Rating: 3.5 stars
To take in Josh Taylor’s debut album, Carolina Trees, is to receive one of the warmest bear hugs that music can offer. Each of his songs is expertly crafted, and the album itself spans a generous range of his emotion and style while still maintaining a core artistic vision.
Taylor is one of many contemporary singer-songwriters who plants one foot firmly in the roots of artists such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young while at the same time pushing forward with his own unique voice. And Taylor’s particular voice, with its unmistakable gravelly timbre, is so imbued with a sense of honesty and earnestness that it is almost impossible not to welcome each of his songs with open arms.
Taylor is at his best, both lyrically and musically, in tender, melancholy love songs. “I’ll Find My Home” and the stunning “Until Your Love Is Mine” are particular standouts. He flexes a muscle for wordplay and rhyme in the weeping “Million Foggy Moons,” where he sings: “Well time was never really ever a true friend of mine/Stripped away my season before I felt the warm sunshine/I understand your reason though I never got your rhyme/That’s why I’m wrapped inside this weird paradigm.” Yet he saves the finest of these love songs for last, with the bittersweet lament, “Postcard for Rome,” which can be streamed below.
Like many of his heroes and influences, Taylor makes it a point to branch out of his comfort zone. He does so to considerable success on tracks like “Doctor” and “Fistful of Diamonds,” both of which contain his voice while breathing a touch of Eric Clapton into the mix. Still, you will find his most heartfelt and genuine work in the rootsy, folk-laden love songs that form the backbone of the album.
The cohesion of the collection is aided throughout by the gentle touch of producer-mixer, Will Hensley, whose dexterity with style and contrast shines most noticeably on the closing two tracks, “Fistful of Diamonds” and “Postcards of Rome.” His careful choices of instrumentation, from mandolin to pedal steel and cello, are applied with expert deliberation.
It will come as a delightful surprise to many first time listeners that Carolina Trees is Taylor’s debut album. Certainly a promise of great projects still to come.