Is this how it feels to be John Mayall? Two years ago, Joanne Shaw Taylor was this writer’s secret weapon; a precocious star of the monthly blues column, and a hot tip to drop with an enigmatic wink when probed by aficionados in sweatbox clubs.
Even then, it was clear that the sassy, sarky, 24-year-old Brummie blonde was destined for big things, but nobody could have predicted that her trajectory would practically be a vertical line, with White Sugar proving to be Ruf Records’ most successful debut to date. This in turn led to awards statuettes raining down, doors opening in the US – and her new collection Diamonds In The Dirt thrust into the main review section for wider consideration.
And Mayall thought it was hard letting Clapton leave the nest… Strange, then, that Taylor opens Diamonds In The Dirt with the air of a girl on the brink: “Smoking to the filter/with heavy-hearted breath,” she sighs on the slow-burning Can’t Keep Living Like This, in the kind of voice that Tennessee whisky would have if it could sing: “dragging through my days/with gin-soaked steps”. Ostensibly a cry for help, it’s strangely reassuring.
Success has clearly not made Taylor too soft or happy, and she retains the knack for crafting remorse-soaked ‘last-chance-saloon’ blues of the kind that made White Sugar so special. Then she kicks into a brilliantly bad-tempered guitar solo – almost jarring in comparison to the glaze-eyed blues-box noodling of the chasing pack – and you’re reminded that this girl can really play.
From there, Diamonds… is largely triumphant. Dead And Gone pins a twanging country-blues verse and breathy vocal to a crunching chorus hook, hinting at the heavier Detroit influences that Taylor claims to have taken from her adopted US home. Same As It Never Was is softer without turning slushy – a gliding lament sexed-up with Hendrix guitar – while Lord Have Mercy is a mountain-top power-ballad with a truly epic lead.
If there is an issue, it’s the way that Taylor’s sultry vocals are occasionally sunk a little low in Jim Gaines’s mix, with the effect that certain lines of, say, Jump That Train are allowed to slip by as murmured asides. For all that, the sense of ambition on Diamonds In The Dirt comes through loud and clear.
World domination surely awaits, and is fully deserved. So long, then, Joanne. We had some good times. Do keep in touch.