I've been reading about Lewis Taylor for years in the pages of British music mags MOJO and Q. Journalists frothing at the mouth, comparing him to Stevie and Marvin. Pop stars like Bowie and Elton swearing that Taylor was the best thing they'd heard in ages (Elton even used the phrase "undiscovered genius"). But for whatever reason, Taylor's records never got a domestic release until now.
Stoned, his U.S. debut, an expanded version of his third album, features twelve songs written and performed entirely by Taylor, plus two choice covers. So, does he live up to the tower of accolades? Well, he's not quite Stevie or Marvin (is it even fair to compare anyone to those two?), but there is definitely something special going on here.
First time through, I was dazzled by the production and the vocals. On tracks like "Positively Beautiful," "When Will I Ever Learn" and "Back Together," Taylor layers his voice, creating elaborate collages, with sexy falsettos darting through masses of oohs and aahs. It's definitely something he learned from 70s-era Marvin (I'd wager that Taylor has worn out his copy of Here, My Dear), but he brings his own harmonic sense to it. There are even jazzy touches, a la Swingle Singers, here and there. No doubt about it, this guy has got a set of killer pipes.
It took a second and third listen for the songs to grab me, but there are some beauties here. Especially memorable are "Shame" and "Til The Mornin' Light" (the intro on this is the coolest thing I've heard this month). Delicate, funky, with supple melodies elevated by interesting chord progressions, arranged in surprising and fresh ways. "Lovin U More" and "Throw Me A Line" both sound like they could catch on big at pop radio.
His take on the Stylistics' "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)" is lovely, but it does subtly point up the shortcomings in his own material. I don't mean to sound like the crusty uncle, but they really don't write 'em like they used to. I'm always hoping to hear new R & B songs that actually measure up to the best of Bell & Creed and Gamble & Huff, rather than just sampling them wholesale.
But Taylor is miles ahead of the modern soul acts who are getting much more attention with less talent.
I'm rooting for Lewis Taylor to make an Innervisions or Let's Get It On. He just might have it in him. • Bill DeMain