Album review: JOANNE SHAW TAYLOR – Songs From The Road

Ruf [Release date 04.11.13]

There’s nothing like a live album to deliver the bacon. I don’t mean a doctored product with overdubs and the like, but simply a live recording with an expectant audience, a hot band and the recording gear in tow. Oh and I forgot to mention the cameras, because Joanne Shaw Taylor’s ‘Songs From The Road’ comes as a warts and all CD/DVD double pack.

‘Songs From The Road’ is an ambitious project. It’s a one-off live take of new tracks from her recent ‘Almost Always Never’ album, – notable for its intricate production and change of song-writing direction – and a career resume, recorded without the aid of a post production safety net. But if Joanne was under pressure to deliver, it doesn’t show as she’s super confident in her own abilities and that of her band, which includes the additional keyboards of Jules Grudgings. As a result the set builds up an impressive momentum on the back of some smoking grooves, intense solos and fine band interplay.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, ‘Songs From The Road’ is essentially a guitar album on which Joanne’s vocals, much like hundreds of guitar slinger’s before her, is strictly secondary to her playing ability. Her songs make the difference though, especially the new material which strikes out in an unexpected and adventurous direction.

She rips into the opening ‘Soul Station’, with a super charged and riff driven grungy wall of sound that envelopes her throaty vocals. The song builds its momentum on the back of some weighty chords changes and an impressive layered sound, topped by her wailing guitar.

She adds a distorted guitar tone on some brooding, ascending guitar lines alongside Jules’s organ sweep on’ Tied & Bound’, and then explores a mellow groove on the tic-toc percussion of ‘Beautifully Broken’, even if her voice doesn’t quite match her ambitious phrasing.

‘Diamonds In The Dirt’ remains one of her best songs and the laid back feel accords with the gentle undulating flow of the set, as evidenced by ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’ on which the band suddenly kicks into overdrive as her rhythm section pushes her to the limit on a mighty shuffle.

And while an inevitable Hendrix cover of ‘Manic Depression’ feels more like an obligation than an inspired move, Joanne’s cover of Frankie Miller’s ‘Jealousy’ has the same sort of emotional pull as the best of her best songs. ‘Just Another Word’ is another percolating funky groove that nicely glues together the set before she explodes on ‘Jump That Train’.

Joanne is almost hoarse on the concluding ‘Going Home’, proof if it was needed that she’s given everything on a night where she had so much to lose. Shrugging off the weight of collective expectation, it’s her in the moment playing and the substance of her songs that seal things. To repeat, there’s nothing like a live album….. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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