Sean Taylor is now firmly established in the UK as a respected ambassador for straight-up, no-nonsense roots n blues music married to pointed, passionate and observational lyricism. On Flood and Burn he tips his ever-present hat in an affectionate, yet measured homage to some personal favourites and significant influencers.
The songs on this highly polished production are all Taylor originals except for a highly idiosyncratic take on Heartbreak Hotel, and each one comes badged with the music that informed his nascent musical identity.
Taylor is by no means alone in his admiration for people like Van Morrison, Tom Waits, John Martyn, John Fogerty and JJ Cale, but he is uncommonly able to assimilate the fan’s enthusiasm into his own strong personality. At times, Flood and Burn sounds like a listening post for those who need an education about the roots of meaningful songwriting and energised melodic forms.
The lesson that Taylor has learned is to speak clearly with his own voice, and here he chooses even-tempered, understated vocals to make a strong case for his undoubted humanitarianism. The medium may be folk-blues of the comfortably familiar kind, but the message is undoubtedly his own.
Cruelty of Man is one particularly strong example of Taylor truth-telling set to a front porch hymnal with a hummable house-concert chorus. As a witness statement, it is disarmingly (almost naively) honest, but it’s made with all the same serious intent that Nick Lowe intended on What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?
Flood and Burn is a great listening pleasure for roots music nerds who are here spoiled for choice among the many nods and winks. There may also be unconscious references to seductive radiopop from Taylor, who is, after all, a child of the eighties. Yet it’s the opening track, Codeine Dreams with its saxophone shadows and its shape-shifting melody that speaks most clearly of broadened out horizons.
Until recently, Sean Taylor added new textures, colours and ideas rather sparingly, almost cautiously stepping through the minefield of unforced change. He has rarely done things for their own sake, preferring to steadily and carefully build on his craft in much the same way as he has steadily and carefully built his audience. That all changed with his last album, the burnt ochre, Latin-tongued, ode-laden The Only Good Addiction is Love. On Flood and Burn, he returns to the transatlantic tenor of earlier records, but stretches the canvas noticeably wider and makes new suggestions with greater courage and conviction.
Nevertheless, his accomplishments on this CD are curiously split between lyrical flair and sophisticated musicality. The almost casually clever poetry in the title track Flood and Burn and Bad Case of the Blues are set to unpretentious grooves, while plain-speaking songs like Troubadour and Better Man take a step back from wordplay and let the arrangements and instrumentation fill the spotlight. Indeed, it’s Taylor himself who stands tallest as he throws a scorching lead guitar solo into an already rich mix on A Good Place to Die. If asked, I would pick out Life Goes On and Until the End of Time as the tunes that most effectively synthesize all of Taylor’s sensibilities and attributes into instantly appealing, radio-friendly packages.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Flood and Burn, however, is its sheer consistency as a set of carefully constructed and beautifully finished songs, due not least in part to Taylor’s ongoing and plainly productive partnership with Austin-based, all-rounder Mark Hallam.
A strong cast of session musicians, guests and friends also deserve three cheers, a slap on the back and drinks on the house for a job well done. I feel the need to flag up Joe Morales’ sax playing for his sensitivity to the needs of the project. He almost steals the show by not showboating, and he’s a perfect fit for Sean Taylor’s clear-eyed, unselfish and down-to-earth worldview
Musicians on Flood and Burn: Sean Taylor, Eliza Gilkyson, Mark Hallam, Andre Moran, Joe Morales, Danny Thompson, Roscoe Beck, Hana Piranha, Ephraim Owens, Jaimee Harris and Mike Hardwick.
Flood and Burn is released February 3rd 2017 by Proper Distribution
Sean Taylor Tour Dates: www.seantaylorsongs.com