Axehouse Music [Release date 22.09.14]
We live in such an age of instant gratification and downloads that you sometimes you have to pause and remind yourself just how quickly Joanne Shaw Taylor’s career has taken off since her debut album on Ruf Records, barely 5 years ago
She’s risen imperiously from being an up and coming guitar slinger to an award winning singer. She’s also matured as a song-writer who channels her intense guitar playing into thoughtful arrangements, rather than the songs being a vehicle for her solos.
She’s also has made a splash in her adopted America and returns with a new album on her own label. And while her last album ‘Almost Always Never’ celebrated stylistic diversity, clever word plays and soulful grooves, ‘The Dirty Truth’ keeps the grooves but is an aggregation of thinly linked relationship songs on which she’s lyrically more introspective. You could argue the new CD doesn’t quite have the vision of its studio predecessor, but Joanne’s gone for a rootsy vibe with lyric driven songs.
She opens with her strongest song, the fired up and riff driven ‘Mud, Honey’. The hard driven rhythm guitar gives the pounding groove a sense of urgency and is counter balanced by her world-weary husky phrasing, before the kind of tension busting solo with which she’s made her name.
She later uses a similar rhythmic attack and dirgy tone on ‘Struck Down’’, which pushes the rhythm track to the front of the mix.
The album’s inherent flow comes from the shifting tempos, subtle guitar tones and occasional unexpected musical diversity, as on the title track, which slips from country into a blues-rock. Unfortunately the song’s fictional narrative isn’t always clear because of her whispered delivery.
The organ sweep of ‘Wicked Soul’ leads us into an uplifting guitar figure and a mid-tempo groove with a white soul feel that also infuses another relationship song ‘Tried Tested And True’. She also reaches back into the style of her last studio album for the strong melodic love song ‘Fool In Love’, which features one of her best vocals on the album.
Jim Gaines’s production leaves plenty of space for tonal colours and dynamic emphasis on the choruses and solos. The slashed funky rhythm of ‘Wrecking Ball’ brings welcome variety and ‘Outlaw Angel’ provides the album with a kick up the ass. It’s a guitar driven shuffle that is closer to her early career bluster and will surely become a live favourite
In sharp contrast, the Kevin Bowe co-write ‘Shiver & Sigh’ is pitched at the radio, right down to its restrained solo, while ‘Feels Like Home’ sounds like an outtake. A combination of a Hendrix intro and the melody from Blood Sweat & Tears ‘Spinning Wheel’ leads into a waltz like chorus and is topped by feverish guitar work and crisp percussion from Steve Potts
The end result is an album that’s easy on the ear and maintains our interest throughout via mellow grooves and sparkling rhythms, even if you do have to wait patiently for the solos.
Joanne’s husky phrasing draws you in but never quite engages us emotionally, but happily she does that with her guitar playing which bring us full circle. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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