Eric Taylor – Studio 10 (Blue Ruby Music, 2013)
The cover is stark, a sign from the door of a recording studio perhaps, or a club’s back entrance. The line that catches my eye is ‘no non-essential musicians’, and from this the word ‘non-essential’ stands out. Eric Taylor writes stories / songs that have at their heart characters who are either invisible to the world at large or who the people who populate that world would consider ‘non-essential’. They pass them on the street and don’t even see them – if they do, they don’t look them in the eye, or think about them or the lives they lead. They belong to another world, or to another, unseen layer of this one. It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist than to stop for a moment and consider the nature of their lives, of their very existence.
Eric’s songs take these people and force the listener to acknowledge that these ‘non-essential’ men and women are flesh and blood, living and breathing, taking life as it is handed to them and making the best they can make of it. Their pain and struggle is real. To them it’s not heroic or the stuff of which epic tales are made. In the end, the good luck, the bad luck, the pain and loss, the joy (when it can be squeezed out of life’s often bitter fruits), the resignation, the betrayals, the revenge and the consequences of decisions made and actions taken are simply steps on the road of life. There’s a matter-of-fact feel to these tales, but the listener should never make the mistake of thinking that Eric is taking those who populate these songs for granted. He doesn’t make judgments about them – if judgments are to be made, let them make it for themselves, or let the listener make them, if he or she thinks he can.
The characters don’t so much attempt to justify themselves as to simply relate the facts of their existence. The lyrics might follow a linear path, or they might present a slice of time that paints a picture or creates a mood. Eric does this so well that you can feel the cold steel of a blade pressed against your throat, or taste the fire of the whiskey, or the smell of burnt powder that follows a gunshot, or hear the muted roll of dice across a table. You’re there. You can bake in the southern heat and inhale the dust. You can feel the spring in the floorboards of a darkened honky-tonk. The cigarette smoke hanging like a haze in the room fills your lungs.
Here are stories carved from hard reality – every one is crafted with care. There’s not a ‘non-essential’ one in the bunch. These songs are not for the lazy listener, nor for the faint of heart. They’re not cut-and-dried tales with the endings tied up in a bow. Every aspect of the story is not revealed. These songs will make you think. Eric Taylor writes from a place deep inside, and the images he creates get under your skin. They can take you places. What you do with what you might learn there is up to you…but I have no doubt you’ll be richer for the experience.
And finally, to give you an idea of the power of Eric’s writing, here’s a live recording of the song ‘Bill’, written in memory of Bill Morrissey…