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Maria Taylor With Cillie Barnes And Ben Lee, At The Troubadour, Sunday December 11th 2016

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Maria Taylor

 

It was smelling very good during Maria Taylor’s show at the Troubadour on Sunday night, she had attached a bunch of large lilies around her mic and they were releasing their fresh fragrance inside the famous club. The very gracious Maria Taylor seems to pay attention to details, and this says a lot about her music. After a prolific career – she released four albums with Azure Ray, several EPs and singles, and six full-length solo records – she dropped a new album, just two days before her show at the Troubadour, and ‘In The Next Life’, is a melancholic and touching reflection on her happy married life with two kids.

Before Maria, Cillie Barnes opened the show with her very personal brand of dreamy pop songs with a touch of Americana. She certainly was an interesting vision and a dynamic presence, she had an almost magical presence, moving around the stage wild and free, while her strong vocals, soaring or hip hopping above the flow, were a fresh take over lush arrangements of steel guitar produced by her large band. The sound was big and inventive, and the music was never the same during the same song, but her songs were not ordinary pop songs, they may not even have been pop songs, they were something else, bigger and bolder, adventurous and layered with detours in Americana and wild dreams.

Aussie Ben Lee continued the night with a few of his spiritual songs from his last record, ‘Freedom, Love and the Recuperation of the Human Mind’, introducing his work as ‘different degrees of being aware of what’s happening’… he sat alone with his guitar, captivating the audience with introspective songs and successive feelings, as I was reading the list of words (‘fear, hunger, forgotten, fondness, pride, certainly, hurt, anger, sweetness, doubt…’) written on his setlist, next to his song titles. He had meditative numbers, but I preferred him when he played agitated and atmospheric ones like ‘Thunder’. There was something a bit mystic about him and this man was obviously on a mission, in an attempt to share something deep and spiritual. He talked about his experience meeting monks so aware of their mortality and decay that they had decided to be happy, and he joked while explaining he was trying to ‘turn his profound existential crisis into children songs’.

When Saddle Creek’s songstress Maria Taylor came on stage, she was bathed by a ray of light as she played her opening song on piano, and this was very fitting. She explained she wrote ‘Home’ after a somewhat risky cross-country family trip, and it was a good introduction to Taylor’s music, a sensible and simple story translated into a melancholic and touching melody, sung with soothing vocals, with just the right touch of explosive instrumentation to punctuate the song.

It was a new song, but she didn’t force her new material on us, as she also played a lot of ‘oldies’ as she called them, such as the uplifting jump-of-joy ‘Song Beneath the Song’, off her 2005 album ‘11:11’, to the crowd’s great pleasure. If I wasn’t very familiar with her work, I felt immediately at home as these songs, with their full alt-country instrumentations and very catchy hooks, had an immediate welcoming and intimate presence, which had something to do with Maria Taylor playing with Bright Eyes and dating the band’s frontman for many years. ‘Happenstance’, with its heart-melting chorus, certainly had a reminiscent sad Bright Eyes accent, while it was difficult to not feel overwhelmed by the aching beauty and the sonic abandon of a line like ‘It’s the ending of careless wants’ during ‘Favorite Love’

However, Taylor is not easy to pigeonhole, as she can jump from a wiggling, deliciously warm alt-country sing-along ‘Up All Night’ – that she dedicated to her young children although it was anything but a lullaby – to a quieter number like ‘Leap Year’, whose poignancy was torn down by Tiffany Osborn’s violin strings. She was talkative and truly charming between songs, commenting that she wrote ‘Happenstance’ when she moved back in Alabama after living for a while in Los Angeles, and adding, ‘That was a boring story!’ she added, appearing so humble, and even admitting later to be ‘so nervous about this fucking show’.

It was after all a record release show, as she was celebrating her new album ‘In The Next Life’, released on December 9th on her own label, Flower Moon Records, and produced by Nik Freitas (the Mystic Valley Band), who joined her band on stage for a few songs. Surrounded by family and friends – her brother Macey Taylor was on bass – she was a bar-conversation-stopper during her most quiet tunes, whereas the syncopated dance of ‘Free Song’ would follow and made people gently move around.

I was almost hoping for an apparition by Conor Oberst himself during the perfectly suiting ‘If Only’, since he was playing in town a few days before, but it didn’t happen. With or without Conor, Maria Taylor effortlessly shined throughout the set with emotional renditions of her more or less quiet folksy tunes, which left everyone’s heartbeat in suspense, while I almost had a preference for her more upbeat parts and even loud stuff like ‘Xanax’, which exploded with impressive psychedelic levels of passion. ‘Clean Getaway’ could have been the perfect singalong, and ‘Cartoons and Forever Plans’, with its expansive bright guitar licks and sweet harmonies, had one of the most playful foot-tapping hooks of the night. A new song ‘Just Once’ – about a sexy affair, but not real life as she explained while smiling to reassure us everything was alright in her married life – brought new friends on stage and the right torturous and tumultuous ending… ‘I’ve never been obliged to stay in one place for too long,’ she sang, summing up her life and this show at the same time.

Setlist
Home
Song Beneath the Song
Happenstance
Favorite Love
Free Song
Up All Night
Leap Year
If Only
Birmingham 1982
Xanax
Pretty Scars
Clean Getaway
Cartoons and Forever Plans
Just Once

More pictures here

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Cillie Barnes

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Ben Lee

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Maria Taylor

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