Joanne Shaw Taylor

Joanne Shaw Taylor
White Sugar

Ruf Records

By Brian D. Holland
September 2009

Whatever the actual meaning might be behind the title of Joanne Shaw Taylor's debut CD, White Sugar is certainly a deliciously charming collection of songs by a compelling white blues woman. Be prepared when you put the disc into the player, though, or when clicking on the mp3 files for the first time, as her sound may not be what one might expect out of an eye-catching, 23-year-old from Birmingham, England.

You'll immediately hear music that's gritty and seasoned, followed by a voice to go with it, one that's soulful and intense. Discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics, her talent to play the blues in such a deep and passionate manner thrilled him.

The opening song, “Going Home,” is a perfect - yet startling - display of this young lady's talent as a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. When it comes to the sound of her voice, picture Joss Stone with a style that's more bluesy and rock injected. Her guitar licks and chops are dazzling, and her tone is amazingly full and chunky (all conjured through Fender Telecaster Custom and Thinline guitars fit with Humbucking pickups in the neck position for extra punch.)

Following the opener is “Just Another Word,” a song with a pleasant vocal melody backed by addictive dual rhythmic chops separated stereophonically. The driving rhythm section of drummer Steve Potts and bassist Dave Smith move this one along, as well as the rest of the album's ten tracks, in a fine manner. Each instrument is prominent, as the abovementioned two are the only other players heard behind Taylor's voice, along with her infective guitar chops.

The sound is amazingly clean and full. Not to take anything away from Taylor, but the fact that renowned producer Jim Gaines was involved in the album's creation, in bringing all three musicians together in the studio as well, most likely has much to do with the proficiency of each recording.

Taylor utilizes the CD's title song, “White Sugar,” to her fullest potential within its four-and-a- half- minute time frame. The album's lone instrumental is a solid display of her astounding chops in both a funky and bluesy manner. Later on, “Heavy Heart,” enters a funky and bluesy atmosphere again, yet in more of a seductive and smooth flowing manner, vocally as well as instrumentally.

Although Taylor's style is definitely bluesy, as a blues vibe encompasses most of White Sugar, it's easily noticeable that her music crosses the line into rock quite a bit. With that said, the album's closer will certainly arouse awareness in staunch blues fans. “Blackest Day,” the second of two slow blues numbers on the album, is a killer track deserving of attention. Her soulful, sensual, and bluesy voice, and amazing guitar licks are incredible throughout.

White Sugar is an impressive debut release from a performer with more than adequate vocal, guitar playing, and songwriting skills.

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