free portraits to the children’s family members.
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‘It’s Time She Said’: