by Tatiana Ryckman
I think I would have cried anyway when I listened to Maria Taylor’s new album, Overlook, even if I hadn’t been operating on three hours of sleep and squeezed like a pimple between two heavy men who smelled like vodka and morning breath on a flight to Moscow.
Maria Taylor’s fourth LP (which dropped yesterday on Saddle Creek Records) combines the elements we’ve always loved about her music — varied and poignant lyrics, bright harmonies, dark moments, unobtrusive but totally enjoyable sounds — with some new influences. The album is clearly a product of Taylor’s recent move back to the South, of her facing growing up and older. Much in the same way 11:11 and Lynn Teeter Flower had a tasteful electronic influence, Overlook sneaks southern soul and swagger into the songs. On some tracks one can almost detect a light twang working its way into Taylor’s pronunciation. Like on “This Could Take a Life Time.”
But be warned — do not listen to “This Could Take a Life Time,” if you are pining or generally feeling weepy. Taylor does not beat around the bush. Her opening lines, “I’ve been waiting at the Greyhound station / I’ve been tryin’ to find someone like you, but I never do” are so pleading and open that you feel like you just got dumped and need to pull over and have a good cry and maybe start smoking again, and you should probably call your mom. The song is not just sad, though, it’s also very good. There’s a quality to the song that seems reminiscent of the early Saddle Creek lineup, really fantastic music that happens to bum you out sometimes.
It’s what made me want to move to Nebraska in the first place.
“Matador,” is possibly my favorite song on the album. An awesome blend of classic Taylor harmonies and interesting new instrumentation that breaks into — you’d never guess — an electric guitar solo. That anyone could rhyme “matador,” “door,” and “surrender,” and pull it off is a wonder in and of itself. The song is emotionally all over the map without feeling bi-polar. The chorus has an almost tribal rhythm while the verses dip into a dreamy sort of lullaby.
One change that feels like an aesthetic departure from her previous records is sense of lightness throughout the entire album. The heavy control that one hears in songs like “A Good Start” from Lynn Teeter Flower, or “Nature Song” on 11:11 doesn’t surface on Overlook. “Happenstance,” for example, has a similar stripped-down instrumentation and meandering pace, but the vocals maintain the airy lightness of the rest of the album. The song is a solid two minutes and 44 seconds long but feels too short every time. The slow strum of guitar and the lonely echo of Taylor’s voice so completely immerses the listener in the “cold night in Alabama,” that Taylor sings about, that even with a mid-August release one can’t but wonder if maybe it is a little chilly. As that pivotal line, “On this cold night in Alabama,” repeats and fades, there is an authentic sense of melancholy and introspection that seems stolen from the moment and trapped in the song.
The accompaniment on “Bad Idea” is delightfully disarming and the lyrics brilliantly self aware. If the album’s overarching theme is about the uncertainties of growing older, “Bad Idea?” meets those concerns head-on.
Taylor ages herself throughout the song, asking, “What if I turn 49 with no husband in mind? / Well I guess there’s just a glitch in my design.” “Bad Idea?” gives the listener the impression that Maria Taylor is someone to whom art comes, not the other way around (especially since she sings, “Is it a bad idea? / Sleep all day until the afternoon.” This song is a great example of the collaborative aspect of the album (it takes a village to make a record, I guess). Despite being recorded in her Alabama bedroom with a slew of other local musicians and family members, the song, like the album, doesn’t feel as if there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Instrumentally, “Bad Idea” mirrors the lazy-Sunday lyrics, and the up-beat swing gives the sense of being a cartoon and napping in dappled sunlight as you float sleepily down stream in a pastel row boat.
Tatiana Ryckman is looking forward to other end of a 16 hour drive to Lincoln. Everything in Texas is dead — it's time for a trip to the good life. Leave glowing praise here, and send all other comments to Tatiana.Ryckman@gmail.com.