Since her early days with Azure Ray, Maria Taylor has been delivering some of the most beautiful folk-tinged, effect-laden balladeering around. That hasn’t changed on her latest solo record, Something About Knowing, but she’s also stretching into territories we haven’t heard from her before. She’s still sporting those soft, delicate, echoing vocals, but the songs on this record tend to be quirkier with stronger rhythms. We hear a range from her here as she tries on styles and sounds that aren’t strongly present in her earlier work, though she does still return to the full, blanketing, atmospheric vibe she’s favored in the past.
Songs like “Folk Song Melody” are airier than expected for Taylor, with light guitar picking and even lighter melodies. It’s one of a set of songs on the album that fosters gentle toe-tapping, including the acoustic-driven “You’ve Got A Way With The Light” and the folk-tastic “Saturday In June.” First single “Up All Night” — an address to a small child that is the first clear sign that the record was written soon after Taylor became a mother — features a guitar fuzzy enough to be at home on a Black Keys album while “Tunnel Vision” features electronic effects and nearly danceable beats.
Thematically this record exhibits similar levels of exploration of new territory while still maintaining a connection to past work. This singer-songwriter has always been a source of soothing, occasionally sad, reflection and that’s still apparent here though optimism is now closer to the surface. She opens “Broken Objects” mournfully singing,
Seen a lot of broken objects / in a lot of broken towns before urging hope, crooning,
Pay attention to the wind / be patient with the rain / be grateful for the sunshine beating down upon your face. Indeed, looking forward seems to be one of the album’s major themes, as on “Sum Of Our Lives” Taylor whispers above booming drum beats,
A second chance at what we started / Break from the broken-hearted / We’re more than the sum of our lives. Cower at the face of regret / We want to be the ones who make it / We’re more than the sum of our lives. Whatever set of music footprints she happens to be following on a particular song these notes of resilience and looking-on-the-bright side constantly peak through and in some ways these undercurrents are more uplifting than outright happiness would have been.
Of course no theme is more integral to this album than newfound motherhood. Happy songs are tough because they can easily fall into the trite and saccharin, but through Taylor’s textured vocals lines like, “I got you, I got me, I heard the sweetest voice call me Mommy” just come off incredibly adorable. Lines like, “All the stars, the moon, the sky / Flower, fields and butterflies / It’s not enough for you, love of mine” do not read great on paper, but when backed by sparse guitar work, the barely audible singing on “Lullaby For You” seem not only pretty, but also natural and achingly sweet.
Overall Something About Knowing is a fun and charming effort; at times elegant and at times darling. It hits all the notes that Azure Ray and Maria Taylor fans will be looking for, but adds a dimension of touching warmth, and an expectation of brighter tomorrows that makes it one of the most heartfelt entries in her catalog.
Something About Knowing drops on October 29th via Saddle Creek.
STREAM: Maria Taylor – “Up All Night”