I’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.
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Artist’s website: http://www.seantaylorsongs.com/
‘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?