Lewis Taylor at Ronnie Scott's

Pop Music

'Sounds like Marvin Gaye, looks like Melvin Hayes", could have been the rather cruel verdict on Barnet's blue-eyed soulster after his brilliant debut album arrived seemingly out of nowhere to wild acclaim last year, only to be followed by a couple of live outings where the singer was said to fall well short in the charisma stakes. On the evidence of this show - the first in a month-long Sunday residency at Ronnie's - neither of the benchmarks has much credence. While Taylor's music might occasionally aspire to the ecstatic swoon of the divine Marvin, he's coming at it from rock rather than soul and he seems to be into something else entirely. As far as stage presence goes, he's certainly no no-hoper either, boasting moody looks and considerable coiled-spring-meets-cuddly-vulnerability appeal. His vocabulary of gestures is a little limited, true, but it's not a problem when he keeps his hands busy playing guitar, which he does staggeringly well, rifling off subtle Memphis riffs interspersed with the odd heavy metal solo.

No wonder his record company, Island, likes him so much. The potential equation whereby tuneful funk in a Jamiroquai vein is crossed with the American appeal of guitar rock brings dollar signs to the eyes. The club was sold out, Paul Weller was at the bar and there was a distinctive apres-Brits feel. Opening with the beautiful "Whoever", the quintet stroked out the subtle street-soul rhythms in a quietly masterful manner. It's a song so good that it makes the blue-eyed soul comparisons come true, but subsequent numbers proved that Taylor is nobody's clone. An insight into the enigma of Taylor comes from a chance encounter with one of the Barnet posse on the guest-list. Che ("Yeah, really, my dad was a communist") says that Lewis, together with his brother Matthew, who plays bass in the band, has been making music in his bedroom since he was a kid. "His mum wanted to put him on Opportunity Knocks when he was eight, but he wouldn't do it. He was into Deep Purple before all this soul bollocks." The intriguing opposites of sanctified soul and base metal, Memphis and Middlesex, are inscribed deeply into the music. When Taylor calls out an aside of "Won't you talk to me baby?", the Barnet posse answers with a response of "Oi, oi, oi, oi, oi", baffling the soul buffs in the audience. Lewis Taylor is a great find, but he's his own man, and what exactly has been found remains to be seen.

At Ronnie Scott's, Frith St, Soho, Sun, 16 and 23 March

Phil Johnson

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