We reviewed Sean Taylor’s last album, Walk With Me two years ago and marked him out as a fine evocative singer/songwriter in the J.J. Cale/Tim Buckley mode. Love Against Death, released yesterday confirms this to some extent with others comparing him to the late John Martyn. It’s fair to say that his fine guitar picking and dry voice does bare comparison with numerous predecessors but here he transcends any influences and the best that one can say is that this sounds like a superb Sean Taylor album.
With a fuller sound than that of Walk With Me there’s less introspection and the guitar is less pronounced. This may be due to the album being recorded in Austin, Texas with producer Mark Hallman but more likely is the fact that Taylor has packed the album with, for want of a better word, “protest “ songs, or at least politically influenced pieces that reflect his views on various injustices in the world today. This is immediately apparent on the powerful opening song, Stand Up and on Western Intervention. Both songs are polemics, the first celebrating the recent wellspring of popular protest, the latter a driving bluesy diatribe against the imposition of free market western imperialism and the impact it has on all of us. Aside from the politics both are fine driving songs that manage to make their point and sound great at the same time. Coal Not Dole revisits the miners’ strike of the early eighties and employs the well-worn refrain which side were you on? With a fine spidery guitar solo present there’s a true sense of anger here. Taylor also delivers more individual testaments on the plight of the working man with a fine reworking of Sixteen Tons and the jaunty Cajun influenced Ballad of a Happy Man where the musical delivery reflects the solace found by those down on their luck in song and dance. Heaven, an addiction song in the tradition of Needle of Death and The Needle and the Damage Done is a dreamy reverie and is probably the song that does sound most like Martyn circa Solid Air.
Away from the politics Taylor provides tributes to some of his literary heroes. Cassady is a gentle reminder of the force of nature that inspired Kerouac and Kesey but which ended up in a solitary death on a Mexican railroad. Les Fleurs Du Mal is an evil sounding slouch which recalls Kerouac’s vision of ‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’ Taylor’s guitar work here is down and dirty, scrubbing against organ on a song that sounds as if it came from the swamps around New Orleans and is somewhat reminiscent of the recent work of Gurf Morlix.
Les Fleurs Du Mal