Album Review

Ripe & Gritty Blues Guitar, Country Grooves & Rock From An Exceptional Singer-Guitarist

Pam Taylor - Steal Your Heart

Pam Taylor B&W Live/Photo: Folkert Heilema //Color Image/Photo: Garin Hyde @ Hydeography //CD Photography: Fray House & Rock Hill

An album of snarling rockers, clear lyrical pronunciation, an interesting powerful vocal similar to Pat Benatar at times but more strongly inclined toward 1994’s masterful Karen Lawrence (“Cadillac Blues” – live on YouTube), Genya Ravan (Ten Wheel Drive – “Morning Much Better”) and somewhat the late Candy Givens’ of Zephyr on the incredible (“Sail On” and “Sold My Heart”).

The powerfully ripe bluesy guitar runs with sharp lead guitar a girl. Oh yeah...but that's not a novelty anymore. There are many great female guitarists today. But Pam Taylor is an exceptional guitarist because her strings sing...and cry. 

But if you're not a guitar aficionado -- the voice will pull you in and that's for certain. Pam Taylor plays the lead guitar on this fine expressive album with lots of diversification and imaginative takes. 

On “Steal Your Heart,” there’s plenty of 60’s and 70’s style stretches of notes matched only by the clarity of Pam’s crystalline and emotive vocals. Her voice – while not so much gritty like a Melissa Ethridge or Karen Dalton -- does have character and embodies the down and dirty. Quite a pleasurable listen.

Just as Pam completes two opening rockers she slides into Etta James’ inspired territory with an intense blues with all the vinegar that Etta was known for. Pam, however, is an artist capable of injecting her own potent ingredients into every song. Nice finger snapping and her voice -- slinky, sexy, silky and spirited on “It Ain’t Right.”

Robert Johnson’s bass snakes along with deep notes and Jim Brock’s drums wind around like Ron Tutt’s drums did for Elvis Presley on the live “Fever,” from the “Aloha from Hawaii” album. The tune is just so durable and effective. The inflection, phrasing, and tone in Pam Taylor’s voice is rare in a performer today. This is why she reminds me more of Karen Lawrence who is a goddess of nuclear-powered vocals. Pam, like Karen -- doesn’t just sing the words she knows where the important words are – and that’s the key to a great vocalist.

Pam then strides into “Already Alright,” and draws out its blue colors slow and clean. Her guitar playing contains the ammunition that keeps each track interesting. She accentuates exactly where the tune needs energy and it’s a work of blues artistry.

If Pam isn’t acknowledged for her vocal style her guitar playing is enough to leave a mark. She has an expressive touch around her strings and the guitar performance never upstages anyone. Her backup band is impeccable. Many vintage blues tunes are stripped down simplistic heart worn tales with no overblown attempts to impress. Pam Taylor’s blues are arranged and what's surprising is this: the songs don’t lose any of the pain, angst, and emotion required to qualify as a true blues song.

Old style blues and crisp drums open “Mountain.” A very John Haitt, Jon Dee Graham, and Steve Earle type embodiment. Posted here is an acoustic live version of this song.

That delightful voice walks a tightrope of melody and Pam's voice hits notes seamlessly. The blues isn’t supposed to sound this clean and maintain its brushed wool feel – but it does. And it all works surprisingly to her benefit. There is nothing lame in her lyrics, nothing homogenized. Instead of muddy it's streamlined but like a panther. Her vocal theatrics are sharp and exhilarating as Karen Lawrence (check Karen on 1994’s “Once Again,” “Bring It Home” and “Don’t Break It Up”) for examples of incredible vocals (on YouTube).

With “Ordinary,” Pam’s blues holds but in a more Amy Winehouse style. Not an imitation of Winehouse – but, in keeping with the respectable rich style that Winehouse developed into an attractive performance. And that intensity, tone and vocal artistry is here coming from Pam Taylor’s throat. Impressive to say the least.

It maintains a 50’s style guitar approach and girl group panache. Specifically, the non-hits of The Shangri-Las – Mary Weiss (“I Can Never Go Home Anymore,” “The Boy,” “Love You More Than Yesterday,” & “Dressed in Black”). Songs Amy had said she thrived on. This Pam Taylor is enjoyable as well.  

The great tracks continue to flow with maturity: track seven “The Rain Song,” is also in the Winehouse tradition but a bit with a jazzier piano, guitar, and deep slow slicing snare drum. It’s all punctuated brilliantly in a retro manner but oh so modern as well. Pam is effective. You can hear as she sings that she has the momentum held tight in her golden tonsils. Wonderful song.

From the Winehouse world, rockers and blues Pam segues into a worthy country groove: “Make You Mine,” -- and here she has all the necessary female vocal grit – think Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee. This is constructed excellently. This is what the new century country song should sound like. It's not candy coated -- it's not drenched in a vocal twang, it just has that cool rendering of a good country song. It has lite touches of Robert Johnson’s acoustic guitar and banjo, some violin, mandolin, and Pam’s ever-present lead guitar. Is she an effective country singer? Yes, she is. Her vocal gymnastics are so good the song is worth a generous listen.

The country flavor continues with “Tangled Up,” and the band sounds pumped. Nothing is over processed or intrusive in this recording. No showboating. It’s down to earth country perfection. Taylor’s vocal goes from deep to high and it’s a singing lesson in how to sing country songs using your voice as an instrument and not as an additive.

A darker guitar figure starts a remarkable track: “Witch’s Ball.” This features Pam’s voice in a more noirish vein. Gothic country? Gypsy violin strains and surreal vocals. This is the song that grabbed my ear the tightest because it didn't sound like anything in country music today. Shealee Cousino’s violin saws with gargoyle designs and anchors the mystery as bassist Robert Johnson offers both bass and a demon vocal. All the musicians add their touch of dark stairs and cobwebs. This one’s intense.

No sooner do we depart the darkness Pam plays a sprightly guitar intro into “Nirvana,” and its old-style approach brings a friendlier Pam Taylor vocal to the ears and with more vocal trampolines and a ukulele. This is strictly for old-timers who want their music danceable even if it's under gothic arches. 

Sometimes being too diversified can alienate an audience. But each song, no matter how different, has the firm stamp of style from South Carolina’s Pam Taylor. This artist is compelling, interesting and on this LP – no last gasps of an old tradition. Here -- it's all potent.

All 12-songs were written and produced by Pam Taylor and recorded in the Carolinas (North and South). The album art was designed by Brad Pope at PopeArt. It’s a full-color die-cut four panel with an intriguing image of a pale surreal Pam with lipstick and shades pursing her lips with a “you gotta hear this album” look. Yes…you gotta hear it.



Music Samples:

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.

John Apice / No Depression / September 2017