It must be difficult to be an aspiring musician if your
parent is already a famous one. Does your pedigree help or hurt
you? Sure, you might skip the torment of breaking into the music
business. Grinding away for little pay in crap venues, but name
recognition means you are held to a higher standard.
Jakob Dylan gained success as part of a band, the Wallfowers.
Roseanne Cash went outside the Nashville establishment to deflect
accusations of nepotism.
Perhaps reluctant to compete with the towering legacy of
the Beatles, Sean Lennon, Dhani Harrison and Zak Starkey maintain
low profiles in the music industry. Julian Lennon had a modicum of
success in the early 80s, but now he makes his living as a photographer.
Some famous offspring, like Wilson-Phillips or Nelson,
start off making original music. But when the novelty wears off they
end up succumbing to the pressure to re-interpret or copy their
parents’ catalog of hits.
Ben Taylor very nearly became a Gardener. But music was
too deeply encoded in his DNA. He also has the double curse of two
famous parents. James Taylor and Carly Simon practically invented
the genre of sensitive Singer-Songwriter back in the early ‘70s.
35 year old Ben Taylor released his debut, Famous Among
The Barns, nearly 10 years ago. Luckily , he has managed to carve
out a comfortable niche for himself.
A lanky, Ichabod Crane version of James, Ben shares the
same warm Yankee drawl, but Ben’s vocals add a smoky, soulful
tang to the mix.
Following his debut, Taylor released Another Run Around
The Sun in 2005 and The Legend Of Kung Folk in 2008. He has
spent nearly four years crafting and creating his new effort,
The gentle title track opens the album. Plucky strings and
languid percussion slide under the melody. The lyrics are a
tentative exploration of life… “I test the waters and I feed the fire.”
Things get gritty on a couple of tracks, “ Oh Brother” and
“Vespa’s Song.” The former fuses a funky bass line to vintage Hammond
B-3 organ fills and squiggly guitar riffs. The lyrics take a page from the
“You’ve Got A Friend” playbook, offering encouragement and spiritual
comfort to a pal.
On the latter tune, Taylor gets his seductive Barry White
groovy groove on. The slinky melody is powered by slithery guitar
fills and in-the-pocket percussion. An unabashed paean to love,
this number puts Ben Taylor’s lazy charm on full display.
A trio of songs take Taylor out of his comfort zone.
“America” matches a Dub Reggae riddim with a cautious mash
note to the United States…”America How can we believe after all
we’ve been through/America we can keep dreaming, but there’s
something to prove.”
“Dirty” blends an earthy Jamaican vibe with Electronic
Dance Music synth bleats and bloops. It’s an unlikely hybrid, but it
works. Finally, “You Could Be Mine,” is an easy skanking love song
that wouldn’t seem out of place on the new Jimmy Cliff record.
With “Not Alone” and “Giulia,” Taylor explores the
beginnings and endings of romance. Anchored by a percolating beat
tart guitar riffs and swooping strings, “Not Alone” charts the course
of long distance romance.
Although the relationship has gone awry on “Giulia,”
the jaunty melody underscores that this break-up is acrimony free.
The song itself serves as a parting gift…”Here’s a song that you can
whistle..” Kind of like musical alimony.
Other stand out tracks on “Listening” include the
philosophical “Worlds Are Made Of Fire,” (which incorporates
a shout-out to his favorite Beatles song, “Yesterday”). And
the steady “Burning Bridges.” Here a martial cadence blends with
chirpy keyboards and spiraling guitar riffs.
The album closes with “Next Time Round.” Flavored
by sweet acoustic and steel guitars, as well as a barroom piano,
it’s tempting to compare this to his Dad’s epochal, “Sweet Baby
James.” However, this song serves as a compendium of lessons
learned… “I’ve counted my blessings and earned my mistakes.”
It’s a tender but temporary farewell until his next album.
Ben Taylor is ably backed on Listening by an adroit
trio. Drummer Larry Ciancia has been with Taylor since his debut.
Guitarist David Saw has been along for the ride since Another Run
Around The Sun. Ben Thomas is a welcome addition on bass.
Listening is self-assured and worth the four year wait.
Taylor has added a few colors to his sonic palette. He may have
made a great gardener, but luckily for us he has chosen to
honor his parents’ rich legacy by following in their footsteps.


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