[29 March 2007]
Based on the sheer volume of her musical output over the past several years, chances are you have heard that voice somewhere before. Distinctly hypnotic, Maria Taylor’s vocals have not only been an asset to the groups that count her as a member (Azure Ray and Now It’s Overhead) but have also aided projects by Moby, Bright Eyes, The Faint and Crooked Fingers. Now also recording as a solo artist, Taylor continues to find fresh and exciting avenues for her talent. It seems almost as if by continuing to find ways for her singing voice to be heard, Taylor, is in effect, refining and defining her artistic voice.
Aided by the production and songwriting expertise of notable musicians such as Jim Eno (Spoon), Andy LeMaster (one of Taylor’s Now It’s Overhead cohorts), Doug Easley (Cat Power, Pavement) and Bright Eyes himself, Conor Oberst, Taylor’s second solo outing is a confident yet restrained affair. While in a sense, she gets by with the help of her friends (perhaps more accurately her friends and siblings as brother Macey and sister Kate also play prominent back-up roles) Taylor lends a very personal, involved touch, writing or co-writing each song on the album as well as contributing guitar, piano, organ, and additional percussion.
Album opener “A Good Start” is aptly titled as Taylor and company use the song to establish a tone and dynamic that is recurrent throughout the album. Like many of Taylor’s songs, “A Good Start” is full of momentum and drive without ever nearing a point of hurry or urgency. In fact, there is never a moment on Lynn Teeter Flower when the proceedings seem in danger of spinning out of control; no matter what the emotion being expressed, Taylor’s expression is sensible and laid-back. The track features inviting keys, steady and buoyant drums as well as rock guitars that have a definite presence without being dominating. The blend of these instruments is delicate, creating a backdrop to sufficiently support Taylor’s vocals without ever overpowering or overshadowing them.
Though maintaining a consistent approach and level of demonstration on each song, Taylor does not seem content to explore just one side of her musical persona. Perhaps it is fitting that an artist whose name has appeared in the credits of such diverse albums as those previously mentioned is able to so effectively transition between an eclectic array of styles. For a girl who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, the sparkling production value on “A Good Start” and several other cuts suggests an almost British or European feel in the vein of artists like Dido and Beth Orton, especially true as it applies to the smooth and subtle recording of Taylor’s voice which sounds similar throughout. This is not a criticism by any means; Taylor seems comfortable in every setting and her presence is a steadying and unifying influence between tracks and styles.
Additional colors and shapes are found on “Smile and Wave”, which finds its personality in the shimmering sounds of a mellotron, and “Replay”, a song driven by a plaintive yet bouncy piano. These are two of the album’s strongest tracks and seem a modern twist on pop textures from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Taylor does revisit her geographical roots through the ramshackle shuffle of “The Ballad of Sean Foley” and gentler, folkier tracks like “Clean Getaway” and “Lost Time”.
Taylor’s cool and subtle way, while a quality that makes her unique, could also be mistaken for a tendency to make safe choices. She and her contributors rarely risk a miscalculation so when the occasional slip does occur (as is the case with the absolutely unnecessary rap vocal contributed by Rig on “Irish Goodbye”), there is a definite tainting of the meticulous nature otherwise exhibited.
On the album’s closing titular track, an old home recording presents a girlish Taylor making her way through a snappy accapella number causing the voice of one present, presumably a family member to declare “Maria’s a blues singer, I just knew it all along.” Though Taylor does not draw on an earthy, raw depth of sound to play the blues in a way most of us are accustomed to, perhaps she is a blues singer of another type, expressing emotions in a calm, controlled fashion, more like most people do on an everyday basis. While this style might be off putting to listeners looking for obvious or dramatic emotional release, it is a credit to Taylor as a vocalist and artist that she stays true to what she does best throughout the course of the record. Lynn Teeter Flower may not be intense, edge-of-your-seat musical expression but it’s not intended to be. It is, however, a fundamentally strong pop record with enough atmosphere and beauty to ensure it resonates with a definite segment of record buyers.