Santa Cruz, California, native Taylor Rae’s debut album, Mad Twenties, unfolds cinematically, evolving dreamily as it traverses an emotional landscape littered with the shards of a broken relationship. Rae’s edgy vocals slide easily from tender to tough, from gentle whisper on folk ballads to soaring shouts on the blues and blues rock striders. She’s joined on the album by Dave Francis on bass, Wayne Killius on drums, David Flint on guitar and mandolin, and Chris Nole on piano and keys.
Mad Twenties opens meditatively with the airy jazz of “Window,” on which echoing harmonies float dreamily on beds of shimmering keys and darting guitar lines; there’s a spacy, psychedelic vibe to the song, reminiscent of Nat Adderley’s spiraling free jazz on Soul Zodiac. Propelled by screaming guitars and B3, “Home on the Road” careens down a rocking straightaway as it celebrates living on the open road. Snatches of Marvin Gaye’s soul jazz “Distant Lover” flow under the Kacey Musgraves-esque spacious ode to repairing relationships in “Fixer Upper,” while the punchy “Never Gonna Do” funks along a minor chord jump blues vibe.
The raucous rocker “Just Be” opens with a barrelhouse piano roll over which Rae lays down her powerful and fierce lead vocals; Miranda Lambert meets Chi Coltrane meets Marcia Ball on this rousing affirmation of living life in the moment, and every player gets a chance to stretch out on this standout song.
“Forgiveness” opens gently but blossoms into a Led Zeppelin-like rock ballad, with Rae’s commanding vocals spiraling into the stratosphere over Flint’s piercing lead guitar lines. The bright pop of “Wait and See” affirms the singer’s embrace of her independence while still holding out a little hope that maybe something will work out with a former lover. The album ends with “Taking Space,” which opens with another Zeppelin-like guitar phrase as Rae achingly sings her whispery jazz lead vocals, reminiscent of Minnie Ripperton.
Mad Twenties introduces a singer fully in command of her vocal gifts and a songwriter who enfolds her lyric sensibility in haunting musical sketches.