Louise Taylor |
at the Guitar & Pen
in the Bronx, New York
(16 April 2000)
Recently I had the pleasure of catching Vermont singer/songwriter and Signature Sounds recording artist Louise Taylor (whose newest record, Written in Red, is co-produced by Peter Galway) at the Guitar & Pen Cafˇ in the Bronx, New York, followed by a house concert the next day in my home. I have sat close to some extremely talented musicians in my years of writing about music and going to concerts, but never have I seen someone so skilled and adept at blending voice and guitar playing with such grace and articulation as Taylor.
"When we started the label, Louise was the first artist we wanted to sign ... way back in '95. It continues to amaze me that she hasn't broken through to a larger audience," says Jim Olsen, co-founder of Signature Sounds. "She is simply one of the most soulful and original folkies out there. She's the kind of artist best seen in intimate situations."
Indeed. The sound from her ex-husband's (Michael Millard) custom-built Froggy Bottom guitar was so rich and resonant during the house concert, I had to look to see if she actually was plugged into an amp I didn't know about. (She wasn't.) But as incredible as that guitar sound was, it was Taylor's fingering and fretwork that just had me completely overwhelmed. She plays in a wide range of tunings, a la David Wilcox and Greg Greenway, including some I never heard of -- one of which she admits is "difficult to get into and even more difficult to get out of."
As a result, her movements and positions up and down the neck were intriguing and complex to say the least. But she would also strum, finger, ring, slide, bend, scrape, pluck, hammer and pump the strings for effects that seem to punctuate and italicize certain words and her wonderful voice.
"Her 1997 album Ride is still my favorite album released on the label to date and Written In Red is equally amazing," says Olsen. "I always tell people that we're going to keep releasing Louise Taylor albums until the rest of the world catches on."
Indeed, the new record contains some amazing new songs, but one in particular, "His Hands" (written for luthier Millard) has hooks that just pierce your heart. I almost lost it completely, listening to her play and sing this song both in the cafˇ and in my living room. Equally beguiling is the record's title cut, "Written In Red," a soulful ballad that showcases Taylor's eminent strengths as an uncommon singer and musician. Her voice here reminded me of the great jazz/blues singer Esther Phillips.
I could say I've yet to see a better woman guitarist anywhere. But the truth is I think she is one of the best guitarists I've seen anywhere, male or female. Certainly her playing is unique and as much a part of her appeal as that sultry voice and intelligent, poetic writing.
Taylor covered songs from all four of her records, from the percussive and funky "Angelee" to the bluesy "Too Tired," "Dangerous" and "Roll Away Car," to my personal favorite, the hauntingly beautiful Texas lament, "Blue Norther."
Some day the world will indeed catch on to her very special talent. But for serious, discerning music lovers may I suggest discovering Taylor for yourselves post haste. I recommend her newest, Written in Red, but Ride is also a small masterpiece.
Like most real art of substance, Taylor takes more than a casual listen to appreciate. All the subtle details, rich idiosyncracies in her work begin to reveal themselves with each repeated listen, not unlike a great vintage claret. Kudos to Jim Olsen and Signature Sounds for bringing this wonderful woman to us.