By Al Kaufman
Eric Taylor is like that cool uncle you had. You know, the one who lived out in the woods in a cabin he built by himself. He talked a little saltier than your mom approved of, he didn’t care if you flipped through the nudie magazines he didn’t bother to try to hide, he’d tell you stories about improper things your mom did as a child, and, most importantly, he taught you a few chords on the guitar.
Although Taylor didn’t put out his first album until 1981, he’s been writing songs since long before. In 1970, he left Atlanta to try to make it in California. He got as far as Houston, where he ran into some songwriters with names like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. He worshipped them and they, in turn, thought he was a dumb kid. But Taylor kept working at it and became a gifted songwriter and storyteller in the same vein as his mentors. Ex-wife Nanci Griffith covered his “Dollar Matinee” on her debut . Lyle Lovett, a student of Taylor’s, covered his “Memphis Midnight, Memphis Morning” on his covers CD, Step Inside this House. Both Lovett and Griffith show up on Live at Red Shack to sing their respective songs (and some others) with Taylor on this, his live retrospective. Their harmonies are full of love, warmth and gratitude.
What Taylor has done on Red Shack is assemble friends (Lovett, Griffith, Denice Franke, Italian guitar virtuoso Marco Python Fecchio, and current wife Susan Lindfors Taylor) together with a handpicked audience of 20 or so guests (for whom he also bought drinks) to play some of his favorite songs that he wrote.
And while these songs are about dollar matinees and the death of JFK (beautifully told through the eyes of “Visitors from Indiana”), this doesn’t feel like some ancient guy rehashing the good old days, but rather a gifted storyteller spinning mesmerizing yarns. Taylor’s rambling intro into “Dean Moriarty” talks of the year 1957 (“It was a good year for cars. A bad year for haircuts, but a good year for cars.”) and includes school segregation, Jack Kerouac, and trying to get girls to take a ride in his car.
Taylor may sing of the past, of bar rooms and hay fields and even Johnny Cash, but his characters want the same things we do. They want love and redemption. They want some fun and happiness. They want respect and sometimes even a little vengeance. Taylor’s people are just like us, it’s just that their tales are exquisitely told.