Lisa Taylor (www.lisataylormusic.com) recently won a Washington Area Music Award for Best Folk Recording for her sublime new album “True North,” but it hardly seems right to try and limit it to one category. Taylor’s material on “True North” is fully realized and richly arranged acoustic rock with hints of folk, blues, jazz and country. It’s diverse, but not scattershot – it works as a coherent piece, tied together by Taylor’s rich vocals, intelligent lyrics, and the thoughtful arrangements.
“Splinters” is an appropriate opener. A driving roots-rock song with a sublimely played acoustic guitar solo in the middle, “Splinters” is one of the simpler tracks, but is nevertheless effective. The album really gets rolling with track two, “Brave Me,” which features one of Taylor’s gentlest and most vulnerable vocal performances. It starts as a pensive and elegant ballad with its striking imagery, jazzy piano, and languidly sighing suspensions. Then the tempo changes and the mellow atmospherics give way to a bridge that builds with intensity and passion, thanks in large part to the effective background vocals, and finally it erupts with a searing electric guitar solo. “Brave Me” is a wonderfully crafted song that in many ways stands as “True North” in microcosm – just when you think you have the album pegged, it veers off in a direction you don’t expect.
“Giving In” is a jazzy number with a prominent stand-up bass and fluid saxophone weaving in and out of the melody with deftness, occasionally interchanging with electric guitar. “It Means A Lot” is a “Black Velvet”-type blues rocker, with a thumping rhythm and bass, but again Taylor doesn’t take the easy way out with the arrangement. The chorus and bridge don’t follow the idiom as expected, veering into almost Steely Dan-style fusion territory before settling back into the comfortable groove of the verse.
“Trojan Horses,” a nifty little acoustic shuffle with some accordion for color, is another genre-hopping exercise; it sounds like a Paris street fair held in Nashville. “Again” is a startling piano-based number that almost conjures Kate Bush, and one is reminded once again of the lovely power and versatility of Taylor’s voice. Gorgeous harmonies and a dark slant to the melody drive the chorus. Once again the imaginative bass-line, with its unexpected flourishes and fluidity, plays a prominent roll. The album closes with another stellar track, a heartbreaking song of lost love called “Camelot.” The listener can feel the genuine feeling without it ever sounding contrived or hokey. A touching moment made all the more real by Taylor’s exquisite vocal performance.
“True North” is a revelation. The Washington, D.C. area possesses some remarkable musical talent, and Lisa Taylor is certainly a worthy example. If one were to seek a simple description of Taylor’s sound on “True North,” the closest might be KT Tunstall meets Roseanne Cash, but that really only touches the surface. Inventive and original throughout, “True North” is a collection of well-crafted songs performed with real feeling, and with creative arrangements. It’s a terrific record that deserves attention on a much wider scale. Lisa Taylor’s “True North” is available via her website, www.lisataylormusic.com. She will be performing at Bangkok Blues in Falls Church, Va. on March 7.