Maria Taylor has been beguiling listeners since 1997, from her start in Little Red Rocket as a teenager to her time spent as half of the acclaimed duo Azure Ray to her career as a solo artist. She's released a trio of varied, accomplished, and successful solo albums over six years - 2005's 11:11, 2007's Lynn Teeter Flower, 2009's LadyLuck - and in 2010, after a six-year hiatus from Azure Ray, she reunited with Orenda Fink for the band's fourth album, Drawing Down The Moon.
Taylor's journey has carried her from hometown Birmingham, AL, to Athens, GA, to Omaha, NE, and to Los Angeles, CA, and on tours all over the world. Guided by an indomitable inner compass, her instincts called her home to Birmingham in early 2010. She packed her things in LA and drove southeasterly, unsure exactly why but heading back to her family and to the South, which has always greatly influenced her music.
It was surprising to Taylor then, that after buying her first house and settling in, she was unable to write any songs for an entire year. Concerned, but busy with touring and promotion around Azure Ray's new album, she carried on. Then last December during a month-long break, she finally wrote a song - the ruminative and haunting "Happenstance" - and the floodgates opened. Taylor hid away in her bedroom for two weeks, writing and demo-ing the nine songs that now make up her lush fourth LP Overlook.
With a distinct, raw sound in mind, Taylor self-produced for the first time and called upon friend and neighbor Lester Nuby III (Verbena, Vulture Whale) to engineer Overlook. She sought to capture the sound of the South, of Alabama and its music scene, enlisting a host of local musicians to flesh out the album and lend their personalities to the songs. These contributions proved invaluable: Browan Lollar (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) handled lead guitar on all tracks, while adding acoustic and lap steel throughout; brother Macey (The Mystic Valley Band, A.A. Bondy) played bass on the entire record, adding banjo, organ, and keys; and Nuby provided his formidable drumming skills on two tracks, while Taylor herself played the remaining drum parts. Sister Kate played and sang on a couple of songs, including "Matador," and dad Macey, Sr. played mandolin and sang on "Bad Idea?", which was recorded completely live after only a few practices - simply seven of her close friends standing in a circle, making music. The sessions ran loose and easy, with family and friends often stopping in and spending time as she recorded. Taylor even hired LA-based but Birmingham-native Daniel Farris to mix the album, and her friend, local artist Margarette Simmons, designed Overlook's artwork.
In addition to tracking many songs live, Taylor kept a number of her own demo tracks (drum, guitar, keyboard) - recorded in her bedroom, straight to her computer without a microphone - in the final songs; the result maintains the unguarded honesty captured in the first moments of creation.
Much of Overlook is about the searching and uncertainties that come with growing up and growing older. The songs vary in sound from alluringly bold and immediate, and softer contemplation. "Masterplan" is the taut, simmering intro to the album's richness - all thundering drums, jangly guitar, and soaring keys - as Taylor's evocative vocals haunt like a warning bell. "Matador" then shifts gears to a sultry, lusciously modern take on '60s pop strut unlike anything she's written before. Relationship-gone-sour tale "In A Bad Way" follows later in the album and shares a similarly seductive, but looser, groove. The old-time shuffle of "Bad Idea?" could have been heard in a 1920s speakeasy, while the sunny guitars of "This Could Take A Lifetime" belie the dark and longing ache found within the song's bedrock. All through Overlook, Taylor's voice is illuminating, drawing listeners in with its warm and resolute yet vulnerable grace.
July 17, 2012
Azure Ray’s new album, As Above So Below, is now available for pre-order in the online store.
The first track, “Scattered Like Leaves”, premiered today on Stereogum.