Lewis Taylor, Jazz Café, London
Friday 13 January 2006
Two for the price of one in Camden: one of the UK's finest exponents of blissful, soulful songwriting and an axe-wielding brute of a rocker. But don't expect two acts - one guy does it all.
Nobody has really solved the conundrum of the singer-guitarist Lewis Taylor. His most satisfying moments in this opening night of four at the Jazz Café came when he retreated from the microphone to rage through song-closing solos, or improvised preludes to some of his underground classics, such as "Lucky" and "Damn". Backed by the core of Rick Wakeman's touring band, Taylor and his group were in their prog-meets-psychedelia element.
But wasn't this the Lewis Taylor who, as a soulful media-darling, earned gushing praise from Elton and Bowie and D'Angelo for his 1996 debut and favourable comparisons with the voices of Marvin and Stevie? His disparate influences (he got into rock as a protest against his father's jazz leanings) are colliding even more spectacularly nowadays.
The third song of the set, "Track", a crowd-pleaser from his debut, opened with two minutes of soul heaven. The venue was silent as Taylor accompanied himself on acoustic through two verses and choruses. Then, one could imagine the rebellious voice in his shaven head saying: "Sod this for a game of blue-eyed soul soldiers!" - and the band crashed into a thunderous coda. It was the same on other numbers - a jazzy groove turned into pure guitar-fuelled filth. You had to admire the temerity of it.
At other times, during this long, confusing set, Taylor reminded us of his haunting, hypnotising powers with achingly beautiful melodies and sentiments and wonderfully incongruous chord progressions. "The problem is, there are too many changes," he said with a giggle mid-verse, as "Satisfied" stumbled. You said it, Lewis.
If Taylor has a weakness live, it's his discomfort as a lead vocalist. He often appeared lacking in confidence at big moments, relying instead on another snorting guitar solo. So when he invited the superb vocalist Sophie Delila on stage, she glided through the cult sing-along "Song" in a potentially show-stopping manner.
Taylor has conceded that the rocker-does-soul paradox was partly responsible for his failure as a major artist. He's never had a Top 40 hit, split from Island records in 2000 and spent three years stuffing envelopes as he sold CDs on his own label.
Lewis Taylor plays the Jazz Café tonight (0870 060 3777)
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