SEAN TAYLOR – The Path Into Blue (Sean Taylor Songs STCD113)

The Path Into BlueSean Taylor’s CD The Path Into Blue, due for release on April 12th 2019, is very much an album of its time. Which is to say it’s grounded, lyrically, in most of the things that are wrong with 21st Century Britain and the world in general. Not a lot of moon and June here, then, and not much comfort for those who prefer their music to be relaxing rather than thought-provoking. Nor does Sean Taylor wrap his politics in vague, genteel metaphor: there is no mistaking his views on topics like Brexit, racism and Donald Trump.

Here’s the track listing, all songs having been written by Sean Taylor:

  1. ‘This Is England’ isn’t directly tied to the Shane Meadows movie of the same name, though there’s some overlap in the subject matter. In fact, the track manages to reference most or all of the concerns addressed in more detail in the other songs on the CD. And there are probably enough issues raised to power songs for several more albums. Interestingly, this is less a song than a poem/rap – as the song itself says “…all music is free / Spotify this poem for you and me” – set against a Stevie Wonder-ish riff. A little like Gil Scott-Heron with a London
  2. ‘Lampedusa’ takes its name and topic from the Italian island which has become well-known as an entry point into Europe for refugees from Africa. The instrumental intro and outro have echoes of the Mediterranean, but the song itself takes us somewhere less sunny: “Where did compassion go? / It died a long time ago“.
  3. ‘Grenfell’ draws a chilling connection between the tragedy of the fire and social inequality: “… the working class get zero hours / And a place to die in Grenfell Towers“. While the vocals are laidback, allowing the words to speak for themselves, there’s a raw, effective lead guitar on the playout.
  4. ‘The Last Man Standing (Merry Christmas)’ is a bleaker view of the season than you’re likely to hear over the Tannoy in Tesco or from the salvation army, despite brass band effects and the sardonic choir introduced into the latter part of the arrangement.
  5. ‘Little Donny’ is a harsh verbal portrait of the 45th president of the United States and the societal sickness that, for many, he represents. The sax intro from Joe Morales gives this a jazz/blues feel. The backing vocals from Stephanie Daulong and Jaimee Harris give the hook particular emphasis.
  6. ‘A Cold Wind Blows’ considers the plight of the homeless, with Sean’s nylon-strung lead guitar contrasted with Henry Senior’s pedal steel. Interesting.
  7. ‘Take It Down To The Mainstream’ takes a sideswipe at mainstream pop music and the cult of celebrity. Ironically, it’s a rather effective rock-soaked arrangement that wouldn’t sound out of place on Radio 1.
  8. ‘Tobacco And Whisky’ is a sombre song about alcoholism and binge drinking. Probably my favourite track.
  9. I don’t know the exact significance of the title ‘Number 49’, but this bluesy track is clearly about addiction.
  10. ‘The Other Side Of Hurt’ is a structurally simple song about depression, with the bulk of the accompaniment carried by Sean’s electric piano and lead guitar.
  11. ‘In The Name Of God’, by contrast, features a more ambitious, ballad-ish arrangement, and addresses the horrific contemporary issues engendered by religious extremism in a lyric that somehow makes its point all the more effectively in its brevity and understatement, accentuated by the quasi-gospel feel of the playout.
  12. ‘The Path Into Blue’ is also about depression, though it’s not as bleak as that might make it sound. “You will only find what is true / When you survive / The path into blue“.

There’s something slightly nostalgic about the way this set addresses contemporary life and politics full on, but rather than the taking on the folky/acoustic approach of most of the ‘protest’ singers of the 1960s, Sean Taylor adopts a husky, jagged vocal delivery, and tunes that have more of a rock shape and instrumentation than we mostly hear even from the more recent singers of songs of social commentary.

The album was recorded in Texas, and while none of the musicians contributing to the album are familiar to me by name, they do an excellent job. If I’ve made it sound rather ‘worthy’, don’t be put off: there’s plenty of musicality here to leaven (and even support) the social awareness of the lyrics.

David Harley

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‘Grenfell’ – official video:

SINGLES BAR 39 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 39FINDLAY NAPIER & MEGAN HENWOOD don’t seem like an obvious partnership but here they are. They met at a songwriting retreat and Findlay suggested writing a song about maths. Megan, not knowing any better, agreed and so ‘End Of Numbers’ was born to be followed by the other five songs on their debut EP The Story Song Scientists.

The opener is ‘Unnamable Radio’, based on the story of DJ Bob Fass who kept a would-be suicide talking live on air while rescuers rushed to save him. The pair’s songwriting combines Findlay’s somewhat sideways view of life with Megan’s obvious humanity, ‘The Last Straw’ being a perfect example. It’s a song about plastic pollution and manages to incorporate the word “polycarbonate” quite naturally. ‘North Pond Phantom’ is about the Maine hermit Christopher Knight and like a lot of Findlay’s songs it makes perfect sense once you know the story. ‘Wild Wild Country’ is a delightful song more typical of Megan’s style of taking inspiration from her surroundings but the two blend perfectly so there isn’t really a distinction between “his” and “hers”. Findlay and Megan are currently on tour.
http://www.dharmarecords.co.uk/

Arrows StrippedDespite having three albums under her belt, Nashville’s ANGEL SNOW is still a largely unknown quantity in the UK, though many may have become more familiar with her after duetting with Ben Glover on ‘The Wound That Seeks The Arrow’ from his recent award-winning album. Ironically then, released to accompany her ten-date UK tour in March, her new acoustic EP is titled Arrows (Stripped) (Nettwerk), the title track finding her exploring the deeper end of her vocal range on a bittersweet song about two lovers who have to let each other go. Produced by Ben Kramer, it features three further tracks, the fragile, vocally double-tracked, fingerpicked ‘Window Seat’, again tracing a relationship that’s run its course, the fuller arrangement of Maze’, about trying to find your path, with its strummed guitar, piano accompanied and echoey background vocal wash arrangement, and, again featuring piano, the rippling strings adorned ‘Higher Urgency’.
http://angelsnow.net/

Darkness & AngelsRecently expanded from their Les Ray and Deirdre Murphy core to a five-piece and, in the process, a more folk-rock, bluesy sound, Cambridge’s RED VELVET launch the makeover with the self-released Darkness & The Angels EP, the title hinting at the struggles between the forces of negativity and positivity . Sung by Murphy, the anchor track, ‘Ride The Darkness’, with its carnivalesque waltzing melody, spooked piano and sparse guitar and bass backing, stems from 2011 when both she and her brother, Gerard, were diagnosed with cancer, he sadly succumbing in 2013.

It wasn’t the only tragedy to strike, Ray’s mother passing the same year as Deirdre’s brother, the sense of grief, loss and remembrance providing the lyrical bedrock for the fairground carousel-rhythm Self-Storage which, opening with church organ and sung by Les, tells of building up boxes of photos, diaries and other keepsakes that “tell of our loved ones, our lost ones, ourselves”.

Elsewhere, political notes are struck on ‘After The War’, a piano led reflection on post-WWII optimism with the election of Labour and the creation of the NHS, a period clearly held up in contrast to today’s state of the nation. Much musically heavier with its driving rhythm and snarly guitar, ‘The Fourth Freedom’, the title a reference to the EU’s Four Freedoms, is a heads-down grungy riff-driven number concerning the refugee crisis as a family sees the goods they helped manufacture able to move freely while they are denied permission to travel.

By musical contrast, opening and closing unaccompanied, ‘That’ll Never Happen’ is a jaunty, playful pub piano singalong number with Music Hall and Chas n Dave touches that, as the notes say, revisits a book, a play and a film all featuring unlikely events.
www.clunkandrattle.com

Hidden ThingsHANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE release ‘Hidden Things’, the first of a trio of singles in advance of their tour which begins next month. It’s a beautiful song inspired by the landscape of northern Sweden – how landscapes hold memories and stories. Their unplugged sound has been refined by their time spent touring and despite its apparent simplicity there is a complexity that draws the listener in.
https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

Stay AroundA lovely liquid guitar introduces ‘Stay Around’, the second single and title track from JJ CALE’s posthumous album which will be released next month. It takes its time getting to the heart of the song, rolling along lazily until JJ’s gruff voice comes in. It’s a gentle song – “stay around, let’s make love one more time” he sings and then that singing guitar comes back, rather more insistently. Gorgeous.
www.jjcale.com

Lover‘Lover’ is the second single from A Golden State, the new album by LUKE SITAL-SINGH which is released next month. It’s lyrically very clever and would be quite Californian if it wasn’t so overloaded by a big arrangement in the choruses. The verses with electric piano and drums are perfect and the song glides along in its own special groove.
www.lukesitalsingh.com

Oh BoyFronted by Lara Snowden and featuring violinist Kathryn Tremmett, with Paddy Blight and bass and Kev Jackson guitar, Essex’s VELVET & STONE tease their upcoming debut album with the self-released ‘Oh Boy’, drums and hummed vocals intro giving way to a breathy delivery underscored by a driving, urgent folk rock beat, sawing fiddle and nervy riffage that, in places calls to mind Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’.
https://www.velvetstonemusic.com/

This Is EnglandSleeves like this can make people a bit nervous, although we can be comforted by the fact that the “wrong” sort wouldn’t get anywhere near us. ‘This Is England’, the new single by SEAN TAYLOR, has been available to download for a while but with Brexit fast approaching it’s still relevant. The song is, for want of a better term, a rap but a rap that mentions Morris dancing performed by a man who looks white and sounds black.
https://www.seantaylorsongs.com/

The introduction to ‘Holding’, the new single by Irish singer SIVE, played on what we presume to be kalimba certainly grabs the attention but before you think it’s a bit gimmicky in comes her voice which has quite a range. The chorus is brilliant and the track goes for a big finish in a big way.
https://www.facebook.com/sivemusic/

God's Little Joke‘God’s Little Joke’ is the title track from a new EP by MARTIN ANSELL & CHRIS ROWSEL. It was recorded on a mobile phone in Martin’s taxi which makes one wonder why anyone needs a recording studio. The philosophy of life’s problems an the ills of the world being just an example of divine humour is an interesting one – Roy Harper would say that God is dead, of course – and requires further discussion. Good song, though.
https://martinansell.bandcamp.com/

MIKE ROSS sounds as though he comes from the American backwoods but actually he’s British. ‘Young Man’ is a delicious slice of country blues with rumbling bass, acoustic guitar lead, fiddle and harmonica. The single comes from his forthcoming album, The Clovis Limit.
http://www.mikerossmusic.co.uk/

Here I Am‘Here I Am’ is the first genre single from  S J DENNEY, a sad love song built on acoustic guitar and drums and lots of strings with a gorgeous trumpet break. The guitar echoes behind his voice in a way that evokes a dark and desolate landscape – a wonderful mental picture.
sjsongs.co.uk

SEAN TAYLOR – The Only Good Addiction Is Love (Self Released STCD9)

The-Only-Good-Addiction-Is-LoveI’m not, I have to say, a big blues fan. Or at least not in the sense of blues rock with its wailing, eyes-screwed tight guitar solos, the hardcore ‘woke up this morning’ Chicago school or the 70s British movement spearheaded by the likes of Mayall, Trower and Chicken Shack. I am, on the other hand, partial to Knopfleresque rootsy, soulful blues, the sort, indeed, purveyed by Taylor on this, his seventh album. Although, as ‘Bad Light’ shows, he can still turn out a solid, smokily sung, chugging blues boogie groove with the best.

He says that, whereas past albums focused on London and a musician’s life, this time he wanted to take a wider perspective with “more abstract and demanding references” than simply the ups and downs of love and life on the road. As such, the album takes is title track, on which he namechecks Leonard Cohen and echoes Van Morrison, from a quote by Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica, the former Uruguayan president, who, leading by example, gave 90% of his salary and charity and elected to remain living on his farm rather than in the presidential palace.

He’s a particularly culturally-literate artist and, past albums having referenced Baudelaire’s ‘Fleurs du Mal’ and Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Under the Volcano’, art looms large again here. ‘Rothko’, on which Taylor sounds like a nicotine-stained Knopfler and which is one of two cuts to feature double bass legend Danny Thompson, is a tribute to abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (“Every night beauty takes off her dress, the truth is Rothko red, passion bleeds like death, our hearts are one breath” ), understated acoustic blues with its mournful gypsy violin ‘Les Rouges Et Les Noirs’ was inspired by a painting by Paul Klee, the mid-tempo ‘Desolation Angels’ with its J.J. Cale feel is a homage to Kerouac’s novel of the title (the line “Gimme love that is laced with vodka” surely one of which Jack would have approved) and Spanish guitar instrumental ‘Lorca’ a nod to the poet Federico Garcia Lorca who also gets a namecheck in ‘Tienes Mi Alma En Tus Manos (You Have My Soul In Your Hands)’, Taylor’s sultry blues whisper complemented by cello and laid back organ as the song jams to a choppy percussive finale.

Completing the artistic references, the album closes with a Celtic Americana setting of W.B.Yeats’ poem ‘The White Birds’, the acoustic fingerpicked guitar gradually bolstered by a train time rhythm with pedal steel, trumpet and trombone adding further colours.

It’s not all signposted by poets and painters. Love is the glue binding together three successive mid-album tracks. ‘Flesh & Bird’ is a sensually whispered spare Spanish guitar and piano ballad celebration of passion and sexual intimacy ( “the rush I feel when I’m inside you”), the uplifting Hammond-backed, warm horns embellished ‘We Can Burn’ a gospel-tinted love song with an ozone layer simile (“Is love like a hole in the sky, only see it when you open your eyes”) while ‘MoMa’ (which, the second Thompson contribution, conjures John Martyn with its tapped guitar percussion and Taylor’s slurred whisky burr) charts the come down when “the angel lied” and found herself another man. Love may be the only addiction, but Taylor’s most certainly someone worth getting hooked on.

Mike Davies

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‘Way Down In The Hole’ featuring Danny Thompson. OK, so it’s written by Tom Waits and it’s not on the album but what’s not to love?

Sean Taylor LOVE AGAINST DEATH

Peace against War. Hope against Hate. Unity against Division.

Freedom against Fear. Love against Death.

The album was born and brought up in Kilburn, England, and comes to you by way of Austin,Texas. Sean is an unwilling member of the generation defined by neo liberalism. One of Thatcher’s children, who became one of Blair’s adults, this album is a howl against both, a direct challenge to a world where we are judged by what we consume rather than what we contribute.

LOVE AGAINST DEATH is a direct challenge to a reality dominated by greed, inequality, and injustice.  LOVE AGAINST DEATH is the choice we make at every moment, in every relationship, and by every action. It’s about taking sides.

The album was recorded in Austin, Texas, and produced by Mark Hallman. After hearing Mark’s work, with Eliza Gilkyson in particular, Sean realised he would be perfect. Sean wanted to capture his live guitar sound, and Mark is the absolute master in this area. As a session guitarist himself, he knows exactly how to record and mix different guitars. Mark has also produced Carole King, Ani di Franco, Tom Russell, Iain Matthews, as well as working with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Oasis, and Lyle Lovett.

”absolutely superb guitarist … reminiscent of John Martyn” 

BOB HARRIS BBC RADIO 2

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