Sunday, December 4, 2022

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 2 December 2022

A wonderful thing happens halfway through this show by Joanne Shaw Taylor.  After leaning heavily (but not exclusively) on her 2021 outing The Blues Album for the first half of the set, she goes all the way back to her debut album White Sugar, which I must confess isn’t in my collection, and pulls out ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’, digging into a more rocking sound than what has gone before.  And after a bit of punchy testifying in the middle she launches into a sizzling low-end solo, then takes it down to embark on a semi-Celtic excursion full of ringing notes that builds
Joanne Shaw Taylor - smiling the blues!
and builds until soon she’s absolutely flying, the band giving it some serious welly as she soars into a whole other dimension.  In these moments JST comes alive, the audience comes alive, and - as someone who’s never seen her onstage before - I’m well and truly impressed.
This isn’t to suggest that the show has been anything less than entertaining up to now, by the way.  Au contraire, mes amis.  Ms Taylor and her beardy band hit the boards in free’n’easy fashion with the rollicking ‘Stop Messing Around’, and follow up with some swinging boogie on ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’, featuring some fleet-fingered, near jazzy fretwork from Taylor.
The title track of Jo’s new album Nobody’s Fool is bright and breezy, with chiming piano, and if there’s a bit of Quo-like chug to this and the boogie of ‘Three Time Loser’ the latter is leavened by an inventive solo that hints at Texas blues stylings.  She brings real focus to her vocal on ‘Let Me Down Easy’ too, delivering with feeling and then bringing a cutting edge to a biting, scything solo.  There are other good moments too, such as the mid-paced blues of ‘If You’re Gonna Make A Fool Of Somebody’, where she shares some soulful soloing with guitar sidekick Joe Espido.  ‘Bad Blood’ is a strong song from the new album, featuring some tasty Chicano twang from Espido, though its finale feels a bit thrown away.  But it’s ‘Dyin’ To Know’, from 2016’s Wild, that really catches the ear with its spiralling guitar riff and inventive arrangement, that foreshadows the later moment of lift-off on ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’.
Later there’s variety in the form of the mirror-ball-ready ballad ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’, which gets stronger as they ramp it up, Taylor getting into some proper blues wailing en route to a satisfyingly definitive ending; there's the funky soulfulness of ‘Just Another Word’ too; and the beautifully executed meditation of ‘Fade Away’, with Taylor playing acoustic and Espido adding tasteful electric colourings in place of the cello that decorates the album version.  The music could speak for itself, sure, but for me Jo’s thoughtful introduction explaining its inspiration added to the emotional undercurrent.
The brief ‘Runaway’ from the new album sparkles and ripples, but the rocking riffage of the set-closing ‘Bad Love’ really energises proceedings.  The thought crosses my mind that Jo could really take her fizzing solo further, but then she returns after an organ solo to put me in my place by busting out good and proper to hit the heights again.
First encore ‘Going Home’ is impressive too, with its rolling Western-type vibe, but ‘Mudhoney’ really hits the nail on the head as a finale, with its tumbling, stuttering, highly original riff.  Much as I enjoyed the Blues Album material, and really enjoyed the hook-heavy songsmithery of Nobody’s Fool, in a live setting I reckon this tougher, blues-rockin’ direction is really Taylor’s métier, and a proper platform for her wing-ding six-string capabilities.  Another song or two in this vein could really stiffen the spine of her set, methinks.  Next time, maybe.
Joanne Shaw Taylor seems like a happy soul, smiling her way through the show.  And why not?  There was plenty to smile about in this performance, and I look forward to catching her again before too long.
Joanne Shaw Taylor continues her UK tour until 11 December – tickets available here.

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