The British Todd Rundgren explores his soft-rock roots
Blue-eyed soul, currently enjoying a critical reappraisal, can be a source of immense pleasure, guilty or otherwise. It can also be an excruciating contrivance. In the late ’90s, all-round musical whizz-kid Lewis Taylor found himself pitched as the UK’s new white boy soul sensation, but while the Marvin-influenced records were startlingly strong, his heart wasn’t quite in it. Not content with being able to sing like an angel, Taylor could also toss out Prince-ly guitar licks with his hands tied behind his back, and this was something he wanted to do.
His plans for a radical change of direction, however, were too confusing for the record company, and thus shelved. Now an independent operator, Lewis can release whatever he likes on his own cunningly titled label (it’s an anagram of his name, see), and the album he had in mind back then finally emerges, re-recorded. By the demand of everyone who’s since heard the (“badly recorded”, he says) demos. Whereas his soul LPs have tended to be improvised over grooves and atmospheres, this is more crafted, the songs written on guitar or piano, the vocals layered with detail and delicacy.
The influences are clear: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Beach Boys, John Sebastian. It’s much closer to that West Coast hippie feel than are other touted ‘now’ bands like The Thrills, refusing to airbrush the follow-ons of The Eagles and America out of history. And it’s hard to believe one man is making most of these sounds. The high, multiple harmonies are exhilarating, the guitar solos eloquent. Taylor himself hears it as a British sound, but there’s as much Joe Walsh here as Clapton or?dare we say?Frampton.
And as his dazzling vocabulary swoops from AOR pomp to unplugged, organic breakdowns, the ’60s sunshine sometimes backs off to allow in more aggressive phrases. “Listen Here” has a hint of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”; “Hide Your Heart Away” could be Fifth Dimension or The Association. He can’t mute the soul, hard as he might try: The Isleys breeze in often, thank goodness.
Taylor’s versatility doesn’t make him a swift pitch, but with each release he dynamites more barriers. You could lose yourself in this.