Sean Taylor – Short Stories: Album Review

Ten more originals from the prolific Sean Taylor.  True tales, love stories, conspiracy theories and stream-of-consciousness raps – they’re all here! 

Release Date:  18th August 2023

Label: Self release

Formats: CD  

Nowadays, it seems like nary a month can pass without us being treated to a new album from the prolific Sean Taylor!  OK, so it’s not quite as frequent as that, but Short Stories IS Sean’s second album of 2023, hot on the heels of that fabulous debut live album from The Sean Taylor Band, which saw light of day just a few short months ago – February, in fact.  

Short Stories is a collection of new songs, all of which have flowed from Sean’s well-inked pen, with bassist Mike Seal chipping in to help with three co-writes.  In a surprising, yet not altogether unwelcome volte-face, Sean has – at least for the moment – avoided the cut-to-the-chase polemic that has become something of a trademark in his songs and has, instead embraced the art of storytelling with this latest collection of songs.  The subject matter is wide and varied; Short Stories includes tales of personal experience, true tales, love stories, psychedelic contemplations, and stream-of-consciousness raps.  On only a couple of occasions do the tribulations of modern-day British life enter the fray, and, when they do, they’re dealt with by the black humour that we’ve come to expect from Sean Taylor.  

Short Stories is a tuneful album.  Sean is, of course, an accomplished, melodic guitarist whose style often gives a nod in the direction of John Martyn.  He’s also a pretty hot pianist.  For Short Stories, he’s joined by Sean Taylor Band co-conspirators – Mike Seal on bass and the amazing Paulina Szczepaniak on percussion and, adding a whole extra dimension to the band’s sound, guests Justin Carroll (Hammond organ), Joe Harvey Whyte (pedal steel), Ben Walker (electric guitar and electric piano), Basia Bartz (violin) and Eric Lounsbury (trumpet) all chip in with some impressive contributions as and when the situation merits.  

Short Stories gets underway with Happy Days.  The sound is rich and full, given depth by Mike’s bass and width by Justin’s organ, whilst the lyrics, peppered with copious quotes from the works of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett give the listener plenty to think about; it’s immediately clear that Short Stories is going to be something very different from Sean Taylor.   

The biographical Snowdonia is, perhaps, my favourite song on the album.  The first of the album’s three Mike Seal co-writes, it tells the true story of a February swim that Sean took in Lake Snowdon, up in the Welsh mountains – although the lyrics avoid repeating the expletives that Sean apparently squealed as he entered the ice-cold water!  The tune is gentle and folky and given an extra dimension of mysticism by Joe’s divine splashes of pedal steel.  Sean affects an American accent for his vocal, which emphasizes the James Taylor-ish feel of a song which, with lyrics like “Let the water cleanse our minds/ Let our souls be electrified,” is as refreshing and revitalizing as the water in that cold mountain lake.  

Soft and comforting, Wildflower is described as “…a psychedelic love song about festival skies and small hours encounters.”  The song has a Knocking on Heaven’s Door kind of tune and the psychedelic references come courtesy of Ben’s electric guitar and Sean’s pleading vocal.  And Paulina’s soft, well-considered percussion is exactly what the song needs.  The combined instrumentation and, particularly, Joe’s delicious pedal steel licks are spot-on for Open Your Heart to Love, the second of the Mike Seal co-writes, and the song’s lyrics offer excellent advice to anyone who feels unable to express their true feelings.  

The myths and legends surrounding Da Vinci’s famous painting provide the material for the rocky Mona Lisa.  A lively chunk of rock and roll, with Sean’s piano setting the song’s blistering pace, the lyrics celebrate the painting’s popularity, recall the infatuation that Napoleon Bonaparte apparently had for the picture and tell the story of the painting’s theft – a crime for which Picasso was allegedly arrested, back in 1911.  Sean demonstrates just about every vocal trick in the book as he runs a gamut from falsetto, to groans, to howls – and he even manages to sound like Lee Brilleaux as the song reaches its climax.  

Current affairs make one of their brief appearances in Set Me Free, the third of the three co-writes.  A love song, set against the background of the cost-of-living crisis, it’s a singalong folky shuffle.  Conspiracy theorists are the target in the darkly humorous Gravestones.  Basia’s violin adds the colour as Sean attacks fear-mongers, vaccine sceptics, climate change deniers and social media preachers, using a croaky, whispered voice that encourages the listener to believe that they’re being told something controversial and confidential.  

Justin’s Hammond organ provides the sweetening and substance for Sweet Maria, a lively, bluesy love song, and the bluesy theme continues with The Letter, a song that expresses deep regret for opportunities wasted.  With perhaps the fullest sound of any track on the album, Sean plays electric and acoustic guitars, piano and some excellent harmonica.  

To conclude, Be Cool is one of Sean’s spoken word diatribes.  Avoiding the politics of Herd Immunity, the wonderful no-holds-barred blast at our former comedy Prime Minister from his 2021 Lockdown album, Sean instead comments on events that penetrate his consciousness during a long, hot, summer night.  The backing is jazzy, with some masterful organ flourishes from Justin and some delightful trumpet from Eric, both of which help accommodate the lyrical references to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Fred Wesley and Charlie Parker.  

Short Stories – a new kind of album from our friend Sean Taylor.  Highly recommended.

Watch the video to Snowdonia – a track from the album – here:

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