Gypsy Soul Records [Release date 29.03.19]
The Toronto based Julian Taylor Band make music on their own terms with deeply meaningful emotional narratives and lingering hooks.
They mix soul, funk, roots rock and essential song craft in a memorable album that will appeal to both contemporary and classic soul fans alike.
Their music evokes of the golden Hi Records era with shades of Otis Clay, Al Green, Willie Mitchell etc, but it’s not an outwardly commercial album though the potent hooks do give them a potential shot at the mainstream.
Taylor fits neatly into the contemporary soul scene somewhere between Leon Bridges, D’Angelo and the rockier Curtis Harding, except that he digs deeper for self revelation through his lyrics and singing.
‘Avalanche’ is a personal, reflective and at times a yearning spiritual album with moments of introspection, counter-weighted by the band’s ability to perfectly nuance his feel and emotion through a mix of subtle restraint, deep grooves and a soulful feel.
Taylor strikes a perfect equilibrium between his lyrics and the band’s music, meaning his search for the truth combined with his contemplative nature gives the album its emotional charge.
The songs are shaped by concise arrangements – listen for example to the soulful minimalism and reflective nature of ‘Sweeter’ – and are given extra emphasis by Taylor’s soulful phrasing and judicious instrumentation.
It all makes for a soulful musical journey punctuated by diary-like narratives that give us fleeting insights into his psyche as he looks to make sense of everything, while the ghost of Curtis Mayfield swoops in and out of the vocals.
And when he has lyrically said all he needs to, the deep grooves take over to retain that emotional connection.
And naked emotion is the currency running through the heart of a beautifully crafted album in which the band purrs like a smooth running engine, while Julian Taylor is the soulful messenger.
His voice is at the forefront of all the songs, meaning that lyrical meaning and his phrasing takes primacy.
All 8 tracks clock in at under 40 minutes, as each song makes its point and leaves a dynamic void that the next track always fills. And in doing so, Taylor and his band take us on an unhurried down-river journey in a metaphor for life and everything it throws at us.
He sets out his stall on the funky opener ‘Time’ with a snappy hook which levers us into the first album highlight ‘Take What You Need’.
The longest track on the album, it’s a soulful percussion driven funky number that drips with the gentle touch of the late Curtis Mayfield, an influence the band returns to on the later ‘Learn To Love’. The latter frames Taylor’s velvet voice perfectly as he hovers over a subtle groove that leads to another simple, but catchy hook.
The slow lilting melody of the title track is the defining moment on the album, as Taylor’s falsetto wraps itself round the melody like a vine on a beautifully produced track that that draws us into a melange of acoustic, organ and strings.
‘Avalanche’ is that kind of album. It smoulders, glows, occasionally sparks, but moves at its own pace to reveal moments of emotive beauty, as evidenced by the life cycle theme of the single ‘Back Again’.
The funky minimalism of ‘Sweeter’ is another highlight. Topped and tailed with just a hint of a phaser, it’s notable for a lightness of touch and eclectic lyrics: “We had a lingerie lunch while Venice was sinking, those Ontario boys they just kept on drinking.”
The yearning quality of his vocal over the organ, electric piano and sparse rhythm guitar accompaniment is timeless.
His musical antecedent further reveal themselves on ‘Gone’, which evokes the early 70’s Stax years of William Bell, complete with sonorous horns, but he makes it something all of his own.
And suddenly we come to the journey’s end with a sudden tempo change on the crisp funk of ‘Never Let The Lights Go Dim’, a track full of layered organ, percussion and choppy rhythm guitar.
Taylor tops it all with some peerless clarity of diction, expressive phrasing and a chanted hook that almost seems forced compared to what has gone before, but as with the album as a whole, it’s all locked in with a deep groove.
Not so much as an ‘Avalanche’ of memories perhaps, as a groove laden journey through soulful goodness, the Julian Taylor Band carve out their own impressive soulful roots rock niche that has integrity stamped all the way through it. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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