Ben Taylor has nothing to hide

Marly Hornik performs with her band at BerkFest this weekend

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 13, 2003) -- The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, especially when the tree is James Taylor and Carly Simon. Audiences at Club Helsinki have already been treated to several performances by Sally Taylor. Tonight at 9, Sally’s brother, Ben Taylor, who bears a remarkable vocal resemblance to both his singer-parents, stops in with his band.

“I think the genetics are limited to the actual sonic similarities, the tonal resemblance of my voice to both my parents,” said Taylor about his biological inheritance in a recent phone interview. “The rest is probably learned out of similar tastes and reading the same books and hearing them speak about things -- seeing the world through their eyes.

“Everyone says I sound more like my dad. My inflections are more like my dad, but the tone is more like my mom.”

As heard on his catchy, rocking new album, Famous Among the Barns, Taylor’s music sits comfortably somewhere between the Beatles and the Wallflowers, although he names Mos Def and The Roots, along with Paul McCartney, as his “trilogy of influences.”

Unlike some celebrity children, Taylor, who calls Martha’s Vineyard home, wastes no energy trying to hide his background.

“I’m a proud son of my parents, as any son would be of parents who do a good job raising them,” he said. “I’m honored to be related to them. It’s not that I believe I deserve any extra attention because of who they are, although I realize that will probably happen, and it’s a mixed bag.”

Perhaps it’s the mixed bag Taylor was thinking about when he penned the lyrics to “I Am the Sun,” on which he sings, “I am the sun/That’s all I’ve ever been since I begun.” Change a vowel in the word “sun” and the song morphs from an environmental ode to a psychological lament. Taylor also turns in a dark, cryptic version of the Zombies’ classic, “Time of the Season,” in which the line, “What’s your name?/Who’s your daddy?” jumps out at a listener. Probably just a coincidence.

BerkFest: More than just jam

While BerkFest, which takes place this weekend at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, is mostly about jam-bands, there are a few exceptions to the rule – although those exceptions do not include hip-hop headliners The Roots and gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama, both of which were suddenly dropped from the festival lineup a few weeks ago. But fans of Norah Jones and Tori Amos should be sure to check out Marly’s Angels. Led by the fabulous singer-songwriter Marly Hornik, a Northampton native whose sophisticated yet catchy, piano-based pop-rock is alternately soulful like vintage Carole King, sensual like vintage Carly Simon, and -- as heard on “Bluestone Baby” on Hornik’s terrific CD, Say You Do --jazzy like Steely Dan, the group plays on the main stage on Sunday at 1, and should offer a welcome, melodic relief from the relentless, groove- and testosterone-oriented music otherwise on tap at the festival. You can also catch Hornik opening for Crew du Vous at Club Helsinki on Friday night.

Rock singer-songwriter Stephen Clair is also a must-hear, especially for fans of Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman. Clair – who is scheduled to perform on the mainstage on Saturday at 12:40, used to call Albany home but fled for the concrete pastures of New York, which has clearly fed his muse on his great new CD, Little Radio, which features gems like “Blame It On Your Town,” “Dancing in New York,” “Fatten Your Landlord,” and everybody’s favorite, “Jen in Her Underwear,” all rendered in catchy, Velvet Underground-style guitar rock -- the sound of the concrete sidewalks.

Other unusual fare at BerkFest includes solo guitarist Kaki King, the urban, 23-year-old female answer to Michael Hedges, at 10 a.m. on Saturday; John Brown’s Body, a nine-piece, upstate-New York-based reggae group boasting a three-man horn section, Beatlesque harmonies, dub mixes and conscious roots, at 3:20 on Sunday; and contemporary bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart, at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

And no, those aren’t dreadlocks, those are payes, or sidelocks, hanging down Rav Shmuel’s head – the singing rabbi performs on Friday at 1:15, giving him plenty of time to get to synagogue before sundown.

Critic’s picks

Old-time country outfit Norman Schell and Youth Well Spent, featuring the Berkshires’ own Rick Tiven, returns to the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington on Friday night at 8. Schell and Tiven were bandmates in the much-beloved ‘70s country-rock band Clean Living.

Pioneer Valley blues-rock singer Susan Angeletti just released Bittersweet, a smokin’-hot collection of original songs, several co-writes with Grammy-nominated producer/drummer Tom Hambridge, and a sultry, intimate version of cousin Jerry Ragovoy’s classic, “Piece of My Heart.” Angeletti acquits herself as a terrific songwriter on the hard-rocking “Go to Hell” and broadens her musical base beyond the blues to tackle the heartland rock of Hambridge’s “The Other Side of the River,” on which she comes across like the female answer to John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen. But she still works up her trademark head of bluesy steam on numbers including “Love Doctor” and a very funky “Love is a Dangerous Thing.” Angeletti celebrates the release of her excellent new album at La Choza in Pittsfield on Saturday night.

On his previous album, Heaven, trumpeter Ron Miles did for instrumental jazz what Norah Jones has done for vocal music – go back to rootsy songwriters like Hank Williams and Bob Dylan and reinterpret their work in the jazz idiom. On his latest album, Laughing Barrel (Sterling Circle), Miles uses that rootsy sensibility as a starting point for his own compositional efforts and for the improvisational skills of his ensemble, which will include bassist Tony Scherr (Norah Jones, Sex Mob, Lounge Lizards), guitarist Brandon Ross (Archie Shepp, Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson) and drummer J. T. Lewis (Stanley Jordan, Henry Threadgill, Marianne Faithfull) at Club Helsinki on Sunday at 8:30.

You don’t have to wait around until he dies and is reincarnated as a woman to find out what Dr. John would sound like if he were a girl. You can just take a listen to So Many Rivers (Alligator), the rollicking new CD by Louisiana singer-pianist Marcia Ball. Or better yet, hear her unique mix of Cajun, Tex-Mex and New Orleans blues live at the Iron Horse in Northampton on Sunday night.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 14, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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