Every once in a while I listen to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks not because I am in any kind of emotional pain but because I have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. The album helped me through tough times when I was vulnerable and alone and it is sometimes good to remember how I once felt. Much is made of the power of ‘break-up’ albums like Blood on the Tracks or Joni Mitchell’s Blue or Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen and to this illustrious list can now be added (although I’m sure that she would be humbled to) Hayley Taylor’s recent EP, Waking.
These are songs that deal with love. Nothing more and nothing less. The songs reveal a young woman who shows a clarity and strength beyond her years. Indeed, it is sometimes painful to listen to at times. Accompanied by a sparse band who play a variety of soft instruments such as fiddle and a gentle steel guitar, Taylor is quite often alone, up-front with the vocals and her guitar. This works well and allows the lyrics to take centre stage.
The record was recorded in Nebraska, the plain and cold environment perhaps further fuelling the power of her emotionally charged words. Production was by AJ Mogis who previously has worked with Bright Eyes and the Faint. She seems to be in good company.
The EP starts with ‘Orange Tree’. This song has Taylor singing simply, in an almost speaking tone. This adds to the discomfort for the listener who feels like they are listening in on an intimate conversation that could be taking place in the flat next-door. The song deals with Taylor demanding to know where she stands in her relationship.
‘What I Never Said’ is perhaps the strongest track on the CD. It certainly is the most emotionally charged of these songs. Here we have Taylor proclaiming, “Lord is this really happening to Me?” as the steel guitar wails the protagonist’s inner feelings, in a way that that instrument only really can. This truly is an amazing song. ‘This is It’ is the more upbeat of the songs on this EP. Here Taylor questions the fall out from broken relationships. ‘Raphael’ has Taylor almost mourning the loss of her lover.
“You took me to the downside,
You picked me up when I fell apart,
Oh the landslide,
You were the angel who saved me
You lost your wings, when I started to cry”
The final song is almost presented in a whistful tone. Taylor sings of the “Boy who took the bus down the west coast, for love”. Here Taylor is more reflective, looking back at the girl who gave “everything she owned, for love”. She has emerged from the EP a stronger person who knows, as the song title suggests, what ‘Really Matters Most’.
If there is one criticism of Taylor’s debut, it is that the EP is limited in scope. There is nothing in itself wrong with this. However, those seeking a range of musical and lyrical styles and influences will be disappointed. But for me it is this single focus which allows the record to become a powerful statement from a strong woman. With a little more variation and a wider range of subject matters, Hayley Taylor could well become the noughties Joni Mitchell. She is definitely an artist worth investigating and worth keeping an eye out for in the future.