She’s pals with Michael Stipe and Conor Oberst and has been recording both as part of her group Azure Ray and as a solo artist for over a decade. Her music is regularly featured on films and television. So why is Maria Taylor still very far from a household name?
It’s not as if her music is wilfully uncommercial – her fifth solo record Something About Knowing is full of her smart, accessible folky pop and you can easily imagine any of these tracks fitting in quite nicely on the radio. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, for Taylor sounds more than happy doing her own thing, and if people like it, no doubt that’s a bonus.
In fact she maybe sounds too happy on this album. For Something About Knowing was recorded just after she’d given birth to her son, and it positively bursts with contentment. Which is lovely for Ms Taylor, but it means that the music contained within does lurch towards the saccharine at times.
For example, Tunnel Vision begins with a sample of a baby crying, the title track has the line “I heard the sweetest voice call me Mommy” and the album ends on the song A Lullaby For You. It’s almost the musical equivalent of a Facebook status screaming “Love my ickle family soooo much!! Feeling blessed!!”.
Thankfully, Taylor is too talented a songwriter to let the sweetness overwhelm the songs. The fact that she’s reunited with Bright Eyes‘ Mike Moggis as a producer is also a positive, for he was a big part of how good her 11.11 and Lynn Teeter Flowers collections were. Together, they give Saturday In June a dreamy, hazy feel, turn in the swaggering stomp of Up All Night and cast a beautifully reflective sheen upon Sum Of Our Lives.
Throughout, Taylor’s voice sounds terrific – over time, she’s begun to sound ever more like Jenny Lewis, and there are a fair few moments that are uncannily reminiscent of Lewis’ old band Rilo Kiley. Yet, with Rilo Kiley, there was always a nagging undercurrent of unease which powered the dynamic. On Something About Knowing, the feeling is so blissful it becomes almost narcotic.
Of course, it’s churlish in the extreme to berate someone for recording their happiness – and, needless to say, both Van Morrison‘s Tupelo Honey and Bob Dylan‘s New Morning have both proved that domestic bliss can be celebrated – but too often on this album Taylor leans towards cliche. It’s a shame, as the stirring Tunnel Vision (that crying baby sample aside), Up All Night and This Is It recall the best of Taylor’s early work.
Ultimately, this is another solid if slightly too sweet album from Maria Taylor. She does what she does extremely well, but it would be nice to hear a bit of grit mixed in with the honey next time around.