Author: Nick Krenn
8/16/11 | 411mania.com | www.411mania.com | Record Review
Maria Taylor is best known as one half of dream pop duo Azure Ray. They disbanded in 2004, but the band reformed in 2010 to record a new album. Azure Ray's layoff didn't keep Taylor from making music in the interim. Much like other artists on the Saddle Creek label, Taylor has lent her talents to a variety of other projects on the label. She's also recorded three solo albums, beginning with 2005's 11:11. Overlook is Taylor's follow-up to her 2009 solo release LadyLuck and seeks to capture the spirit of the South and Taylor's home state of Alabama.Taylor started her music career in Birmingham, Alabama as a teenager in the group Little Red Rocket . Since her time travelling the states and the world as an accomplished musician, she's yearned to go back to her hometown and her family. In 2010 she did just that _ moving back and purchasing her first house. Settling back into her hometown proved to be tough writing her new album, but once she penned "Happenstance", everything fell into place. Taylor recruited local friends and family to record Overlook including her brother Macey (The Mystic Valley Band , A.A. Bondy) and Browan Lollar (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit).The result is an honestly crafted album of songs about growing older, failed relationships, and wondering what the future holds. Taylor's desire for Overlook to dip into Southern flavor is also accomplished through the country and folk flourishes that simmer in Alabama. However, Overlook isn't overwhelmed by them. Volatile punches of rock keep the music modern and interesting for Azure Ray fans. The heavier songs also give Overlook a sharper edge to cut through doubts that this is a softer singer/songwriter affair.Album opener "Masterplan" starts Overlook with a slow build of guitar and sporadic drumming while Taylor scolds a former lover over his abuse of their relationship. Those choices you did make / But can you take them back / And can you live with that! sings Taylor as the song reaches its booming middle with the drums becoming more present. Even better is the following track "Matador" with Taylor's smoky, sexy vocals, and a guitar that adds a faint, bullying presence. "Happenstance" follows next and marks a drastic change in tone compared to the previous songs, but it was written before the other tracks on the album. The slowly strummed acoustic guitar and lap steel of "Happenstance" is as entwined with Alabama as football. Taylor's lyrics reflect her life of touring and seemingly never finding time to settle down in one place.Despite lyrics written about failed relationships and growing older, Taylor never keeps things feeling too serious. The playful "Bad Idea?" sounds like it could have been performed in an old, dusty saloon. The mood of the song is more light-hearted, and Taylor's ponderings of having children too late don't come across as a frantic woman worrying about her clock running out. "In A Bad Way" is cool and controlled as Taylor sings of a former lover and how she knew it was going to end badly. She doesn't come across the victim either as she sings of the throes of affection with a younger man.Overlook only seems to falter in its originality. Songs about the perils of dating and turning older are nothing new. The album probably won't be able to maintain any staying power among other bigger indie releases still yet to release. Taylor's songs feel honest though, and her willingness to move home and bury herself within the sounds that inspired much of her career seems genuine. There have been better albums this year, and there will be more as the year comes to an end. However, Overlook is a nice, lovely distraction. The 411: Overlook is well written and performed, even if its songs aren't the most original. Taylor does accomplish her goal of capturing Southern soul within her music. However, with bigger releases still set to come out this year, the album may be Overlooked. Azure Ray and Maria Taylor fans will love it, and casual listeners may likely find it enjoyable also.