Prolific singer-songwriter Sean Taylor shows his contemplative side on album No.12
Release Date: Out Now
Label: Sean Taylor Songs
Listeners who initiated themselves to the music of Sean Taylor via his polemic-drenched Lockdown album earlier this year may well be amazed to discover that the man has a gentler, more contemplative side to his work, but it’s true, and it’s here to be enjoyed on his latest offering, The Beat Goes On.
Gone are the swipes at racism, governmental ineptitude, oppression, persecution and Brexit; Sean’s views on COVID are still here, but this time his words focus upon the all-pervading nature of the virus rather upon our leaders’ failures to anticipate and contain its spread, and, overwhelmingly, The Beat Goes On focusses upon themes of hope, love, beauty and nature.
The Beat Goes On is a poetic, highly musical album. Recorded in both London and (remotely) in Austin, Texas with producer Mark Hallman, it’s an album packed with lush, smooth instrumentation and beautiful tunes that encompass blues, soul, folk, jazz and country. Sean plays guitars and some wonderful piano (I’ll come back to that…) and Mark chips in with rich, resonant bass, discrete drums and percussion, dashes of Hammond organ and pedal steel – at exactly the points when you start to say to yourself, “a bit of pedal steel would be perfect here…” Michael Buckley adds some gorgeous sax on a couple of numbers and the ensemble is completed by Brian Standefer who’s cello adds the icing to the haunting Lament For The Dead. And, of course, the whole thing is topped off with Sean’s husky, Tom Waits-alike vocals. It’s a rich, rewarding mix.
Regulars to At The Barrier will be aware that Sean Taylor has been around a long time – more than 20 years, in fact, and The Beat Goes On is his twelfth album. We’ve waxed lyrically over his songwriting talents and his accomplished guitar style in reviews of his recent albums Lockdown and Live! in London and we’ve noted how his delivery reflects the nuances of his key influences, Tom Waits, John Martyn and Van Morrison. Well – I’m happy to confirm that those talents come over just as strongly on The Beat Goes On and, if anything, those influences are more evident than they’ve ever been! As the great Danny Thompson was recently moved to observe: [Sean Taylor is] a fine young musician and great geezer. I have nothing but admiration for the dedication to his craft.” And I, for one, am not going to argue with Danny Thompson.
The gentle, reflective mood of the album is captured straight away on opening track, It’s Always Love. Mark Hallman’s top-notch production shines from the outset as guitar, piano, bass, Hammond organ and subtle drums come together behind Sean’s signature vocal as he sings lyrics that convey a simple message of trust, and Michael’s sax parts are simply divine. On an album that is almost totally positive in its contemplations and messaging, the desolate, bluesy Lament For The Dead doesn’t hold back. Written at the height of the deadly first wave of the COVID pandemic, it reflects on the devastation wrought by the virus and offers no hope for better times – that hope comes later…
The jazzy, bluesy The Beat Goes On, the album’s wonderful title track, opens with the life-affirming advice to “Lose yourself in music, feel every note that you hear,” and that’s advice that, I’m sure has helped to keep most of our readers sane over the past two years. The production is excellent again with Sean’s piano and Mark’s vibrant bass capped by yet more of Michael’s divine sax. It’s a great song and, as the lyrics suggest, if you “Dirty up the bass, the drums will swing.” Indeed.
Whilst Lament For The Dead painted a desolate picture, the route to better times is mapped out in – what else… – Better Times. It’s a nice, bright, song of hope that predicts that things will improve for those who put their trust in poetry, beauty and song, all to a drum/bass foundation with some tasty sprinklings of slide guitar. I mentioned Sean’s growing prowess on the piano at the start of this review. It seems that he spent some of his enforced free time during lockdown honing his skills as a pianist. Those skills are there to be enjoyed throughout the album, but nowhere more so than his solo piano showpiece, Nocturne. It’s a beautiful, floaty, dreamlike piece that just begs listeners to close their eyes and allow themselves to be absorbed into the music.
Nowhere to Hide, a song that manages to be both rocky and laid back at the same time, is Sean’s other contemplation of the COVID virus and, again, it doesn’t offer much hope to anyone (ie: all of us) who is trying to avoid falling victim. The lyrics describe how the virus seeps its way into all corners to find victims, no matter what precautions they’ve taken or how assiduously they’ve isolated themselves: “It’s creeping through walls, It’s cutting through the halls, Take your life away, When the Devil comes to call.” Scary stuff, but the tune is great – possibly the rockiest, most full-blooded number on the album, and Sean captures the spirit of John Martyn, particularly during his slurred vocal scat around the “We had nowhere to hide,” phrase.
The excellent Be My Love In The Rain is an intriguing interpretation of the Robert Frost poem, A Line Storm Song and the only song on the album that Sean didn’t compose. The backing is sparse, just Sean’s acoustic guitar and another resonant bassline from Mark, and the tune is pastoral, almost hymn-like. Next, Sean goes country with let Kindness Be Your Guide. Mark’s pedal steel provides the highlights over lyrics that suggest, if we put rivalry and materialism aside, friendship and goodness will surely prevail.
To a bass, organ and piano riff straight out of Booker T’s Green Onions, Sean celebrates his forthcoming return to the road – his spiritual domain – with the joyful, soulful Back On The Road, before we get another slice of country in compelling foot-tapper Stay With Me, a “song for the wild of the night, where poets and poseurs take their flight,” before Sean brings things to a reluctant close with The Heart Of The Ocean, a beautiful love song to the ocean that, apparently, took Sean 15 years to write. A piano ballad, with sea effects courtesy of Mark’s wonderful percussion, the lyrics are poetic and atmospheric and will surely hit the spot with anyone who has spent a contemplative evening on the deck of a ship or a boat on a calm, moonlit sea. It’s a glorious ending to a glorious album. Sean Taylor has scored a bullseye with The Beat Goes On!
Sean watchers will be pleased to know that his 2022 European Tour kicks off on 15th February in Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. The tour includes a string of UK dates, including a show on 29th April at the one and only Queens Head in Belper, Derbyshire, a long-time favourite venue of mine! Full tour details are available here.
Watch Sean Taylor perform The Beat Goes On , the album’s title track, here: