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Hometown: Birmingham, AL
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Bio: The first time Maria Taylor's graceful voice was heard through our speakers, we knew it was love at first listen. On Azure Ray's 2001 debut, she sang with a knowledge and a weariness that made us trust and believe her words, fragile tones fragmented through soft acoustic strumming and velvety textures.
Skip forward four short years later to when Maria set off on her own for a while, resulting in the stunning solo album called 11:11. A critical smash that wrapped her now-familiar voice in everything from acoustic folk to electronic dream pop, the album established Maria as a master storyteller with a flare for perfect, harmony-soaked melodies. To follow up a stunning debut, Maria put together another glimmering collection of songs in the shape of her second solo record, Lynn Teeter Flower.
LadyLuck, Taylor's third solo effort, is about "personal growth and the change that comes with it," she says. Much of the album was written as Taylor was preparing for a move (to Los Angeles) and immediately after arriving. "This change in my life was so so needed," she says, "that, whereas lots of older songs have happy words but a sad undertone, these songs have sad words but with hopeful undertones of renewal."
Maria Taylor's Something About Knowing beckons with the opening track "Folk Song Melody," a mesmerizing acoustic-with-celestial-atmospherics composition crafted around a wordless singsong passage that's instantly familiar. "That section says everything without words and the rest of the record fills in the emotions," she says. And the emotions brimming on the album are bliss and contentment. On the title track, with a molasses flow, Maria names her blessings from the diurnal to the divine. Here she sings: "I got you/I got me/I heard the sweetest voice call me mommy/got my old 5 string/I've got everything." The music is balmy with a sweetly swaying groove, angelic backup vocals, gospel organs, and a shooting star guitar melody. The stunning "Tunnel Vision" is expansive and chiming pop with a lose-yourself-on-the-dance-floor beat.
Something About Knowing's spirit of "coming home with confidence" extends from Maria's personal and artistic peacefulness to the team she picked to surround herself with while making this album. She enlisted producer Mike Mogis, an essential creative foil on her first two records. Her brother Macey Taylor played bass on every song as well as keyboards and piano. And her old high school music pal Brad Armstrong co-wrote, played on, and recorded two tracks in his garage. "There we were back in his garage, only now we both had kids running around, it was really special," Maria says. Longtime friend and collaborator Andy LeMaster mixed these two songs. Additionally, Maria recorded the track "This Is It" with Lester Nuby, and Daniel Farris - two trusted companions she worked with on her last two records - at home in Birmingham, Alabama.
Maria Taylor has released four solo albums and an EP, and has been lauded for her collaborations with artists such as Bright Eyes, Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Moby, David Barbe (Sugar, Drive-By Truckers, Son Volt), and Crooked Fingers.
Overlook Out August 16, 2011 on Saddle Creek
Maria Taylor has been beguiling listeners since 1997, from her start in Little Red Rocket as a teenager to her time spent as half of the acclaimed duo Azure Ray to her career as a solo artist. She’s released a trio of varied, accomplished, and successful solo albums over six years – 2005’s 11:11, 2007’s Lynn Teeter Flower, 2009’s LadyLuck – and in 2010, after a six-year hiatus from Azure Ray, she reunited with Orenda Fink for the band’s fourth album, Drawing Down The Moon.
Taylor’s journey has carried her from hometown Birmingham, AL, to Athens, GA, to Omaha, NE, and to Los Angeles, CA, and on tours all over the world. Guided by an indomitable inner compass, her instincts called her home to Birmingham in early 2010. She packed her things in LA and drove southeasterly, unsure exactly why but heading back to her family and to the South, which has always greatly influenced her music.
It was surprising to Taylor then, that after buying her first house and settling in, she was unable to write any songs for an entire year. Concerned, but busy with touring and promotion around Azure Ray’s new album, she carried on. Then last December during a month-long break, she finally wrote a song – the ruminative and haunting “Happenstance” – and the floodgates opened. Taylor hid away in her bedroom for two weeks, writing and demo-ing the nine songs that now make up her lush fourth LP Overlook.
With a distinct, raw sound in mind, Taylor self-produced for the first time and called upon friend and neighbor Lester Nuby III (Verbena, Vulture Whale) to engineer Overlook. She sought to capture the sound of the South, of Alabama and its music scene, enlisting a host of local musicians to flesh out the album and lend their personalities to the songs. These contributions proved invaluable: Browan Lollar (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) handled lead guitar on all tracks, while adding acoustic and lap steel throughout; brother Macey (The Mystic Valley Band, A.A. Bondy) played bass on the entire record, adding banjo, organ, and keys; and Nuby provided his formidable drumming skills on two tracks, while Taylor herself played the remaining drum parts. Sister Kate played and sang on a couple of songs, including “Matador,” and dad Macey, Sr. played mandolin and sang on “Bad Idea?”, which was recorded completely live after only a few practices – simply seven of her close friends standing in a circle, making music. The sessions ran loose and easy, with family and friends often stopping in and spending time as she recorded. Taylor even hired LA-based but Birmingham-native Daniel Farris to mix the album, and her friend, local artist Margarette Simmons, designed Overlook’s artwork.
In addition to tracking many songs live, Taylor kept a number of her own demo tracks (drum, guitar, keyboard) – recorded in her bedroom, straight to her computer without a microphone – in the final songs; the result maintains the unguarded honesty captured in the first moments of creation.
Much of Overlook is about the searching and uncertainties that come with growing up and growing older. The songs vary in sound from alluringly bold and immediate, and softer contemplation. “Masterplan” is the taut, simmering intro to the album’s richness – all thundering drums, jangly guitar, and soaring keys – as Taylor’s evocative vocals haunt like a warning bell. “Matador” then shifts gears to a sultry, lusciously modern take on ‘60s pop strut unlike anything she’s written before. Relationship-gone-sour tale “In A Bad Way” follows later in the album and shares a similarly seductive, but looser, groove. The old-time shuffle of “Bad Idea?” could have been heard in a 1920s speakeasy, while the sunny guitars of “This Could Take A Lifetime” belie the dark and longing ache found within the song’s bedrock. All through Overlook, Taylor’s voice is illuminating, drawing listeners in with its warm and resolute yet vulnerable grace.
Taylor will spend the late spring on the road in support of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
Label page: http://saddle-creek.com/mariataylor/