Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Heavy Soul

As an indicator of where Joanne Shaw Taylor’s music is at these days, the title Heavy Soul is pretty accurate, as I’m sure she knows.  As with her previous album Nobody’s Fool, Taylor has put together a collection of songs that’s strong on classic soul vibes and catchy choruses - a good fit for her husky voice – but given a more muscular slant by her sharp and bluesy guitar work.
Fr’instance, the title track may not have the most interesting tune on offer here, but the pair of tough, stinging solos that Taylor knocks out add an extra dimension to its snapping backbeat and her insistent, rhythmic vocal.  Later on, ‘Devil In Me’ takes the axe aspect a step further, with
Black Country girl Joanne Shaw Taylor
Pic by Stacie Huckaba
some urgent blues-rock riffing á la ‘Mudhoney’ and a zinger of a solo to kick things up a gear.
Those two shots of adrenaline stir things up nicely, but Heavy Soul still rubs along very happily when the material is more easy-going.  ‘Sweet ‘Lil Lies’ makes for an appealing opening, with its nagging, Morse Code guitar motif and chunky bass and rhythm guitar – the latter developing an ear-grabbing fuzzy twang during the pre-chorus.  There’s a good hook that bears repetition, Taylor’s vocal catches the soulful, and as it progresses there’s a rising sense of agitation in the bigger chords, the punchier drums, and Taylor’s second solo, to justify its 5 minute length.  ‘Black Magic’, contrastingly, is a loose and finger-snapping pleasure.  How can such a simple rhythm be so damn good?  It takes a ‘Nutbush’-like melody and swings along in über-relaxed fashion.  To be honest, I’ve no idea what Taylor is singing about half the time here, but she flexes her voice in such liquidly melodious style that it really doesn’t matter – something I often used to think about her fellow West Midlander Robert Plant, as it happens.
‘Wild Love’ combines a rolling riff and eerie waves of organ to create a fresh, evocative mood for a crisp tale of an illicit relationship, and though it may not be the steamiest song you’ll ever hear it still conveys the temptation and guilt of forbidden fruit pretty convincingly. In fact of the original material, only the more languid ‘A Good Goodbye’ raises any doubts.  It’s a decent song, and well put together, but . . . it just seems a little too familiar, formulaic maybe, suggesting our Jo needs to be careful she doesn’t repeat herself.
There are three cover versions along the way.  The readings of Joan Armatrading’s ‘All The Way From America’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Someone Like You’ are both sensitively done, and fit in well even if she goes down the respectful route rather than trying to put her own stamp on them. But then so they should, as they’re both great songs.  I could live without her rendition of Gamble and Huff’s ‘Drowning In A Sea Of Love’ though – nothing wrong with it except it feels too safe, too nice, notwithstanding the spangly guitar solo.
But the last word goes to the closing ‘Change Of Heart’, a bright and positive slice of soul with a cracking hook, Taylor dropping guitar licks in seamlessly to produce an uplifting finish.
Heavy Soul isn’t a blockbuster album, but it does add to the impressive array of soul-driven material Joanne Shaw Taylor has at her disposal. Arguably though, she could do with finding more opportunities for her guitar playing to take flight.  A bit more rock to go with the roll next time, perhaps.
 
Heavy Soul is out now on Journeyman Records, and can be ordered here.

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