Maria Taylor | Lynn Teeter Flower (Saddle Creek)

cd_taylorThe nice balance between the clean guitars and Zac Young's cool drumming on "No Stars" serves as a perfect setting for Taylor's soft, organically pure voice.





Maria Taylor sure makes it seem easy. She has that ability, unattainable for most, of making her personal, tightly crafted compositions sound like she just spun 'em into existence during one inspired night's effort, letting her smooth voice and simple chordings deliver something altogether deeper to your ears. It helps that Taylor has talented friends to flesh out her sound when needed. Here, that means fellow Now It's Overhead member Andy LeMaster (who also appeared on 2005's 11:11) on guitars, mellotron ("Smile and Wave"), and backing vocals; Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst on the catchy "Ballad of Sean Foley"; Spoon's drummer Jim Eno kit-sitting on a couple of strong tracks; and Maria's brother and sister, Macey and Kate, helping out on all sorts of instruments.

It would be hard to go wrong with that sort of roster, and Taylor doesn't, turning in a worthy follow-up to her acclaimed debut. What stands out most is Taylor's ability to sound focused and vulnerable, while also delivering sophisticated songcraft throughout. The nice balance between the clean guitars and Zac Young's cool drumming on "No Stars" serves as a perfect setting for Taylor's soft, organically pure voice. "Replay" sounds vaguely reminiscent of, well, some long-forgotten '70s song that you can't quite recall the title of—Kate's piano really tugs at you on this number, as does that mellotron on "Smile and Wave."

In almost every song, there's some detail that stands out: "Clean Getaway" has a background sound that could be static or a light rain; it's fun listening casually and not being sure. Not to mention those pleasing background harmonies. In "Small Part of Me," Taylor leaves in some unconventional pauses that serve the ambiguous lyrics well. And of course, there's the great rhythm track on the up-tempo "Irish Goodbye," as well as a peerless guitar "thrumming" on "Lost Time," which proves once again the effectiveness of repeating a chord over and over, if you've got the right chord and your heart is set on wringing every bit of emotion out of it.

Taylor's words make you want to key in closely here, also: "A heart that grieves is lost in everything/ And a heart in need finds hope in anything," she sings. For the most part, arrangements are clean and uncluttered; a couple of tunes sound like little more than demos with good programming.

But it's mainly down to the fact that Taylor's instincts are well-honed by now, through her work with Azure Ray, Now It's Overhead, the solo records, and a few other side projects. This woman doesn't waste time; she has a clear vision of how she wants things to sound, and that clarity translates into a truly enjoyable listening experience, if not necessarily a revelatory one. "Away he goes to the local radio/ Sayin' what's that sound?/ I'd like to know/ And this might sound strange/ But I just can't let it go," sings Taylor on the compelling "The Ballad of Sean Foley." It's how you might feel, too, after a few spins of this very smooth, inviting sophomore effort by a woman who flies just a little higher each time out, seeing more and more detail to share for next time… B | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Laura Nyro, Sarah McLachlan, Slowdive

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