CD Reviews

CD Reviews


Hollywood Pocketknife

Ain’t No Gamble -- by Larry Looney

Sing Out! Magazine

Texas Music Magazine -- reviewed by Brian Atkinson

Peace From The Porch -- reviewed by Christy Claxton

Maverick Magazine (UK)

Net Rhythms (UK) -- reviewed by Mike Davies

Singer / Storyteller -- by Jacques-Eric Legard (France)

The Great Divide

Freight Train Boogie -- reviewed by Doug Lang

Net Rhythms (UK) -- reviewed by Mike Davies

Dirty Linen -- reviewed by Ace Eshleman

Stave Magazine -- reviewed by Christy Claxton

Puremusic -- reviewed by Frank Goodman

Folkwax -- reviewed by Arthur Wood

Ain't No Gamble . . .

by Larry Looney

Nothing from Eric Taylor is ever a gamble – you know you’re going to hear incredibly well-written songs, delivered honestly and without pretension. His writing is some of the most literate in music – but its point of view is not one looking down on his characters from on high…he looks his subjects in the eye and in the heart. The people who populate his songs live at street level, not in ivory towers – they keep to the barrooms and pool halls, the late-night card games, the threadbare carnivals scraping to make enough to get from one town to the next. Couples scratch to survive life with each other – it works or it doesn’t, but the heartbreak and the joy are just as real as those felt by folks living comfortably in the suburbs.

In Taylor’s songs streets are dark and rainy and, many times, more than vaguely threatening – but to the people who live there, it’s their life, nothing more and nothing less, and they make the best of it with what resources they can muster. That doesn’t mean they’re without hopes and dreams – and while those hopes and dreams might or might not ever be realized, they’re sometimes all they have. Much of the time it’s all that keeps them going. One of Eric’s greatest strengths as a songwriter is his ability to get inside these folks and translate what they’re feeling and experiencing into tunes that afford the listener – if even a small effort is made – a taste of that side of life.

Hollywood Pocketknife might well be the best album Eric has released in many years – and considering the consistent high quality of his work, that’s saying something. There’s a feeling of relaxed ease in the arrangements, coupled with his usual sharp focus on characters, events and emotions – everything fits together like it grew into a whole on its own, naturally. All of the songs are originals with the exception of three – “The Highway Kind” by Eric’s old friend, the late Townes Van Zandt; “A Matter of Degrees,” a fine song by Susan Lindfors; and the traditional Civil War era song “Rally ’Round the Flag,” poignantly offered with help from Steve Fromholz, Vince Bell and other friends, fittingly recorded on the 4th of July.

The album opens with the title track, filled with musings on mingling with figures of a bygone era, interacting with them – it’s like listening to the daydream mutterings of someone with a drink in their hand, across the table in a bar. “…I’d make myself a different life, carve it out of Hollywood…” Characters drift in and out of the narrative: James Dean, Marilyn Monroe (“…Flowers from DiMaggio followed everywhere she goes – but I can hear her laughin’…”), Robert Mitchum (“…The madman preacher – I’d teach him how to play the clarinet…”), Barrymore, Chaplin, Richard Burton. A daydream, yes – filled with sadness and hope at the same time.

“Carnival Jim and Jean” vividly evokes the struggles involved in relationships, present in any level of society – in this case between a man who knows nothing but working in a carnival, running whatever scam or hustle he needs to survive, and the woman who is yearning for more: “…Say the smell of cotton candy ’bout to make you sick – You won’t do no better without me…,” he tells her. The singer lists the woman’s faults, but admits “…Lord, I get lonesome when I can’t find her…”

“Postcards, 3 For A Dime” is another great relationship song, a skillfully woven two-sided conversation – she berates him for his drinking, saying “…I’m goin’ to find myself a decent man, and he’ll whip you if you come up there…” Locales with names like the Cotton Bottom Lounge and the Bamboo Club are made palpable by Eric’s narrative skills. The song ends with the man, writing a postcard to her from prison, admitting “…I’m doin’ six, straight six for interstate flight – I’m no damn good, I guess you’re right…”

“Olney’s Poison and The Houston Blues” is a wonderful song filled with memorable characters and places that are made complete and real, even if they’re only mentioned by the images their names and descriptions evoke – it’s also an appreciative nod to Eric’s old friend, another great songwriter, David Olney. The melody and guitar line gently echo David’s song “Little Bit of Poison” (from Olney’s wonderful 1999 album Through A Glass Darkly).

Eric’s reading of Townes Van Zandt’s “The Highway Kind” is nothing short of brilliant – it’s an aching plea (I’d almost call it a prayer because of its sincerity and honesty) for the love and security all of us crave deep inside, feeling it just beyond our reach.

One of the most moving songs on the album is “Peppercorn Tree’”– the singer remembers his childhood and younger adult years, filled with good intentions and missteps, foolishness, heartfelt yearnings and good intentions. The memories are bittersweet, replete with hindsight that’s at least close to 20/20, but without regrets – there’s a gentle acknowledgement that life has been as good or better than was expected, even with its pitfalls and the stumbles that were made. The gratitude to the singer’s wife is quietly touching: “…She never asked about the river, the cane or molasses, This old hotrod boy wearin’ mirror sunglasses…she never asked about the trouble with Jackson Lee…,” painting an affirming picture of the gift of unconditional love. The song concludes with an ambiguous image: “…Now she’s out there by the Peppercorn Tree…Yeah, she’s layin’ out there by the Peppercorn Tree…” – I’m left wondering if she’s alive or dead. In the afterglow of the song, though, it’s the expression of memories and feeling of contentment that lasts longer than anything else.

Eric provides his usual stellar guitar work and the perfect voice for his songs – he’s joined by Susan Lindfors (acoustic guitar and vocals – including an especially wonderful job on “A Matter of degrees”), David Webb (keyboards), Eric Demmer (alto saxophone), Mathias Schneider (lap steel on ‘Better Man’), James Gilmer (percussion) and Rock Romano (bass, background vocals – he also engineered, mixed and mastered the recording at his Red Shack studio in Houston).

I think it’s safe to say that this is yet another Eric Taylor album that will never ‘grow old’ – the songs will age well, like fine wine. As the years go by, they’ll taste even better to our ears, revealing more with every listen.

This album isn’t scheduled to appear in stores in the US until January 2008 – but you can get it now by ordering it through Eric’s website, where you can also hear samples from this and Eric's other recordings.

Pass Hollywood Pocketknife up at your peril – it’s a treasure. It cuts to the bone.

Sing Out! magazine - spring 2008

Eric Taylor

Hollywood Pocketknife

Blue Ruby 003

Eric Taylor has been one of the finest southern songwriters for more than three decades, and Hollywood Pocketknife, marked by plainspoken but authoritative singing, ranks among his finest work. One thing that I've always loved about eric's music is the way his songs are often from a character's perspective, completely, or at least seemingly, outside of himself. He begins this CD with the compelling title track in which his narrator imagines himself in Hollywood in the 1950s and early '60s interacting with, among others, the likes of James Dean, Richard Burton and Marilyn Monroe. In the next song, "Carnival Jim and Jean," Eric becomes Jim, a carnival hustler singing about breaking off his dysfunctional marriage to Jean, a carnival-raised singer and guitar player.

Each of the other songs is as gripping, and as unique as the first two, often capturing the unique lives, or moments in the lives, of the kinds of people we might not ordinarily notice but for a skilled writer like Eric who finds something to zero in on: the guy in "The Peppercorn Tree" on the run from a settled life who takes off with his friend's little sister; the woman escaping her abuser -- Husband? Boyfriend? Trick? -- in "Postcards, Three for a Dime"; and the guy just trying to be a better man in "Better Man."

In addition to his own songs, Eric also offers three he didn't write including a chillingly lonely version of Townes Van Zandt's "Highway Kind," and an equally lonely duet with Susan Lindfors on her song, "A Matter od Degrees," which documents the break-up of a relationship from both perspectives. The album ends with Vince Bell and Steven Fromholz joining in on a Fourth of July rendition of "Rally 'Round the Flag." ---- MR



Thu, 04/10/2008

Album: Hollywood Pocketknife

Record Label: Blue Ruby

By: Brian Atkinson

Carnival Jim struggles for purchase on a better tomorrow. “Her mother was a fat clown little dog act/She used to hit Jean till Jean hit her back,” the character explains in “Carnival Jim and Jean.” “I stole a little red guitar and some gasoline/She won’t do no better without me.” That crucial fulcrum — the pivotal moment when defeat matures into defiance — balances the weight of Eric Taylor’s lasting work. Hollywood Pocketknife might be his most enduring yet. Always a sharp, provocative storyteller — “Jail Widow’s Walk,” “Peppercorn Tree” and “Postcards, 3 For a Dime” are three seamless examples here — Taylor weaves complex arcs of hope and light into these tales of profound hardship. Pay especially close attention to Susan Lindfors’ reflective “A Matter of Degrees,” a breathtaking duet that deeply enriches this album’s poetic dignity.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hollywood Pocket Knife

Eric Taylor


by Christy Claxton

I would love to challenge Eric Taylor to write about Amy Winehouse. Can you just imagine how he could make us love this train wreck of a "superstar"? This man is a deep dark, gothic well of pain painted beauty. He delivers visual, direct lyrics supported by a trademark voice peppered with grit and a breathy vibrato that verges on tears for the singer and listener. In the case of "Hollywood Pocket Knife" he assumes the first person of his gritty characters as he weaves his visual, visceral stories of the lowdown in all of us. If you find yourself reacting in the adverse to Taylor's music, I'll ask you buck up and really listen because the one thing that keeps him at the top of his game as one of our best living songwriters is his compassion. It's in every song. In his lonely songs of deluded longing, his tales of the fringe (Carnival Jim and Jean). In his covers (Townes Van Zandt's "Highway Kind."). So let's talk about his covers. When he bookends a master songwriter – like Van Zandt – with his own tunes, there is no doubt that Eric Taylor is every bit an equal, if not just a little better at times. Most people cover Van Zandt tunes to boost their own credibility. Taylor does it because he really can.

"Hollywood Pocket Knife" weaves around the hopeless and the hopeful in a way that makes it o.k. to be who we are. "Better Man" lays down one of the best lines in contemporary folk music: "…The poor will forget what being poor's about/ But you got to keep the rich folks out…" It's the power of the political without preaching it in the typical folk/rant machine that tends to rise to the top of the pack. And that's something I don't get. I prefer Taylor's subtlety that makes me believe that I get to live in verisimilitude and actually make my own decisions when in fact, he's led me to his conclusion and simply made it mine. So here I go again… I'm waiting for Eric Taylor to take on Southern Gothic in novel form. I just know that he can make the transition to prose the way Leonard Cohen did with his devastating novel, "Beautiful Losers." … not to divert, but read it if you haven't; especially if you are a Taylor fan.

And finally, I'll overstate that Eric Taylor is one of my heroes; not only because of his mastery of the song, but because he did what I've wanted to happen for years, and years, and years. He gave Susan Lindfors' voice back to us. Most Taylor fans know Lindfors as the rock behind the music, the ever present backing vocal, booking agent and tour manager. But I've known Lindfors as a stunning songwriter and singer for over 15 years. But somewhere in the bullshit of the insulated, over-blown Austin music scene, she walked away and disappeared. I was so, so, saddened by that. Now, she's there, helping Taylor make music with her song, "Matter of Degrees." She writes AND she sings. This is another very good reason to pick up this disc.

There aren't many certainties in music today, but Eric Taylor is definitely one of the very few. So thank you, Eric, for being a champion of great, great songwriting with genuine heart and soul.

Maverick magazine - February 2008

Eric Taylor

Hollywood Pocketknife

Blue Ruby 004


When it comes to Texas singer-songwriters, Eric Taylor digs deeper than most as he crafts his stark, spare detailed stories.

Richly entwined in southern values, tangible imagery greater than life itself are portrayed by a man who has lived some. Coming from the fertile 1970s Texas' batch of singer-songwriters that included Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen preceded by older hands Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, who in combining folk and blues with country, brought an incredible amount of good stuff to the table (and still do), Taylor is meticulous with the honing of his art.

Following on from his album THE GREAT DIVIDE this assembled collection moves along like all his other work, measured to the zenith degree and with a small, tight ensemble of players in attendance (Susan Lindfors, David Webb, Eric Demmer, Mathias Schneider, James Gilmer and Rock Romano) plus guests on the grand finale piece Rally 'Round The Flag. Fittingly, recorded on July 4, it has fellow acts Vince Bell and Steven Fromholz share with him, lead vocals and family and friends lend harmony vocals as they give a fine version of the battle cry for freedom (also, with this being a special anniversary of the slave trade it has an even greater significance).

However, the meat and drink of the album remains elsewhere, where, unlike some acts as years and albums roll by some of the edge can be lost, this isn't the case with Taylor. Since, his work especially on the likes of the wonderful alto sax primed Jail Widow's Walk, the eerie Better Man, where like straight out of a paperback novel his tale is spun and a string of never-to-be-forgotten images are spawned.

Likewise, the spare and chilling Hollywood Pocketknife mystically spills forth as his lines carve out images - shaped from a Californian past. Olney's Poison And The Houston Blues, inspired by his good friend, David Olney, is another gem. Olney, another act whose work has rarely gained the attention it should, not only gives a name check or two during the song, but tenders guitar licks similar to Olney's. Who of course wrote a song called A Little Bit Of Poison and like Eric he too was a friend / admirer of the work of Townes Van Zandt, both remembering him by including one song from the master on their respective albums in recent years when going into the recording studio.

Eric this time going for Highway Kind, a sombre affair that, though not among my favourites from Townes, it does have a place both on this album and in the latter's catalogue. More to my liking being Taylor's own songs Postcards, 3 For A Dime and the epic tale The Peppercorn Tree, where, with the feeling of moving Eric's lyrics wrap around the mind of the listener. Lyrics to be soaked up like parched Texas earth does a shower of rain on a hot summer's day, going back to the lyrics of the song, it not only possesses the usual imagery of another era, but standard (for him) great lines of 'Another hot rod boy wearin' mirror sunglasses' and 'We had flathead Fords and honeysuckle vines' and there is more; lots more!

Singing well throughout and never dwelling too long on any one subject, Taylor allows his other half, Susan Lindfors to shine on her own song, A Matter Of Degrees - a beautiful, melancholy affair draped in subtle guitars / organ, with her finely honed, sweet singing voice proving an ideal contrast to Taylor's weathered tones. – MH

Net Rhythms (UK) -- reviewed by Mike Davies

Eric Taylor - Hollywood Pocketknife (Blue Ruby)

With the recent passing of John Stewart, the list of Class A Americana storytellers grows ever shorter. Fortunately, the 59-year-old Texan is still going strong with his songs of lovers, losers and scraping a living among the barrooms, flop houses, carneys and highways of his landscapes.

Honed and sharpened, this is one of his best collections, opening in future classic form with the title track's journey through the past as the ghosts of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Chaplin, and Richard Burton pass through the narrative leaving a trail of sadness and regret but also compassion and celebration of life lived.

The difficulty of keeping a relationship together when you're divided by different dreams informs the dust coated bluesy Carnival Jim and Jean while Postcards, 3 For A Dime offers another tale of love gone bad, sung from both sides of the divide and both the sax streaked Jail Widow's Walk and the spare, stark Better Man offer mini screenplays of characters mired in their private hells and quests for salvation.

Perhaps one of the most moving numbers is Peppercorn Tree, a first person reflection on childhood and youth, and of the girl who became a wife and now lies buried in the shade of the tree by their little house on the border.

There's a definite personal input to Olney's Poison and the Houston Blues, a trad sounding blues folk number that both lyrically and musically references old friend and fellow Texan songwriter David Olney.

Both men were also friends of Townes Van Zandt, so it seems appropriate that he should provide one of the album's three covers with a desperately aching version of Highway Kind drawn from a deep well of loneliness.

For the other non originals, he's turned to Susan Lindfors, who also lends her vocals to the slow dancing melancholic A Matter of Degrees, and dug into the Civil War songbook for a sparse and weary July 4 reading of Rally 'Round the Flag where, among others, he's joined by Lindfors, Steve Fromholz, and Vince Bell. Treasure him deeply, there's far too few of his kind still around.


Hollywood Pocketknife

(Blue Ruby Music)

Singer / Storyteller

by Jacques-Eric Legarde


Peut-etre les amateurs de songwriting, je veux dire de "vraies bonnes chonsons" se rendront-ils compte un jour qu'Eric Taylor est au sommet du genre. Taylor raconte des histoires, avec des vrais personnages dedans, des lieux symboliques et des objets essentiels. Des personnages? On en connait certains par leur vie en technicolor, comme ceux qui truffent le titre "Hollywood Pocketknife" (Robert Mitchum, Marilyn, James Dean, Chaplin et John Barrymore), d'autres parce que Taylor nous les presentent album apres album (on reecoutera par exemple "All So Much Like Me" et sa galerie de portraits dans l'album de 1995). Ici, ils ont pour nom Carnival Jim et Jean, John Watson (sur "Jail Widow's Walk" avec le sax d'Eric Demmer), David Olney, Lightnin' Hopkins et (probablement) Richard Ricardo Dobson sur "Olney's Poison and The Houston Blues." Des lieux? Taylor nous promene d'Hollywood a Little Rock, d'Abilene au Golfe de Galveston, du Bamboo Club au Cotton Bottom Lounge, bar d'Atlanta, Georgia, ou age de neuf ans et accompagne de son pere, le petit Taylor eut son premier choc musical en entendant "Short Haired Woman" par Lightnin' Hopkins sur le juke-box. Des objets? La Studebaker bleue de John Watson et une Mercury '54 sur "Jail Widow's Walk," des cartes postals ("Postcards, 3 For a Dime") ou un drapeau sur "Rally 'Round The Flag" enregistre symboliquement le 4 Juillet 2007 avec les Flatliners, soit Vince Bell et Steven Fromholz. Je n'oublie bien sur par la guitare, indispensable outil dont Eric Taylor tire un picking en DADGAD beaux a pleurer, notamment sur "Better Man." "Ain't nothing but a guitar / Go ahead and play it" ouvre "Carnival Jim and Jean" et "That's a double-O Martin, play that thing" ponctue "Olney's Poison." (Petite parenthese, Taylor a lui aussi remarque le role important que joue le poison dans l'univers de David Olney, auteur de "Little Bit of Poison" sur Through a Glass Darkly et de "Sweet Poison" sur One Tough Town!) Outre le traditionnel "Rally 'Round The Flag" ecrit en 1862, Hollywood Pocketknife contient deux reprises, "A Matter of Degrees" signe et interprete en duo par Susan Lindfors, et "Highway Kind" de Townes van Zandt que Taylor fait litteralement sien, s'eloignant autant de la version originale que de celle gravee par Lyle Lovett sur Step Inside This House. Taylor a rencontre Townes au tout debut des annees 70 et, comme Olney, il met un point d'honneur a enregistrer ou interpreter en concert une de ses compositions. C'etait le cas de "Brand New Companion" sur The Great Divide et de "Where I Lead Me" et "Nothin'" sur Scuffletown. Vous ne trouverez pas de hit potentiel, pas de melodie facile sur cet album. Hollywood Pocketknife est un album exigeant, qui murira lentement en vous avec ses multiples personnages, leurs lieux et leurs objets fetiches, apportant une nouvell piece majeure a ce Texas Song Theater qu'Eric Taylor faconne album apres album. Un grand, grand disque.

A ranger pres de l'editions du cinquantenaire de On the Road, editee par Viking Press d'apres les rouleaux originaux, une autre grande galerie de personnages (avec leurs noms reels), de lieux et d'objets, en attendant le prochain album de Denice Franke.

Freight Train Boogie - reviewed by Doug Lang


The Great Divide... (Blue Ruby)

Taylor gathered around the Texas songwriting bonfire that started in the early 1970's, along with Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle. The Great Divide goes right back into the flames, recorded in Houston. This is a stripped-down classic, Taylor running short stories through your body like acupuncture needles, and you come out feeling better for the treatment. A mix of new and road-tested originals combine with bone-deep nods to mentors, as in Peg Leg Sam's "Ain't But One Thing Give A Man The Blues" and Van Zandt's "Brand New Companion", the latter opening out, stream-of-consciousness style, into variations on "Lulu's Back In Town" and "Dirty Dirty". Taylor's precise, dynamic guitar playing and midnight-narrative vocals are right across the table from you, with spare harmony vocals (Susan Lindfors) and percussion (James Gilmer) coming from the shadows behind. Raymond Carver and William Faulkner fill a booth in the corner, Lightnin's gotten into a bottle at the bar. Night time in Texas. Night time everywhere. This one's a keeper.

Released '05, reviewed by Doug Lang.

Net Rhythms (UK) -- reviewed by Mike Davies

Eric Taylor - The Great Divide (Blue Ruby Music)

Inspiration and mentor to Steve Earle back in the early 70s, Taylor grew up in Atlanta, soaking up soul music and learning to play the blues guitar stylings from the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins and Mississippi Fred McDowell before moving to Houston and finding his own voice, as both guitarist and songwriter, in American folk roots. Having won the New Folk competition at the 1977 Kerrville Festival, finally Taylor released his debut, Shameless Love, in 1981 but, while he was supplying songs for the likes of Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett, it would take a further 14 years before the self-titled follow-up emerged. Three years after that came the critically acclaimed Resurrect, but there's been nothing new since the release of Scuffletown back in 2001.

Still waiting for the wider world to latch on to someone Griffith has called "the William Faulkner of songwriting in our current time," he now resurfaces with an album that may yet prove his masterpiece. A storyteller in the tradition of John Stewart and Springsteen, blessed with a dust coated voice, Taylor writes small screenplays about characters trying to live in a world that constantly seeks to bring them down or pen them in. Listen to Big Love, a heartrending story on the overweight James Willis Hardin who calls up a number scrawled on a box of matches to talk about a life circumscribed by his mother and her florists. In a throwaway line, we realise he's committing suicide, still worried what mom will say about the blood on the floor.

Or then there's the broke and busted musician of Manhattan Mandolin Blues, the two old hearts whose love has endured time and the loss of a child in the poignant Bonnie & Avery, Mickey Finn's down on his luck gambler and the metaphor of despair knotted in the image of "a high-jacked hung man" to be found in Whorehouse Mirrors & Pawnshop Knives.

Loss, failure and (beautifully captured on Storms) loneliness colour Taylor's songs, but as detailed on Shoes ('something's goin' to happen today") there's hints of hope and relief too, even if, as with the title track, it comes from stolen moments with 'another woman just rocks me when I cry".

It is though, the blues that prove the inspiration and mood templates, and fittingly the album's two non originals pay respect to the influences with covers of Arthur 'Peg Leg Sam' Jackson's Ain't But One Thing Give A Man The Blues and Townes Van Zandt's Brand New Companion, the latter incorporating variations on Lulu's Back In Town and Dirty, Dirty. If it produced albums like this, long may misery walk by Taylor's side.

Eric Taylor The Great Divide

by Ace Eshleman, published in the February/March '07 issue of Dirty Linen

"Stunning" is definitely not too strong a word to use when describing Eric Taylor's latest recording, The Great Divide. That one musician could cover such a range of emotion and wealth of experience within the scope of just 12 songs, and do it with understanding and grace, is a true gift to his listeners. Taylor's music possesses a most unique combination of sound and feeling. His guitar-picking style, a paradox of sorts, relies on strong, clear notes rather than fancy acrobatics, yet he displays an almost fragile quality at times. His road-weary vocals, sparse and knowing lyrics, and acoustic guitar accompaniment balance one another without seeming ponderous, in spite of his heavy subject matter. In "Shoes" Taylor muses about the attire he'll be wearing when he meets the devil, and in "Big Love," his protagonist is a painfully lonely 400-plus-pound man. Taylor also covers songs by Townes Van Zandt ("Brand New Companion") and blues legend Arthur Jackson ("Ain't But One Thing Give a Man the Blues").

TITLE: "The Great Divide"

ARTIST: Eric Taylor

RELEASE DATE: April 2006

Reviewer:  Christy Claxton, Editor

I want to start by saying something about Southern writers.  You rarely encounter one, who is really good, that has good things to say about the South.  My liberal Northern friends really can’t understand why I stay in the South.  I really couldn’t answer that question until I listened to Eric Taylor’s latest release, “The Great Divide.”   It was at that instant that I understood why I stay:  If we leave the godforsaken South, we’ll lose our voice.

Undoubtedly, Taylor is a major voice as a Southern songwriter.  In fact, any independent songwriter, with half a wit, would be wise to learn this man’s music and study his craft. He is a true sage.  Once again, with “The Great Divide,” Eric Taylor finds his rich, Southern voice, and tells the sorts of stories that absolutely brand themselves into the listener’s psyche. As a somewhat experienced audience to Taylor’s music, I knew exactly how to listen to this latest body of work.  I waited until the heat of the day, grabbed a cold beer, made my way to a tree by my stagnate, evaporating pond, put on my headphones, and listened.  His music became the soundtrack to the hot, humid, decaying Southern landscape.  Mostly because his music embodies just that. 

Taylor’s commandingly quiet, gravely voice, accompanied by his signature finger picking is perfect for this kind of storytelling, which he is very good at doing, and he had me crying by track 2, “Big Love.”  It is a first person musical telling of the life of a morbidly overweight, rural Southern man who is trapped in his mother’s life and flower shop.  Existential, powerful and as good as anything Faulkner or O’Connor could ever conjure. As the album moves through characters, dark moods, the sometimes hopeful, and the most tender approach to love known to exist in the “tough guy” world, an honest writer simply cannot walk away from “The Great Divide” without feeling just a little humbled.  By the final track, “Bonnie & Avery,” I was easily able to see Taylor’s characters and feel their milieu. I can’t imagine this songwriter ever producing anything that is less than great because he is easily exactly what those who know him say he is; a living legend.

Pure Music, reviewed by Frank Goodman


One of the front runners for song-poet laureate of Texas. And that’s a fertile field.

His number isn’t posted anywhere as one you should call for a good time. There aren’t any good time numbers on this record, but there are many good numbers. Like his playing and his singing, the songwriting of Eric Taylor is very deep and very precise. He’s the only songwriter besides David Olney you hear the adjective ‘Faulknerian’ applied to, for instance. Like Olney, he’s old school, in a good way. But he hails from Texas, and that’s a different animal. Wasn’t born there, but he’s been there since running out of money on the way to California landed him in Houston in the '70s.

Many, like Lyle Lovett and former wife Nanci Griffith, revere the artist with words of the highest praise. In song, he is a narrative expert, and several of those on this record bear special mention. "Big Love" tells the story and perhaps the last moments of a fellow named James Willis Hardin, weight 459. With the grace and timing of a novelist or short story writer, Taylor draws the listener in to the flower shop, the house of the mother he lives with, and into the broken heart and mind of "Big Love" as his mother calls him. The other story that really knocked me out was "Bonnie and Avery," about a dance hall girl (the ten cents a dance kind) and a player in a coronet band who have a bar they close at midnight every night in their later years.

All except when Panama left them childless
Time’s been pretty good

The author’s not out to please anybody but himself, and the songs and the renditions bear that integrity out. He’s one of the few songwriters playing his own resonator and electric tracks behind his acoustic work, and it’s real good. Apart from that, there are some background vocals, some percussion, saxes on one song, and bass on one of two covers, a song by Peg Leg Sam. (The other cover is a Townes Van Zandt medley, near as I can tell.)

If you like a serious song that’s played like it might be his last, Eric Taylor is your man. One of the greats.  • FG

A FolkWax Reprint

This article originally ran in

FolkWax's Front Porch October 27, 2005

FolkWax Spotlight On

Eric Taylor’s The Great Divide

A CD Review

FolkWax Rating: 9

By Arthur Wood

Here’s the latest trip, one lasting seconds short of fifty minutes, through the imaginative psyche of Eric Taylor. For openers, the rear of the CD liner booklet features the totally Taylor catch-all sub-title “Lyrics, Lies, Softshoe, Fried Pies.” In terms of sonic presentation, less is more as far as this second release on Taylor’s Blue Ruby label is concerned. Mostly it’s just Eric’s voice and his acoustic, electric, or resonator guitar – well, per track, pairings of those tools of his trade actually. Percussionist James Gilmer contributes to four cuts, album engineer Rock Romano’s bass is heard on the Arthur Jackson-penned cover tune “Ain’t But One Thing Give A Man The Blues,” while Eric Demmer blows alto and tenor sax on a three-song segue of covers that I’ll look at in more detail later. As for other voices that are raised in song, Susan Lindfors appears on four tracks and Jelle Douma, Eric’s Dutch buddy, on just the one.   

The Great Divide opens with the album title cut and I can already envision Eric onstage performing this number, head tilted to the side, while enjoying a sly grin as he picks out the opening chords. The reason why? Across four verses, as each closes, the Jack The Lad narrator with “a crooked smile” reveals “I got another woman…” and each possesses a trait that keeps him, alternatively, on his toes or a truly satisfied man…with a crooked smile. The narrator in the conversational “Big Love” tells us in the opening line of the second verse that his name is James Willis Hardin, his mother owns a flower store, and that he weighs 459. If we’re talking pounds of weight, that’s one hell of a lot of man, but the picture that you think you see at the outset changes radically by the time the lyric has run its course. Jim Willie dials a telephone number he finds on a book of matches and talks about himself to the person at the end of the line. Towards the close of the track, Jim Willie delivers two curious insights: he’s bleeding (a little or profusely?) and someone is hammering on the door of the store (who?). By the close of this vignette no answers are provided to the latter nor the identity of the person he’s called (a doctor? a sex line?) thus allowing the listener the freedom to supply the missing parts to this particular picture. Taylor’s eye for small details is what truly makes his writing special. Partway through this song, Hardin comments, “I used to have a parakeet,” but adds that his mother’s cat polished it off, while the line “I’ll take her gun and shoot that thing” indicates intended “eye for an eye” revenge. “Big Love” features one of those Eric Taylor melodies the pace of which at times hesitates, as if not knowing where to go next. That said, it’s an addictive, must-hear-again” tune. Three of the five verses to “Whorehouse Mirrors & Pawnshop Knives” pan in scenes that occur, respectively, in Hampton, Georgia, plus Austin, and Corpus Christi, Texas.  

A performance of “Mickey Finn” has regularly featured in Eric’s live shows here in the U.K. in recent years. My recall is that he would preface the tune with the insight that it was part of his music and spoken narrative Texas Song Theatre production, and then he would add that reference the characters that appear in the lyric: the late Townes Van Zandt plays the part of Mickey Finn, while Odetta is the Queen of Diamonds. For a mere moment, let’s quickly look at the world of barkeeping. A Mickey Finn is a drink composed of alcohol and chloral hydrate concocted by barkeepers in the early twentieth century to incapacitate hardened drinkers. (History relates that originally a barman’s intention for incapacitating a drinker would, in some cases, be to rob him. I recall that during my younger days, in Scottish bars, there used to be a three-part concoction known as a Cobalt Bomb – you can guess the potency and effect.) A road story, the action in “Mickey Finn” takes place in the dry town of Memphis, Tennessee, and in a “wet county” just across the Mississippi River in Arkansas. A certain four-letter expletive, delivered by the Queen Of Diamonds, eliminates the possibility of this cut gaining radio play and that’s a crying shame since it’s a masterpiece well worth the hearing. The first cover song on this collection, “Ain’t But One Thing Give A Man The Blues,” was penned by South Carolina-bred Bluesman Arthur Jackson [1911–1977] aka Peg Leg Sam. As for the precise nature of “the one thing” I guess the line “What makes the rooster call the morning before day” and the repeated reference to women in the lyric are pointers.  

I guess it was unintentional on Eric’s part that “Just Short Of The Line” should bear such an appropriate title – at a tad short of two minutes thirty, as it’s the briefest cut on The Great Divide. Reference the lyrical thrust: this life produces winners and losers in the game of love, the secret being to always remain in the game whatever the result. While touring with Nanci Griffith, sitting on the tour bus in New York City, Eric spotted a man with a mandolin harassing a woman at a bus depot. “Manhattan Mandolin Blues,” narrated by the edgy low-life musician is the result, and Lindfors in-your-face supporting vocal adds substance to the inherent lyrical tension.

Eric’s “Storms” – lyrically, a “marriage” of real and poetic squalls of varying intensity - first appeared on Griffith’s September 1989 release of the same name, and is the only already well-familiar card in this deck. Having finally got around to cutting the tune, Taylor’s version comes complete with angelic sounding backing vocals from Lindfors and Douma. The narrator in “Shoes” is, sadly, deceased and about to be buried. We really don’t discover if he was a good or a bad guy, though he certainly could spin a tale! Pursuing that vein he goes on to recall that years ago he was married in the shoes he is now wearing, while he lied to friends about the source of his suit - it wasn’t made by a Paris tailor, but rather came straight “off the peg.” At the close, with some certainty, he expressed the conviction that once he’s, so to speak, “in the ground” he’ll meet the devil. By way of confirming that forthcoming event as well as his spiritual premonition, each of the five verses opens with the line “Something’s goin’ to happen today.”

The four-verse “Brand New Companion” first appeared on Van Zandt’s 1971 recording Delta Momma Blues. Having delivered verses one through three of Van Zandt’s song, Eric then switches for a couple of verses to transcribed segments of the “Lulu’s Back In Town” lyric (This song was penned back in 1935 for the show Broadway Gondolier by Al Dubin and Harry Warren.) that he has merged with lines from “Dirty Dirty,” the latter composed by current day Houston-based song scribe Mike Sumler. The track closes with Van Zandt’s fourth verse, but the overall effect is a Bluesy-sounding concoction, enhanced by Demmer’s sax, where the seemingly diversely sourced pieces of this musical puzzle actually fit, with the mid-section of the track portraying a person with attitude while also hinting at child abuse.  

In the last decade, since he recommenced his recording career, this is not the first time I’ve stated that Taylor’s song lyrics unfold like a movie. The closing cut, “Bonnie & Avery,” which flashes seamlessly between current and past times, is a thoroughly agreeable example. In essence it’s a comment on how love can, amazingly, survive for decades. Having revealed that, once upon a time, Avery used to play in a coronet dance band, with a mere three words Taylor flawlessly portrays that ensemble – “Silver and gold.” Though both are now mature in years, Bonnie Wilder still retains some of her once-stunning looks - once upon a time she was a taxi dancer. And if there’s a melancholic moment here, for Avery it’s the obtuse revelation that “Panama left ‘em childless.” Still besotted with each other, these days Bonnie and Avery own a bar.

Eric produced and arranged the eleven tracks on The Great Divide and there are a few tracks here where he, figuratively, skies the ball out of park. Savouring the union of word and melody simply doesn’t get any better than this. That you yearn to hear them again and again, merely confirms that it’s another Eric Taylor classic.

At the current time, Eric Taylor is on tour in Europe. To order The Great Divide contact Susan Lindfors after November 12 at Further details about this recording are currently posted on Eric's web site at

Arthur Wood is a founding editor of FolkWax. You may contact Arthur at