23 Jan 2017

Sean Taylor: Flood and Burn

Sean Taylor's last album (I reviewed it here about a year ago) was a beautiful paean to the exigencies of love and drew heavily on his many literary influences as a songwriter. His latest, the soon-to-be released 'Flood and Burn', similarly gives us some insights into what drives this talented song-writer along. This time he calls in various different genres and artistic styles, but the articulacy and craftmanship remain as vibrant and smart as ever.

There are eleven self-penned tracks on here (plus one curious Elvis cover) and together they provide a fascinating panorama of an intelligent artist at work. The opening track 'Codeine Dreams' is a beautifully arranged, floating and atmospheric piece, which immediately brings in the stylish support sax of Joe Morales and the multi-instrumentalist Mark Hallman. This, as with most of the arrangements on the album, is a subtle affair and respect to Sean and Hallman, the Austin-based producer, for picking such a curious and potentially risky number to open up the album. I recently heard it as the opening track on a UK blues programme – so they got that pretty spot on(!)

The next two tracks come from either end of his musical spectrum with 'A Good Place To Die' - a nod to singer/poet Townes Van Zandt - being ushered in with some brisk snare drum and a spare and spacey guitar while the sly and pointed 'Cruelty of Man' brings his voice to the fore with some wonderful whispering backing vocals and great fills from Ephrain Owens' perfectly judged muted trumpet. Btw, there is an excellent video of this track on YouTube here.
When a troubadour writes a song entitled 'Troubadour', you know that Dylan will not be far away. 
The lyrics here are full of pin-sharp references to a road life with a guitar and even the opening guitar picking mainlines straight from Dylan's 'Don't Think Twice'. A delightful track that will surely resonate with the many who have travelled that road. 'Run to Water' is a busy mix and has a nice bluesy feel, with Sean showing us his harp prowess and the Hallman Hammond opening up.

This reviewer happens to prefer Sean Taylor when he is in his more relaxed and reflective mood. His distinctive voice - often inevitably compared to many distinguished others - can be both a relaxed rasping whisper as well as a more urgent but confidential tone. The next three tracks move into that totally absorbing mode. The droll 'Life Goes On' sees a nervous glimpse of optimism, the title track 'Flood and Burn' is an edgy piece that sharply profiles his take on the inconsistencies of having a God in your life and the slow and introspective track 'Beautiful Mind' has Sean and Mark Hallman combining again to provide the perfect backdrop for his eloquent words.
The ironic 'Bad Case of the Blues' manages to reference both Skip James and Bukowski but I suspect Tom Waits too might have happily had some input here as well. 'Until The End of Time' is a cheery up-beat affair full of hope and an optimistic commitment to love.
The final track 'Better Man' is a superb example of how well the arrangements on the album serve the artist. A rather poignant piece about the joys and disappointments of being a musician are wrapped around with the wistful violin of Hana Paranha and the perfect bass of Danny Thompson raising it to a very special level.
Listening to the last few Sean Taylor albums is like discovering a seam of premier poetic gold amongst all the dross. 'Flood and Burn', like its predecessor, shines as a beautiful and uniquely satisfying piece of work. As with all good stuff on our shelves, it will make you want to go back to it again and again. A fine album from an artist who just goes on getting better. Out in early February. Go buy it and tell your friends.