Shannon Taylor's CDs are reviewed below: "if it is to be as it is"; "Evening of the Last Day"
Would its cover image of a leafless tree and the night sky reflected in a pond mean an equally dark album for Shannon Taylor's second effort "Evening of the Last Day"? "Dark" might be a little strong here. Shannon's isn't getting too deep or heady, just keeping it to the basics on his second CD.
The opening track, "Their Song", paints the image of a young married couple toiling to make it through the day but eagerly anticipating time for themselves in the evening, or, as Shannon puts it, "waiting for the radio to play their song". There's some wonderful imagery in this song. "Broken Compass" is a Moody Blues-esque rocker that brings up the desperation of being lost in the desert where "Every mile is looking like the one before", adrift on a raft at sea "...sailing...Anywhere the wind has a notion to blow", or "out on the heath in the middle of nowhere...looking all over for a sign or marker." Shannon's lyrics can reflect what all of us go through or feel like sometimes!
But what I find most striking, however, is that even if the message of the song is not exactly dark, sad, or serious, the way in which the song is arranged can lead you to think that way. "I've Found Someone" should be a delightful ballad about meeting someone and being delivered from "a life sentence...Of misery and torment", but the subdued vocal delivery and the stiltedness and sadness of the arrangement may bring forth the feeling of regret or resignation...hmmm. "Adoration" is similar where he likes her but you're never quite certain if she likes him, so it almost sounds like a song of his hopefulness that there's indeed a lot of "adoration" going both ways. But is there? To round out the trio of tunes in this vein, "If I Didn't Know" talks about the pain felt when something from the past breaks up a relationship and a need to get back together despite that..."If you'd only call sometimes so we can talk it over/Would you just let me know what's there in your mind./Before I change mine and fade away." The overall feeling of this song is appropriately one of longing; Shannon isn't trying to disguise anything here.
"England Again" is about Shannon's trip across the "gray Atlantic sea" to England several years ago and the people he met there. This song would be quite comfortable on the UK charts in the late 1960s with the likes of the Bee Gees "Massachusetts" with its punchy bass and almost folk-like sound. The rich, "Secret Agent Man" electric guitar style on "A Lesson Learned" provides a suitable contrast to "England Again" and the other tunes.
The album "Evening of the Last Day" is largely the effort of Shannon Taylor with guest musicians filling in on bass, drums/percussion, and guitar. Shannon himself plays the keyboards (including the Mellotron (yes, his real one)), bass, and other instruments. He programs the drums for many of the tracks. Shannon is the lead vocalist, with a low key style that reminds me of Mark Knopfler. "I've Found Someone" and the gentle "Evening of the Last Day" instrumental were written and performed solo.
Ponder what the Moody Blues were doing around "Octave", and you have the general feel of the style of the album. Guitars, drums, keyboards, vocals, are served up in a straightforward manner. There's that bit of spy song guitar on "A Lesson Learned", there's a little "beach/surfer" guitar on "If I Didn't Know", and "Adoration" gives us a suitable dose of Bryan Ferry, especially with Danny Kristensen's guitar work. There's E-bow, too. Some Mellotron and a variety of sampled and synthesized tones accentuate the vocal tracks, and they provide the main instrumentation in the case of the three instrumentals on the disc.
The CD opens with real Mellotron (complete with a bit of buzz!)--can't ask for anything better if you're a Mellotron nut--quickly heading into "Their Song", which does a wonderful segue into the instrumental "East End". It sounds like the drum machine is ending "Their Song" with a slow beat, but, nope, it's a new song. Quite nice. However two production items kept hounding me during the listen. First, although songs 1 and 2 have that great segue, many songs tend to fade out quickly. "West End" fades in but may have worked well tied to "Broken Compass" somehow. This doesn't detract from the overall CD, but somehow I felt something was missing between some songs. Second, many of the tracks make use of sampled drums. Mated with the drum machine (as on "If I Didn't Know") the synthesized piano textures seem a little artificial or stale. Where drummer Yiannis Efstathiou sits in, however, is readily noticeable and welcome. I'm glad Yiannis sat in on "Broken Compass", as it kicked that song up a notch!
Of all the songs, "Jane" speaks to me most.
Jane, you could break the chain
Realizing what causes the pain in our lives gives us incredible power over that pain and will allow us to "break the chain". I'm taking that away with me.
Perhaps not quite as deep, personal, or as organic as Shannon's inaugural effort "if it is to be as it is", "Evening of the Last Day" still brings a bit of rock, a bit of pop, and an instrumental or three to the listener. It is a very easy album to listen to with no surprises. Especially enjoyable are the variety of guitar sounds, the upbeat "Broken Compass", and the Ferry-like "Adoration", not to ignore the infectious chorus of "England Again".
Shannon Taylor got in touch with me through e-mail and directed me to his site. Soon I had a copy of "if it is to be as it is" in my CD player enjoying a collection of electric/acoustic tunes laced with Mellotron. (Shannon is a Mellotron fanatic, plain and simple. He first acquired his back in the early 70s, and it has served him well all these years, including on his latest CD.)
"if it is to be as it is" is a collection of nine tracks, three of which are instrumental. The CD is a little over 37 minutes in length. The booklet includes lyrics, production credits, and a nice black and white photo of Shannon's Mellotron M400. Lyrics and MP3 snippets are available at Shannon's web site along with information about Shannon himself.
Although the album is a little short, it doesn't leave you hanging or feeling as if it needed more. And although it is a collection of tunes recorded 2001-2005, the arrangements and instruments are along a similar line and sound like they could have been recorded all around the same time, so the tunes hang together nicely in that way.
Shannon shares a great deal personally in his songs. There's a longing for what could have been or dreaming for change in day-to-day life and life in general. In many ways the tunes make me think of someone who's sitting down and taking stock whenever he puts down a lyric.
The song "Surviving Sunday" seems to be from someone going through a lot and looking for respite, something many of us can relate to:
But when you learn that Shannon Taylor has an ongoing battle with MS (multiple sclerosis), some of his songs, such "Surviving Sunday", take on a new and personal meaning.
Don't think for a minute that "if it is to be as it is" is a mournful or heavy album. It is neither. It's more contemplative--"taking stock"--but there's an admission that things can be tough. It's neither high nor low, just presented straight up, heavy on guitar and bass with a slight pop edge.
Worthy of special mention, "You Should Be Here Today" is reminiscent of Shannon's son. David Taylor was caught in a random shooting when he was 18 but survived. Unfortunately only three years later he was taken far too soon in an automobile/pedestrian accident. In "You Should Be Here Today" Shannon wishes his son was still with him and thinks about what could have been. The track concludes with his son's own spoken words recorded after the first incident that nearly ended David's life:
As tough a topic as this is for a father to write about, Shannon's lyrics aren't sad. They're more of "what if", or "I wish..." I am sure that Shannon keeps a lot to himself, but what comes through in his songs will give you a glimpse into Shannon the person. The final track on the album, "A Thousand Reasons Why," is a ballad about life's struggles. It builds and fades, loaded with Mellotron cello, a fitting tune to close out "if it is to be as it is". This final track reminds me of "24,000 Days" from the Moody Blues in some ways (without the heavy drums).
Of the instrumental tunes, "Waited a Fortnight" brings to mind Roxy Music's "Tara" (from "Avalon"). It's probably because the main instrument is oboe (probably Chamberlin samples) with a bassline, backed with a gentle harmonium and 'tron strings. "Fortnight"'s mood is also similar to "Tara", a bit of melancholy. "Virgin Guitar" has a spooky section with 'tron violins and flute, vibes (Chamby samples?), and acoustic guitar and bass. "In the Tall Grass" has a wonderful hook backed by Mellotron 3-violins and has a touch of sadness to it.
Musically "if it is to be as it is" is mostly bass, guitar (acoustic and electric), drums, and vocals. Shannon's Mellotron makes many appearances, as do Chamberlin samples from the Pinder CD-ROM. A harmonium is used in a few songs, as is some piano. Nobody tries to steal the spotlight here, even with the occasional guitar lead on top. Shannon and fellow musicians just play what is required in the song and tend to keep everything on an even keel. "if it is to be as it is" isn't over-produced; the guitars have a bit of rawness to them that I like, and I gave up counting the number of different guitar tones these guys employed--the variety is nice. Styles move from the ballads "You Should Be Here Today" to the mid-tempo "Leaving this House" and "Rhythm & Rhyme"--nothing here is going to rock out on you.
The style of this CD overall reminded me very much of Michael Oliver and Go, Dog, Go (on which Mellotron M400 #805 appeared a few years ago).
Shannon's nicely kept Mellotron M400 is on just about every track. At times the tone of this particular machine reminds me of the M400 I've heard Led Zeppelin use. For some of the tracks Shannon's M400 sounds like one of those that is "just" in tune but seemingly on the edge of instability (chiefly on "Rhythm & Rhyme"). Ahh, the nature of these quirky white boxes... The Mellotron cello blends in nicely on "It Falls to Me", and it's always nice to hear someone use that Mellotron sound.
"if it is to be as it is" began to appeal more to me after repeated listens as I listened more closely to the lyrics. To me Shannon doesn't seek to bring the listener into his songs or immerse you in the album. Instead he's telling me something about himself and his life, and in that I'm able to find some things I can relate to. It is all done lyrically and musically in a straightforward way without pretension. The songs are real and honest, and I appreciate that in songwriting.
For overall listening this is the kind of album that doesn't intrude; I found myself doing work on the PC as the CD played out, occasionally tapping my foot or tuning in to a lyric or hook.
You may have trouble getting a flavor for this album through the MP3 samples on Shannon's site where you can listen to only the first few seconds of each track. The full tracks and album hold together in a better way than the snippets on the web site would lead you to believe.