The Smiths – Shakespeare’s Sister. Morrissey‘s lyric has always struck a chord (ifyou excuse the pun) with me. When presented with an artistand an acoustic guitar I used to feel queasy andapprehensive. Teenage memories of listening and failing tofind the magic in Bob Dylan or Woody Guthriewould come flooding back. All the things I read talked themup as great artists, more important than The Beatlesor even The Wedding Present, but I could never unlockthe code. Those shrill and dry acoustic guitars reallydidn’t help. They sounded as old as my grandparents andmuch less fun.
It was only when I began to discover the likes ofMark Eitzel and Vic Chesnutt that I realisedthat an acoustic guitar and a broken heart could be awinning situation. If the songs were strong enough thenthe sparse backing was an asset; it allowed the material toshine. So if you want to clutch an acoustic guitar to yourchest and use it to bare your soul, well then the songs hadbetter be cracking and the delivery full of passion.Thankfully Jane Taylor’s Montpelier has both of these in abundance.
From the opening Fall On Me to the closing Getting ToMe, the songs shimmy, soar and surprise. Taylor has a tightgrasp on the dynamics and twists of the song writing art.The delicate little shifts in tone, the brief musicaldetours and Taylor’s crystal sharp tones infuse the trackswith a soulful edge. The fact that the LP was recorded on ashoestring budget has done wonders for the songs: you getthe feeling that if Jane had been signed to a major labelthey would have polished the material until itdisappeared; that the gentle and fragile nature of thewriting would have been lost beneath an attempt to makethis sound like Dido or Jem.
The Leonard Cohen-meets-Eleanor Rigby waltz ofMy Street is a little jewel of kooky observation. Tori Amos-meets-Beth Orton on the back streets ofBristol. The strings like a gentle whisper add an undertow,a sorrowful counter point. The swinging double bass backingof Chef perfectly frames Taylor’s pure vocal tones. It is aplea for someone to starting living life again and is warmand encouraging where it could have been harsh andhectoring. The scat singing at the end shows off Taylor’srange – this girl can jive.
Kate Bush seems to have leased out here pianoon Mirror Mirror. The twinkling piano that drives the songis reminiscent of Kate at her best. The brisk acousticguitars and finger picked melody of Feels Good are asthrilling as the first flush of love that it describes.Hit The Ground chimes likes church bells on Christmasmorning, the rhythmic guitars bright and the interplay withthe piano dancing like litter in a hurricane.
You can tell the material was written mainly on abattered old guitar but when it’s this strong, well, whocares? Okay, so no envelopes have been pushed musically, no newground broken, but this is a heartfelt and delightfulrecord.