Album review: JULIAN TAYLOR BAND – Desert Star

Julian Taylor chatted to Pete Feenstra on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sunday 28 March, 20:00 GMT including tracks from ‘Desert Star’.

Julian Taylor Band

Aporia Records [Release date 28.05.21]

Julian Taylor Band’s ‘Desert Star’ is the album that refuses to lie down. With release dates in 2015 and 2016, it’s now being re-promoted in the UK and is a stellar album worthy of plenty of reappraisal.

Sometimes you hear an album that simply drags you along in its slipstream and kicks your musical prejudices into touch, to leave you quietly muttering: “but I don’t like that kind of music.”

There’s so much going on that it enchants us both viscerally and cerebrally. It’s rhythmically addictive, lyrically persuasive and is full of celebratory addictive hooks that you might feel like belting out in front of your neighbours.

In many ways you can see why it’s taken Canadian roots rocker Julian Taylor over quarter of a century to achieve overdue success. After all, his amalgam of pop, rock, funk and soul is the perfect example of a musical composite that is too often dependent on the changing fashions of the transient industry he works in.

After a few too many years on the outside looking in,  he’s handily placed to tap into the emergence of a contemporary soul scene which perfectly suits his Toronto influenced Hammond organ and horn driven funk, r&b and soul.

He’s an open minded and versatile singer-songwriter who revels in the resolution of a catchy hook. The 22-song double album perfectly showcases his wide-ranging oeuvre, from his expressive soulful phrasing to some snappy hooks. His band’s intuitive accompaniment on tight arrangements  also gives the album its sense of flow.

It’s an adventurous musical journey built on a commercial imperative, full of crisp dynamics that amplify his soulful song craft.

Such is the stylistic span of this album that the listener frequently gets derailed by the unexpected, but it all makes for an exhilarating musical ride.

One moment he’s a soulful crooner and a heartfelt balladeer on some introspective contemporary r&b, but then he thinks nothing of lifting the roof off with some hard assed funk.

In fact, the joy of the album lies in the way he’s willing to take chances by going where his inner voice takes him.

He’s a musical free spirit with an unashamed commercial bent, much like Prince, Stevie Wonder and John Mayer.

There’s the anthemic rock of ‘House Is A Garden’, the powerhouse ‘Chemical Low’, the essential horn-led single ‘Set Me Free’, the kick ass ‘Never Too Late’ and the ripping guitar driven finale of ‘In My Life’.

The latter is a big rock splurge with special guest Joey Landreth on which Taylor’s animated voice finishes the album in bone crunching fashion.

It’s a remarkable double album which sounds as if his many years of touring were in no way wasted. He calls on both personal and musical experiences to dig deep into his soul (pun intended), for some heartfelt emotion and playful hooks delivered with real fervour.

He further adheres to the good songwriter’s creed of diving into the realm of the senses, with narratives interwoven with lyrical minutiae.

It’s a perfectly balanced album that opens from the snappy, funky single ‘Just A Little Bit’. An incredibly catchy hook comprising electro beats and horns sets the musical template for the album as a whole.

There’s a clever use of word plays too on the very catchy ‘Bobbi Champagne’, a great example of the way he builds a track from a gentle intro into an all encompassing chorus.

There some unexpected rock-riffing on ‘Heard Good Things’, a tension building title track, and the beguiling ‘Take Me (Stay)’, full of sensuous lyrics:

“Take me wherever the starlight goes. Take me wherever a leaf (snow) has fallen. You’re the only one that could make me stay.”

In contrast, there’s the afore mentioned anthemic sweep of ‘House Is A Garden’ and the jaunty uplifting arrangement of the politically charged ‘Get Loud Pt 11’.

He’s unashamedly commercial on both the electro handclaps and contemporary r&b feel of ‘Pick You Up’, while he dips into West Coast soul on the lascivious ‘Hot Heels’, with a sludgy pulse and faux falsetto.

He also strips things down on the acoustic ‘Glass House’, which perfectly distils his melodic simplicity with pristine diction and uplifting phrasing.

‘Desert Star’ is a groundbreaking, broad-based and coherent journey full of contrasting musical highlights.

Above all, it’s an album that captures the musical moment and should put Julian Taylor squarely in the forefront of contemporary roots rock. *****

Review by Pete Feenstra

The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk Sunday 21 March 16:00 EST, 21:00 GMT

Watch again

More about Josh

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 14 March 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 23 March 2021.

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