Sally Taylor has the natural-born talent
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 5, 2002) – There’s no way of getting around it – you watch Sally Taylor on stage and look for hints of her parents. She sings a phrase with a particularly jazzy, soulful tone and you hear Carly Simon in her voice. She sings a phrase simply and clearly and you hear James Taylor – who was a member of her road crew on Sunday night at a jam-packed Club Helsinki, where Taylor performed two hour-long sets backed by her three-piece band.

There’s also no way of getting around the fact that Taylor is no carbon copy of either of her parents. In fact, while she draws from a diverse range of influences, she seemingly is not wed to any of them in particular. Rather, the muse she exploits is her own and a very personal one.

While Taylor had a natural grace on stage, she also seemed a bit nervous, but not enough to distract the audience. The contradictory combination of emotions was rather touching, as was the generosity of her soul-bearing, whether it was to introduce a song “about a relationship that was a disaster” or to dedicate one to her fiance.

Taylor performed in a variety of formats – solo accompanying herself on guitar, playing guitar and singing backed by her full band, or singing with the band without the guitar. Ironically, she was at her strongest and most focused when it was just Taylor on stage alone. Not only could her sweet voice be heard to best effect this way, but she also seemed most comfortable and direct.

Not that she was incapable of delivering with her band. “When We’re Together” was a bossa-nova inflected love song which she virtually pantomimed with dramatic arm and hand gestures. “Forty Years” was a jazzy pop tune about waking up one day and suddenly discovering that you’re middle-aged. “Red Room,” about waiting for a kiss that never comes, was gentle folk-pop, and “Justin Tyme” was a rootsy bit of country-rock. “Memorial Day” grafted grunge-rock chords and CSNY-like group harmonies, and “Not the Girl in the Picture,” one of the best songs of the night, had a minor-key, Velvet Underground-like feel to it.

On some of the harder-rocking or funkier tunes, however, Taylor held back vocally and was a bit overwhelmed by a band that might just have been playing too loud and forcefully, particularly the drummer. It’s not that Taylor seemed incapable of fronting a rock band; by the end of the evening, she finally opened up and belted out a few numbers, including the Sheryl Crow-like “Happy Now” and “Song for Kim,” and with sufficient dynamics to stand up to the workmanlike group’s sonic foundation.

But it was probably the memory of the very traditional, folk-country-style “Tomboy Bride,” which Taylor played and sang solo at the end, that most people took home with them as the defining moment of the evening and of Sally Taylor. And a beautiful moment it was.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 7, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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