Maria Taylor’s album starts in quite an unnerving way. The opening bars of A Good Start are a few seconds of synth before the line “You’re one with the burden of intuition/You’re one with the freedom of a blank stare”, proving we are contemplating a lady who is literate with language, open-minded with style and like all great artists, so sensitive to the world that her emotions can be enflamed any second. And they clearly are.
The rest of track one progresses with guts and imagination, with fuzz guitar and organ dominating an up-tempo number. We are somewhere between The Pretenders and Sheryl Crow, perhaps Sixpence None The Richer territory – only less twee.
Taylor is a 30-year-old from Alabama signed to Saddle Creek Records. She has turned up on stage by the side of label-mate Conor Oberst at countless Bright Eyes shows, and, slightly bizarrely, has toured with Har Mar Superstar. This is her second album in a solo career that acts as an experimental and welcome distraction from her role as the voice of Azure Ray, a duo renown for the Americana-electronica sound that has come to define Saddle Creek.
The soulfulness, energy and melody of A Good Start are maintained throughout the album, therefore I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call Lynn Teeter Flower a lo-fi pop masterpiece. Replay is an example of Tori Amos‘s considerable legacy, with a hypnotic intent in its vocal delivery that, of her most recent sisters, is also reminiscent of Martha Wainwright, though perhaps with less balls. Whether that is a good or bad thing I’ll leave up open to debate.
Indeed, her voice resembles Oberst’s in that it is forceful and impassioned, while not soaring or even especially beautiful. Also like Oberst, the strength of her songwriting sometimes overshadows the rather interesting things going on in terms of production. Electro-wizardry punctuates the mournful ballads, almost always with a real stop-what-you’re-doing-and-listen success. It is a shame about Irish Goodbye, which contains a verse of white-boy rapping that goes some way towards letting down the entire record. Such embarrassment has no place with Saddle Creek.
Elsewhere, when she softens up and tones things down she still sounds angelic – most male listeners with any gumption will fall in love with Maria after hearing Clean Getaway. A seemingly innocuous love song with only acoustic guitar for company, Maria then delivers the line “And I miss you, I miss you every single day” with such overflowing feeling, that one wants the tugging-at-the-heart-strings agony that is this album to stop there and then.
The Ballad of Sean Foley, written by and performed with Oberst, jars the album a little, enforcing a departure from the personality the album has forged for itself, something that comes from Maria’s unique reaction to the world – excited and heartbroken in equal measures. Oberst’s characteristic alt-country shuffle and cynicism is wonderful, though perhaps not at the expense of another of Maria’s own teary compositions.