An old friend returns – with familiar songs in a new format. Sean Taylor and his band are live and cooking.
Release Date: 10th February 2023. Pre-order here
Label: Vox Records
Formats: CD, Download, Streaming
Sean Taylor is no stranger to these pages. We’ve been following his progress with great interest over the past few years and we’ve been mightily impressed – most recently by his The Beat Goes On album, which tickled our fancy just about a year ago. For those not yet in the know, Sean is a singer/ songwriter whose songs cover the whole spectrum from cut-to-the-chase polemic via contemplations of the darker side of human activity to tender intimacy and positive reassurance. His music encompasses strains of blues, jazz, soul, folk and Americana to produce a style that merits comparisons with the likes of John Martyn, Tom Waits and Van Morrison and he embellishes his work with masterful guitar and wonderful piano.
He’s a busy man, too, regularly playing 100+ gigs each year, appearing at such venues as Glastonbury, Cambridge Folk Festival and The Avignon Blues Festival and frequently opening for such legends as Robert Cray, John Fogerty, Richard Thompson and Eric Bibb. During 2022, he toured with his band – double bassist Mike Seal and Thompson Twins’ percussionist Paulina Szczepaniak – and, fortuitously, one of the shows from that tour was captured on tape, and that recording has morphed into the debut album of the Sean Taylor Band.
I say fortuitously because Sean wasn’t actually aware that one of his sound engineers had pressed the ‘record’ button as the band hit the stage at The Hop Barn, Southwell, Nottinghamshire on 7th October 2022, but, by heck, I bet Sean’s glad that he did. Indeed, so am I, because the result is a fine album.
Sean-watchers will recognize much of the material here; the set draws heavily upon his recent albums, particularly 2019’s The Path To Blue and the aforementioned The Beat Goes On, and quite a few of the songs also featured on Sean’s 2020 Live! in London set. But, wow, how the presence of Mike and Paulina has spiced things up! Mike’s bass is solid and dependable and adds just the right amount of depth to emphasise Sean’s lyrics and guitar/ piano heroics, whilst Paulina’s percussion parts provide exactly the mysticism and atmosphere that takes these songs to the next level. And, when I talk about ‘percussion,’ I mean everything you could possibly imagine that can be hit, stroked, dropped or shaken.
Sean introduces Number 49 – a song from The Path Is Blue, and this album’s opening track – as “A song about misbehaving” and, immediately, the impact of the band is plain to hear. Bass and percussion add the requisite sinister edge as Sean directs his oblivion-seeking acquaintance to the home of the local dealer, and Sean’s sleazy harmonica adds the final touch to encourage the listener’s flesh to creep along with the song’s creeping rhythm.
This is England, Sean’s critique of this nation’s obsessions with gentrification, social media and the inexplicable need to distance ourselves from our friends and national neighbours is a long-term live favourite. Lyrics like “We want our country back, they scream, but now they can’t find where they left it – As we morris dance to Brexit,” and “No one likes us but we don’t care, Britain is only Great when it bombs everywhere” will retain their relevance as long as we continue to invite incompetent inward-looking self-servers to govern us and I’m sure that Sean will continue to sing them until that day arrives.
To add a little local flavour, Sean usually changes the title of Texas Boogie, another live favourite, to reflect the town in which he’s performing. So, on this occasion, it’s Southwell Boogie and it rocks along nicely, suitably enhanced by Paulina’s crisp percussion and wonderfully jazzy bassline from Mike. As always, Sean gets the audience to call and return the town’s name with him and, as he calls “South-well,” the locals respond with a rousing “Suthull!” It’s all in the translation…
I’m familiar with the bluesy Hold On from Sean’s Live! in London album and, whether it’s my imagination or not, it seems to have come on leaps and bounds since then. The band certainly helps, but the real highlight is Sean’s guitar mastery as he plays (somehow) an engaging percussive rhythm whilst adding runs and slide parts on top. That’s a trick that only the best can manage.
Sean channels Van Morrison on the quiet, intimate, Perfect Candlelight, a track from his 2011 Walk With Me album, before moving on to the first of the album’s two covers, an amazing interpretation of You’ll Never Walk Alone, a song that is, of course, best known as a football terrace anthem. Sean and the band have reimagined the song as a smouldering Pentangle-like fusion of jazz and traditional folk and the effect is divine. The band mesh together perfectly to produce one of the album’s genuine highlights.
The band is on fire again for The Beat Goes On, the title track of Sean’s most recent studio album and his positive ode to the power of music to enliven, encourage, restore and entertain. The band really swing as, once again, they elevate Sean’s piano to a new level. And we stick with The Beat Goes On – the album – for a stunning version of The Heart of the Ocean, perhaps my favourite track from that album. If anything, Paulina’s atmospheric percussion is even more vivid and immediate than the part played by Mark Hallman on the original as she raises the stakes from the image of a gentle sea lapping against a tropical island that I felt with the original, to a vision of a turbulent, boiling ocean.
And Paulina’s on top form once again as she pulls off every percussive trick in the book – and that’s just during the intro – as the band move on to the excellent So Fine. Like a heady brew of John Martyn’s I’d Rather Be The Devil and Dr. John’s Gris Gris Gumbo, this version takes on a voodoo persona that’s fully enhanced by Paulina’s congas. Magnificent.
And it gets even better… Grenfell, another song from The Path Is Blue is a song that someone of Sean’s calibre HAD to write. It’s the ultimate swipe at those who ignored building regulations and previous lessons, falsified records and cut corners to line their pockets and, in the process, construct the inescapable death trap that was Grenfell Tower. It’s one of Sean’s best-known songs but, nevertheless, there are lines that stand repeating. Statements like “Cladded towers for wealthy eyes/ Follow the money, find the lies,” “Is the money that you make/ Worth the lives that you take” and “One of the richest cities in the land/ Corruption and money at its command” only begin to express the anger that is felt on the behalf of the Grenfell fire’s blameless victims and they’re messages that mustn’t be forgotten.
And, to wrap up an amazing album, Sean and the band deliver a stunning take on Richie Havens’ Woodstock anthem, Freedom. Sean sings in admirable approximation of Richie’s voice and the audience claps along in the appropriate places, driven by the band’s engaging rhythm. At the end of the song, Sean offers sincere thanks the Mike and Paulina – and those thanks were definitely well deserved. This is, indeed, an excellent album, whether you’re already a convert to the Sean Taylor mission or if Sean is a new name to you and you’re keen to find out what all the fuss is about.
And, by the way, there’s no need to merely take my word for any of this. Sean will be touring the UK during February to promote the album, so you can pop along to a gig to see for yourself. Details of the tour can be found here.
Watch Sean Taylor perform This is England, a track from the album, here: