Reviews

Overlook

Author: Matt Ashare
9/7/11 | Lynchburg Burg | www.the-burg.com | Live Show Preview
The perennial drought of "big" new releases, which has seemed particularly acute over the past couple of months, ended last week, courtesy of "I'm With You," the first new Warner Bros. blockbuster from those sock-hopping, bass-popping californicators in Red Hot Chili Peppers. Regrettably, despite my best intentions and producer Rick Rubin's proven track record when it comes to reviving waning careers, I just can't seem to muster the enthusiasm to care one way or another about what the silly Chili Peppers are up to these days. My bad, I suppose. Instead, I've been finding myself increasingly drawn to "Overlook," a gorgeous "little" album by sultry-voiced singer/songwriter Maria Taylor. Perhaps best known as the better half of the harmonizing indie-folk duo Azure Ray, a project she started with her Alabama School of Arts pal Orenda Fink after the two had a quick brush with mainstream success straight-outta-high-school in the late '90s with the Geffen-signed, Veruca Salt-style outfit Little Red Rocket, Taylor began recording and performing as a solo artist six years ago. By that time, Azure Ray had relocated from Athens, Georgia to Omaha, Nebraska, where the group became an integral part of the teeming scene surrounding Saddle Creek Records ? a scene dominated by Conor Oberst and his shape-shifting "band" Bright Eyes. Taylor became one of the dozens of guests Oberst tapped into for Bright Eyes recordings and he later returned the favor on one of her solo albums. (The two were also rather notoriously linked romantically for a time.) Meanwhile, both Taylor and Fink were collaborating with singer/songwriter Andy LeMaster in the Saddle Creek group Now It's Overhead up through '07. Oh, and as if those aren't enough biographical tidbits to keep straight, Azure Ray has woven a somewhat twisted web of its own: in 2004 the group went on hiatus, only to regroup to record an album of new material, "Drawing Down the Moon," late last year. If there's a point to all this ? and I'm fairly certain there is ? it's that Taylor had evolved into far more than just a strum-'n'-sing folkster long before setting to work on her first solo album, 2005's "11:11." (In fact, I recall seeing her play drums on a Bright Eyes tour a little less than a decade ago.) The beguiling intimacy of her voice does lend itself particularly well to spare acoustic guitar numbers, but that hasn't stopped her from employing it equally effectively as she's branched out into programmed dance-pop, full-on electric band rock, and even, on 2007's "Lynn Teeter Flower," a little indie/hip-hop collaboration. In keeping with that general approach, the new "Overlook" is as musically adventurous as any of her previous four discs without being overly or self-consciously eclectic. Taylor resettled in her native Birmingham before she wrote or recorded any of the album's nine tracks and you get the sense that the change in venue, not to mention a whole new cast of supporting players, had more than just a subtle impact on the sound and feel of "Overlook." The disc opens on an explosive, very rockist note with "Masterplan," a track that finds Taylor sparring in call-and-response fashion with hammering drum fills and strumming softly on her guitar for almost two-and-a-half minutes before producer/drummer Lester Nuby II locks into a steady backbeat, and brothers Browan and Macey Lollar enter the fray on guitar and bass respectively. Taylor throws a little synth solo into "Masterplan" for good measure, and yet somehow it all makes perfect sense ? not a wasted note or cymbal crash. Elsewhere, a skewed guitar line gives way to a dreamy pop chorus with Taylor proclaiming, "He was the chosen son/He was the chosen one/The pitiful deceit has just begun/I was the lucky one/I was the lucky one" ? just the kind of line that's likely to have indie kids thinking she's still drawing on her break-up with Oberst for inspiration. Before the track ends, we're treated to nice little marimba solo and a noisy slide-guitar salvo from Browan. Taylor returns to her acoustic roots for the short, bittersweet "Happenstance," a lullaby of sorts about a cold and lonely night in Alabama. But it's the southern accents that begin to come out on the jaunty, playful, mandolin-laced "Bad Idea?," and on the lightly countrified "This Could Be a Lifetime," which opens with Taylor "waiting at the Greyhound station. . . trying to change her pattern so I could love someone like you," that distinguish "Overlook" from her previous albums. As far as I can tell, there's nothing particularly obscure, "difficult," or anything less than accessible here. Which only leads me to wonder why a Maria Taylor disc can't be considered a "big" release? Oh well, for now we'll just let the Chili Peppers hold down that end of things.
Overlook

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