Russell Taylor - Tin Man: Blue (EP)

Russell Taylor
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Russell Taylor - Tin Man: Blue

Russell Taylor has made a career of being as consistently intriguing as he is difficult to categorize. A masterful singer, Taylor has bristled at boundaries, taking his music in directions - R&B, rock, electronic, and many nooks and crannies within them -- that likely confound radio programmers. But it is his individuality and refusal to chase trends that has made him all that more interesting as an artist. While, particularly over the past year, we've seen performer after performer submit music that appears reactionary and inauthentically focused on attracting urban radio, Taylor's inclination has always been to move in the other direction: He doesn't create music to fit in radio's comfort zone; he challenges listeners to enter his world. And it is usually a journey worth taking.

Russell Taylor - Tin Man: Blue

Russell Taylor has made a career of being as consistently intriguing as he is difficult to categorize. A masterful singer, Taylor has bristled at boundaries, taking his music in directions - R&B, rock, electronic, and many nooks and crannies within them -- that likely confound radio programmers. But it is his individuality and refusal to chase trends that has made him all that more interesting as an artist. While, particularly over the past year, we've seen performer after performer submit music that appears reactionary and inauthentically focused on attracting urban radio, Taylor's inclination has always been to move in the other direction: He doesn't create music to fit in radio's comfort zone; he challenges listeners to enter his world. And it is usually a journey worth taking.

Two-plus years after his last release, Taylor is returning with an ambitious series of three EPs, called Tin Man, to be issued over the next several months, and identified by colors of Blue (introspection), Red (sensuality and love), and Yellow (bright and new).

The trilogy begins with the new issued Blue, which, while ostensibly pointing to "introspection," takes a broad view of the term; Taylor is really looking at human nature, and the desires, fears and insecurities that drive us. He sets that tone with "Thrill," the lead single, which opens with the sound of nighttime crickets and staccato harmonies, before bursting to an immediate, nervous beat that appropriately accents a song about our natural inclination to seek danger, whether in love or in Vegas. It's a great song -- one of his best -- and a nice table-setter for the rest of Blue. 

“Thrill” introduces the use of unusual beats and percussive instruments, a clear signature throughout the album. Through the use of those arrangements, one can feel adrenaline rising as the song takes the listeners to a world where we regularly take irresistible risks. Just as engaging is the steady, fast tempo of “Wide Awake,” another song that uses unexpected vocal and musical arrangements behind an earworm melody line.

In an irony that is certainly not lost on the artist, the absence of a beat is the star of “Dance With Somebody,” a virtually unrecognizable cover of the Whitney Houston dance jam, here repositioned as a bluesy dirge, with only a bass guitar to offset Taylor’s passionate vocals.

After taking listeners through an uncommon ride on sub-30 minute EP, Taylor pulls out the stops on the final cut, the haunting "Superman." The beautiful, sparsely arranged ballad (with soft keyboards and backing vocals by Lalah Hathaway) tells the confessional tale of a man who doesn't have all the answers, but wishes he did. Taylor's plaintive vocals are just right to create a near perfect coda for the EP and one of the most memorable ballads of 2017.

While labeled as Blue, the first EP of the trilogy covers a fair bit of ground, both lyrically and musically, and doesn’t veer toward maudlin as the title might hint. Even at only five full songs, its maturity and vision show a talented but sometimes mercurial musician who is moving to another, higher level of creativity; it is an EP that portends well for both the next two chapters of the trilogy and, hopefully, for broader public acclaim of an artist whose time has come. Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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