Monday, November 18, 2013

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Songs From The Road - True Grit and Red Hot Guitars

Joanne Taylor Shaw rips it up from one end to the other on Songs From The Road, her new CD/DVD offering, and it's tough to tell which she does better - sing, play, or write excellent blues rockers.

Recorded a few months back at The Borderline in London, England, this set reveals Shaw Taylor to possess more true grit than a bucketful of your run of the mill boy bluesers - her voice belies her soft look, suggesting a much rougher road than pictures would suggest, and her guitar tone is on the verge of psychotic reaction breakup. That she chooses a Les Paul and a Marshall as her main weapons speaks volumes - she is connected to the past, but not at all committed to sticking with the script.

I love her guitar solos for the simple reason that she sounds as if she's playing what she feels more than relying on the usual SRV apings - she's got a lot of rock 'n' roll under her fingers, and as anyone who knows me knows, I like my blues rock with a good dose more rock than blues. Her playing on Tied & Bound is incendiary - from the dirty riffing to an extended solo that touches much familiar territory for an experienced listener, but she's hitting it all with her own take. You won't here me saying anything about her being a hot female guitarist - she is simply a hot guitarist who happens to be female. If I have a criticism, it would be that I'd love to hear her with a band behind her that sound as on fire as their leader - mind you, they are perfectly competent, but her star would rise considerably if she had a gang behind her who would chase her a bit, and not just accompany competently.

Songwriting is most generally a weak point with blues rockers, but Taylor Shaw is miles ahead of the pack again - I hear a lot of the American South in her songs, from Muscle Shoals to the righteous Reverend Al Green, with a smidgen of The Brothers Allman on the side. Beautifully Broken is a song that most excellently makes my case. It smolders with soul and grit, and her solo is another howler.

Watch 'Em Burn is a great example of a song that rubs shoulders with the blues rock basics, but some interesting movement leads into the choruses, and keeps things out of the land of cliche - again her soloing is smoking hot and she manages to keep it quite interesting before backing off for the final verse which kicks nicely into the refrain. Then we get our first extended solo, and it's off to the races. Her style lives somewhere between Bonamassa's smooth as silk shredding and Gary Clark Jr's more savage axe slinging, and honestly I prefer hers. No disrespect to either gentleman, this is just more up my alley. It's feral, but there are some serious chops happening.

Diamonds In The Dirt is the title track from her 2010 studio set, and it's a sophisticated piece of soulful pop that brings to mind Boz Scaggs at his best. Her slinky rhythm guitars scratch nicely under her smokey vocals, and then her solo makes me remember why I miss Gary Moore so much. Good, good stuff.

Covering Hendrix is a ballsy manuever, and while Shaw Taylor is on the mark, she's held back by the band - again, they're a fine band, but they don't sound like a hellhound is upon their ass, and they leave their leader a bit vulnerable. They just don't sound like they ever get in her face, and that keeps damned good from being great. Manic Depression is an out of control train trip, and it needs to be ran and ran hard. The breakdown is brilliant, but it needs more fire from the band.

Jealousy is another great cover, and Shaw Taylor's take is downright funereal, in the best sense. Her vocal is one of the best on the record, as any take on Frankie Miller must be. She takes ownership - I wonder how many folks think this is one of hers? I can think of little better to say for her songwriting. If you're not hip to Frankie Miller, you'll thank me for the tip. I love her clean tone solo - a clean Les Paul is often very close to a Tele in pure six string tone, and this is a great example. Then she kicks in the sting of the fuzz, and burns the house down.

Shaw Taylor is a fine, fine, fine rhtyhmatist - not a word, but I like the sound of it. Her scratchy self accompaniment on Kiss The Ground Goodbye is extremely tasty and deft. Drummer Tony DiCello is in fine form on this, displaying exceptionally deft cymbal work as Joanne takes another flight of six string fancy.

Just Another Word is another rhythm workout that percolates nicely. I love that the guitar tones are not carbon copies, but rather they seem to be what Shaw Taylor wants to hear, and that's most generally the mark of someone on the proper path. Her clean rhythm strumming on the outré verse is exemplary.

Big rock moves inform Jump That Train with large style riffing setting up the verses that feature more clean skronk from the Les Paul. The solo is a bit Texas styled this time, and she takes it from six to sixty in no time at all, getting hotter by the measure. Her right hand is a work of wonder.

She sends the crowd home with the appropriately titled Going Home - a swampy number that heats up nicely, leading to another sizzling solo that makes the point once again.

Songs From The Road is a great sample of Joanne Shaw Taylor's skills - she's got it all, the songs, a great voice, and a set of hands and imagination that any guitarist would appreciate. She has an excellent band, but she's a great band away from being a big star. At any rate, I'd consider this a must own for anyone who digs their blues rock with a healthy dose of rock and soul.

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