Chris Taylor, a San Antonio artist, both a singer/songwriter and painter, is exemplary of how real indie rock artists (not those bands we call “indie rock” even though they’re signed to a major label) are struggling to get by, made all the more “interesting” by the current global pandemic that has shut-down live music performances and gathering indoors in restaurants and bars, the very venues where working musicians ply their trade day in and day out. Of course, that’s similar to the Chinese fortune cookie saying, “may you live in interesting times,” which can feel like either a blessing or a curse, as while many of us live from paycheck to paycheck, these hard working musicians are often living from paid gig to paid gig. Thus in this time of “shut down” Taylor has focused on recordings, releasing two new discs in under a year, Lovers, Thieves, Fools + Pretenders, and in a rare burst of recording speed, Born On The Beat.
Lovers, Thieves… found Taylor in a more experimental mood, embracing the noisy, darker industrial sounds of drum machines and keyboards, and the deeper register of his voice, emphasizing a Tom Waits-like grit in songs that mirrored the conflicts and paradoxes of the human condition, resulting in titles like “Beautiful Hurt” and “Glorified Song of Depression.” While it represented a stark shift away from Taylor’s past more exemplary work on favored albums like Travelers Hotel (2013), Daylight (2014), and his album of Dylan covers, Down A Dead End Street (2017), it revealed a fresh side of an artist who’s willing to stretch and push and grow in decidedly new directions.
Recorded last summer but newly mastered for the CD release, Born On The Beat finds Taylor favoring the more familiar folk/rock song patterns of his earlier work, turning to a live backing band for a more human, more feeling groove for his strong, melodic songs, informed by a love for pop song hooks, and the occasional feel of a gospel choir in the supportive backing vocals. There’s a clarity of vision carried both in the music and the lyrics of songs like “Everybody Has A Broken Heart,” “Let the Sunshine (Into Your Heart)” and the title track, and felt in the live band feel provided by live drummer Anthony Gravely, bassist Justin Schneider and electric guitar soloist Mitchell Connell. And, we get to hear a songwriting collaboration between Taylor and Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart in the album’s closing track, “Here and Gone (But Everlasting).” In that lyric, Taylor explores a common theme of humanity’s complex nature, borrowing a metaphor from Shakespeare: “When everybody is a star/and the whole world’s their stage/I’m feeling like an orphan/searching for my own soul/walking in and out of traffic/while I’m falling down a hole,” after asserting that “you gotta see all the angels/in the face of strangers/the love of God in every face.” Nice harmonica
That whole dilemma of the “orphan, falling down a hole” vs. “angel, knowing the love of God,” is a consistent theme, a natural tension that shows up consistently in Taylor’s lyrics, acknowledging that paradox of experience in titles like “Everybody Got A Broken Heart” and “You’re The Pride (I’m The Fall).” The challenge of living honestly in such an “interesting” world is at the heart of the album’s strongest rocker, “Why.” Taylor admits “this world has chewed me up and swallowed me whole,” admitting “there’s a pain in my heart as I’m led by the light,” but the struggle is real: “this world is full of dust and drag/hatred sown into the stripes of our flag/civil war to cyber war, why, why, why?” Yet, Taylor wants his listeners to know there’s reason for hope, if we “Let The Sunshine (Into Your Heart),” work to “Fix The Distance” and be open to accepting even a bit of “Leftover Love.”
That last song, “Leftover Love,” finds Taylor dipping into some solid country music territory, with pedal steel by Brian Douglas Philips, but most of Born On The Beat, is in solid pop rock territory, with Taylor’s sweet tenor voice echoing a bit of Jeff Buckley soulfulness in his higher range, but plenty of rock vocalist vigor in the mid-range. On the whole there are just too many artists of Taylor’s timber, working anonymously in the towns and cities across our land. Some, like Taylor have been able to scratch together enough of an audience to stay true to their artistic calling, with enough fans on their Patreon page, or tuning into bandcamp to pick up new releases, or buy a piece of art. The ultimate reward, though, is in great new music, artfully delivered with one’s heart and mind and soul intact. “Born On The Beat” provides all that and more.
Key Tracks: “Born On The Beat” / “Why” / “Here & Gone (But Everlasting)”
Artists With Similar Fire: Jeff Buckley / Kerosene Halo / Derri Daugherty
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb