Lewis Taylor Re-ducks

Those of you with only short-term memory faculties working will note my last blog was about a genius psychedelic neo-soul one-man-band type by the name of Lewis Taylor.

Well, that blog immediately started some things in motion as far as gathering info on this eccentric artist. Within one day after publishing the blog here I heard from the owners of Hacktone Records concerning what I had written regarding them and their artist.

First off, it seems the kind but obviously jealous folks at Shout! Factory had lied to me regarding the status of the Hacktone label. It is, in fact, NOT defunct but has simply changed distributors and has chosen not to work with the fine, fibbing folks at Shout! Factory any more.

Secondly, they report Lewis Taylor has recovered from the nodes on his vocal cords and continues to work on new music for eventual release. While it is too late to promote the US release of the album Stoned (which is four years old anyway), it does mean new material will be released eventually from Taylor.

The label also informed me that, in the meantime, another Lewis Taylor album will be released in early 2007. Titled The Lost Album, it is about a decade old, and was recorded between Taylor’s first and second albums on Island but has never been released.

Seems that Taylor’s disgust at Island Records for not knowing how to promote him lead Taylor to go into the studio and record an album totally removed from the rich, swirling soul music of his first Island record. Instead of sweet soul, Taylor recorded some bristling rock music modeled more after Fleetwood Mac than Al Green. After laying the tracks down and working all of the anger out of his system, Taylor decided to shelve the tracks and instead went back to preparing for another Island album full of his trademark psychedelic soul music.

Now that he is long removed from his Island experience, Taylor has been slowly releasing these tracks. First as a freebie passed out at his gigs and then for sale strictly at his website. Now, the fellas at Hacktone are releasing the record to the world. Again, it seems to be a one-man-band affair and promises a new look at a Taylor so few have heard regardless.

Though newer music would be better than another old album, I am happy to be getting anything at all from this reclusive artist. Hacktone reports that Lewis just hates to tour so whatever albums we get are all we are going to get from Taylor so if we want to experience his genius, we have to take what he and his label give us.

So I will. And I will be happy about it.

Getting to hear the genius will be enough.

When the album comes out, expect a review here. Please pick it up regardless, as it will no doubt blow your mind like Stoned did to me.

The Music Nerd knows………..

Lewis Taylor, Soldier, Spy

So, just this past Sunday after Thanksgiving, I was running around Charlotte killing time, running errands and checking out the local CD shops along the way and I decided to check out a little shop I usually don’t go into too often.

Truth is, I don’t go into this shop too often because they don’t really get anything cool too often. It is the weakest location of a local 3 store chain and I go to the other two stores in the chain much more because the locations are better and the results are usually better; in other words, at the other stores I can find stuff I actually want.

But, I am nearby this bastard third location and I suck it up and decide to go in, totally realizing I probably won’t find anything worth buying. I search for a little while, thinking I am going to prove myself a visionary by totally striking out so far. I then wander towards the R&B section knowing if I don’t find anything there, I will be buying nada from this joint. Upon perusal of this section, I notice a little oddity: an album called “Stoned” by Lewis Taylor.

Not recognizing the guy’s name, I pick it up to check out the liner notes to see if I can recognize some of the players’ and producers’ names. Well, the liner notes are really brief and I only recognize some obscure record industry names in the Thank You’s but I am intrigued because it seems the guy is a one-man band in that he plays everything himself and produced the CD.

Well, I love that kind of shit. Good or bad, I am always curious to hear what a person can do with his musical talent when he tries to do it all himself. So, I wander over to the listening station and pop this CD in and I am floored! Soul in the best of the old (Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Prince) and new (D’Angelo) traditions with plenty of psychedelic rock touches as well to spice it up.

Needless to say, I am THRILLED with my find and before I listen to too much and ruin it for myself, I take it out of the listening station, rush to the register, pay for the shiny disc and commence to take it home.
As soon as I get home, I pop that thing in the CD player and start to do some research on the album while Lewis Taylor’s sweet psychedelic soul music washes over my ears and melts my brain.

Seems the album came out on the Hacktone label in 2005 and was distributed by Shout! Factory. A check of the Shout! Factory website leads to nothing so I next go to my favorite music research portal, Allmusic.com!

Soon I learn Lewis Taylor is an English musician who first found some measure of fame in the mid ’80’s as a member of the re-united Edgar Broughton Band, playing guitar with the group. After leaving, he started a psychedelic combo called Captain Jack and released two albums with them. He then vanished for almost a decade before landing a deal with Island Records in ’96 on the strength of a demo by Taylor that made the Island suits think they had found the second-coming of Al Green, only with multi-instrumental-playing capabilities. He made two psychedelic neo-soul records for Island and was dropped as both flopped. Seems the suits loved him but didn’t have the brains to market him correctly. I guess white Englishmen aren’t allowed to make modern, yet classic-sounding soul records.

Discouraged, Taylor decided to release albums on his own label and has put out about four or five depending on whether you think homemade CDs given out at gigs count as releases.

The album I found, Stoned, is actually the second record he released on his own (it came out originally in 2002) but the first record of Taylor’s to be released in the US. Seems the owners of Hacktone felt the record had sank unjustly and wanted to give it a chance in the States. Sadly, it sank in the States without a trace as well. Seems the album was getting a good push in late 2005 but shortly after Taylor appeared on Conan he developed nodules on his throat and couldn’t tour the US, so it was Conan and out.

Now, in late 2006, the label Hacktone is defunct and Taylor is still obscure, the album now languishing in bargain bins everywhere. This is an artist who has been trumpeted by D’Angelo, Paul Weller, Elton John, Mary J. Blige and a bunch of others but still remains in the shadows.

If you are into soul, neo-soul, R&B or whatever the fuck they are calling it these days, you need to check this album out. A swirling mass of future funk that channels Johnny Guitar Watson, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix at the same time and with vocals as sweet as Prince’s falsetto, Taylor sings some of the most soulful, sensual psychedelic R&B music I have heard in a long time. I can’t truly label it derivative or new but it does combine both the past, present and future in a way that will make your ass shake, your knees buckle and your heart melt. Most adept at guitar, the man shows a facility for any instrument he touches and shows an affinity for crafting elegant tapestries of music while still finding the funk and psyche-swirling it up.

Needless to say I am going to spend a lot of time over the next week or so tracking down everything else this guy’s ever done. To be as old as he is (mid ’40’s) with over twenty years of music biz experience and have that talent vocally and instrumentally and still be unknown is a fucking injustice. Please search this album out if you can and check it out. I know you won’t be sorry.

The Music Nerd knows…..that Lewis Taylor should be more fucking famous than Justin Timberbitch….

Bless My Soul

As I sit here, pondering what ponderers usually ponder and listening to the radio in a rare moment of non-CD music enjoyment, I have discovered something really cool: soul music is coming back. Now, you might say to yourself, “That Nerd’s crazy. Soul music never left.” and you’d be right. But, it did vanish for a long time as rap, techno and other forms of synthesized dance music took over.

Over the past few years, however, there has been quite a renaissance of what can only be called The Funk.

I first felt soul was coming back when I heard Joss Stone’s first album. To hear a British teenager sing with such soul made me feel there was something bubbling underground I hadn’t heard about yet. That soul queen Betty Wright produced Stone’s album – that she would even be given a chance to do that for an artist on a major label – made the feeling intensify. Of course, there is a big Northern soul movement in the UK – Northern meaning US-based soul stars, usually obscure at that – but there has been a Northern soul scene in Britain since the early ’70’s so I knew that wasn’t it.

After the success of Stone came a lot of career resurrections for various soul heavyweights of the past: Wright as a hit producer, Al Green reunited with Willie Mitchell for two great CDs, Solomon Burke put out a marvelous CD on Anti produced by T-Bopne Burnett, Bettye Lavette put out two great CDs, the late Eddie Hinton has been rediscovered, obscure soul titan Howard Tate was found and has had albums put out, Soul group Black Merda has been making great new music, Don Covay released a fine disc and many more. All this has happened since the turn of the millenium.

New artists have been plying the soul trade as well, aiming for Sam Cooke most of the time. Earl Thomas, James Hunter, Ellis Hooks have all been cast as Cooke-alikes – aiming for the suaveness and retor sounds Cooke made famous.

There have also been a plethora of archive releases from new labels specializing in vintage soul. Labels like The Numero Group, Ubiquity, Light In The Attic and many others. Rappers have even gotten into the soul game including Madlib with his Stone’s Throw label, specializing in modern variations of classic soul grooves. Not to mention the blogs and websites galore dedicated to the music.

It seems a new day is dawning in the world of soul and I couldn’t be happier about it. Once again music with heart, soul and meaning is rising to the forefront and I couldn’t be happier.

And as usual, you’ll be reading about the best of it in my blog.

How is your soul?

The Music Nerd knows…..

It’s Gotta Have A Hooks

As I sit here still suffering from computer woes, I have to tell you about a great little CD I heard a few weeks ago by the young soul artist Ellis Hooks.

It’s called Godson of Soul and it came out on the Evidence label last year. I ran into it a few weeks ago during one of my frequent record store CD hunting expeditions and it quickly became one of my favorite CDs.

Hooks is a relatively young (late 20s) Southern born gentleman who has the uncanny ability to channel Sam Cooke and Al Green whenever he wants to. That’s right: he plays vintage soul of the highest order but does it in-the-now, baby. This ain’t old sessions from an unknown found and released – this is the freshy fresh done with the old school flava!

Old rock hand and (I am sure) friend of co-blogger Gary Pig Gold (yes, Gary – Intercourse is what I am talking about – the album, that is!) Jon Tiven and his wife Sally have produced all of Hooks’ albums including this one and done an excellent job of capturing the old Stax and Hi Records’ sounds. Tiven himself is worth a few columns and his soul tributes on Razor and Tie featuring Gary Pig (among many others) paying props to Don Covay and Arthur Alexander are delightful.

But Hooks is what I am writing about today. By the way, search out his other three records. Most are on Evidence but I believe his debut from 1993 is out only as an import. I have searched them out in the past few weeks and they are all equally great.

To see a new artist go after the old sound and be unashamed about it is refreshing and wonderful as hell. Artists like Hooks and Joss Stone are giving me faith in the music business again. A bonus with Hooks is he can write some hellacious lyrics and with his good looks and talents there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to put the puzzle together and hit it really, really big. I believe he just needs an “in” right now – to do some work or a duet with some established artist on a “big” album. He could do it on his own, but let’s face it – he’s fighting all of the scum in the music business.

If you are a fan of old soul like Green and Cooke and would like to hear what they did done on a contemporary level without all of the Michael McDonald/Taylor Hicks/Michael Bolton cheesiness, check out Ellis Hooks – you won’t be sorry.

The Music Nerd Knows……..

Look at Howard Tate Run, Run

Ever since the millenium rolled around it seems the music gods pick one old soul star from the ’60’s or ’70’s to resurrect each year. They come complete with accolades and shiny new albums sounding as much like their vintage selves as they possibly can.

Think about it: Since the millenium, Betty Wright has resurrected herself as a producer and songwriter for the young, nubile soul star Joss Stone, helping Stone out for her two albums to date. Al Green reunited with his old producer Willie Mitchell and put out two collections of songs sounding almost exactly like his best Hi Records work (one of which, I Can’t Stop, is a modern-day classic). Solomon Burke put out the almost-perfect album Don’t Give Up On Me a few years ago on Epitaph subsidiary Anti and got some of the best reviews of his career. Under-appreciated soulwoman Bettye Lavette has turned out a few fantastic albums (the latest and best of which also released on Anti) in the last couple of years which have garnered tons and tons of praise (which they completely deserve, by the way) and uber-obscure cult singer Howard Tate has re-appeared out of nowhere to reclaim his career. A career he vanished from in the mid-70’s.

Out of all of these re-appearances and resurrections, Tate has, by far, the more interesting story. In the ’60’s Tate had sung gospel and had a stint as vocalist for organist Bill Doggett before branching out on his own. Together with legendary producer/songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, Tate recorded some moderately successful singles and albums for Verve, Lloyd Price’s Turntable label and, finally Atlantic Records. By 1974, however, Tate had grown tired of his moderate success and simply vanished off of the face of the earth, at least as far as his musical career went.

Unlike enigmatic soulman Bill Withers who simply quit the biz and went back to carpentry when his hits dried up, Tate’s disappearance had to do with something more sinister than just a “retirement”. Tate’s problems had to do with substance abuse. For a long while, almost fifteen years, Tate was homeless, living on the streets, unrecognizable to the very public who had cheered him just a few years before. Thankfully, he eventually was helped, brought to a mission and straightened out his life. When he was rediscovered a few years back (by a soul DJ who got sick of people asking him what happened to Tate and decided to go and find him himself) Tate had turned his life around and was a counseler for the addicted.

Though Tate hadn’t sung in public for many years, he was soon reunited with Ragovoy for a new record that came out in 2003, the very good and aptly titled Rediscovered. Last year, Tate released one hell of a live record called Get It While You Can. Please search it out. It is one of the best live documents of a soul singer I have heard in years. Though it does lack a defining “go crazy crescendo”, it is very solid throughout and contains all of Tate’s hits like Look At Granny Run Run, Ain’t Nobody Home, Try A Little Bit Harder and Get It While You Can.

Redemption is always great to experience, whether it be your own or watching someone else who really deserves it get some. Howard Tate deserves all the accolades he can acquire in the time he has left (hopefully lots) and I hope he records a lot more and I hope you go out and try to hear some of his music because if you like classic soul, you’ll love Howard Tate. Check out his old stuff too. It’s hard to find but it’s all been reissued so just look for it.

Are you smart enough to Get It While You Can?

The Music Nerd knows……..