20 Apr 2009: Schubas Tavern Chicago, IL
“I hit a car in the parking lot today—it was hailing. Anyway, I’m happy to be here,” says Alabama-born Maria Taylor, a former member of Azure Ray who has released three solo albums since striking out on her own. Dressed in a tangerine blouse with billowing sleeves, the petite singer-songwriter continued her tale as her four-piece backing band nodded in agreement. “We hit a car in Cleveland and we almost got mugged as well,” she said, deadpan, her brunette hair framing her doe-eyes and delicate features.
“We’re such an intimidating group,” added slight guitarist Tod Wisenbaker.
Judging by these candid comments, it would be easy to think that Taylor’s life has hit the skids, but as she sings standout tracks from Lady Luck, her latest release, she belies that supposition. True, many of Taylor’s songs address damaged hopes and debilitating relationships, yet there’s usually an optimistic reprise that points to the future. Taylor should know better than most—after recently terminating her own long-term relationship she moved cross-country to forge a fresh start.
“Orchids” most clearly reflects this paradigm. “I won’t get mad / I won’t break into two / I’ve watched you change / I’ve watched your words rearrange…” Though immersed in the throes of a fading love affair the thought of being alone seems to be both a challenge and probability. After melting the crowd with the title track of her new record, Taylor trailed into “Replay”, strumming power chords as her backing band—guitarist Tod Wisenbaker, keyboardist Craig Reier, drummer Michael Shackelford, and bass player Nate Nelson—mirrored her playful vocal passages.
“Cartoons and Forever Plans” nails the syntax that some of the other tunes lack. But the conversational tone, “Did you know our love will never die?” / “Did you know my glass is never empty?” charms as Taylor’s voice sounds countrified. The simple guitar picking of “Clean Getaway” accompanies lines that come straight from the corner saloon, “I met someone at the bar / He had a great smile and a great heart / It felt just like love… and I miss you every single day.” Taylor’s seduction shadows Tori Amos with a smattering of Emmylou Harris or early Dolly Parton.
In “Time Lapse Lifeline”, Taylor’s searing nightingale voice careens like an undulating vortex juxtaposing dawn and dusk. “Xanax” finds her “swept away by the undertow” while accompanied by a nicely-seasoned acid-rock guitar interlude. This segues into the jazzed-up blues tune, “Speak Easy”, which caresses the lustful line, “I’ll trace your silhouette in candlelight.” Candlelight? Taylor recommends that her fans listen to her music, “in a dark room with a candle or two.” We have the dark room down, but alas, no candles and no noise control, as the din distracts the serious listeners from the nuance that Taylor can capably achieve.
“Song Beneath the Song”, is indicative of this nuance, and escalates with ethereal tension, Taylor’s voice lingering luxuriously on the refrain, “It’s not a love, it’s not a love, it’s not a love,” and then finally, “it’s not a love song…” The rat-a-tat of the vibe fascinates. Taylor’s forte is her ability to linger for just the right amount of time, drawing her breath around each image like a child’s bubble wand suspended in mid-air.
Announcing that they would do an “old song” called “Leap Year” for an encore, Taylor mentions that her keyboard player is getting married. “I’m gonna buy him a bottle of wine and I’m going to drink most of it,” she kids. For the second encore, Taylor asks the audience to “clap for the song you want, don’t raise your hand!” The winner is “Two of Those Two”, in which Taylor held the stage with guitar in hand singing, “You can’t sustain anything / Everything must change.”
Change—within the context of Maria Taylor’s musical journey it’s a healthy and strong word.