REVIEW: Crash Taylor — Retired Outlaw (LP)
Crash Taylor’s Retired Outlaw percolates many years before taking its final shape. Coming up in an intensely musical environment means a lot of things and one of those is that he finds his life’s passion early. Other kids may be playing baseball, watching television, drawing pictures, and I’m sure some of that sort of fare plays a bit role in Taylor’s story, but he’s playing banjo at five years old. He’s penning his own poems and songs before his tenth birthday. Retired Outlaw begins way back there and builds for decades.
It’s a debut. Taylor is no stranger to recording studios, however. He records hundreds of songs with never feels any sort of inner push to flog his wares in the marketplace. The play’s, or in this case song’s, the thing, borrowing from the Bard. The pandemic, however, changes the narrative. Taylor reflects, as songwriters are wont to do, writes a book during the “down” time, and decides to release an album at long last.
I remember seeing an interview once with writer Tom Wolfe, author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Bonfire of the Vanities, among other books. He mentions how debuting novelists, like musical artists releasing their first collection, have their whole lives to generate material for that work. Wolfe says they err because they put everything into that first effort and, consequently, leave little left for later.
There’s no danger of that for Crash Taylor. “Fretboard” is one of the more unique songs you’ll hear in recent memory. It breaks with the commonplace in the way Taylor writes about his chosen vocation. The opening line “My fret board is my Ouija/I go where it leads me” pulls off an audacious rhyme, first off, and second grabs keen-eared listeners’ attention with its vivid simile.
He nods to his blues roots with the song’s slide-guitar flourish and the tempo’s slow drag holds the listener’s attention between verses. The patient overlaying of acoustic and electric guitar during the second song “Idlewild” is among Retired Outlaw’s highlights. He scales the first of several heights during the song’s chorus and its expansive vocals brighten the song’s already buoyant mood.
Taylor doesn’t narrow the album’s sound as it progresses. He introduces organ as a key piece of the musical puzzle for the third tune “Play for Me”. Steady songwriting, however, scales the instrument to its appropriate size for the song’s needs. It provides a consistent spectrum of color that helps fill out the arrangement.
He clips the opening lines for “How Love Grows” in a way that reinforces this scene-setting as lyrical snapshots like the passport stamps he depicts. Acoustic guitar and organ accompany him through the introduction and the song accumulates added instruments as it moves. He orchestrates it in masterful fashion dropping piano first into the song, then tasteful percussion, and cumulating with a near-choir of voices joining Taylor’s. It’s Retired Outlaw’s longest song and definitely most ambitious.
“Let Him In” matches it in merit, if not runtime. His folk music roots are as clear as ever. Taylor begins the song in a similar fashion to some predecessors and doesn’t sever many of those connections as the performance pushes onward. No matter though. You can hear this as an autobiographical number if you like, but it invokes a milieu and mood, if nothing else. The consistency, depth, and entertainment value of Crash Taylor’s Retired Outlaw make it worth your time.