Norman Taylor – Meditations on the Blues | Album Review

Norman Taylor – Meditations on the Blues

Soul Stew Records  

CD: 10 Songs, 35 Minutes

Styles: Acoustic Blues, Mellow Blues

What do you immediately imagine when you hear the word “meditation?” Yoga class? Buddhist monks chanting “Om?” Sitting cross-legged on the floor? All of the above? Meditation is meant to still the mind, freeing it of distracting thoughts and emotions. That’s why the title of Norman Taylor’s Meditations on the Blues is so ironic. As folks say on social media, this album will make you experience “all the feels, all the time.” This is mostly due to Taylor’s voice: laden with a thousand burdens but lifting them all with poignant pride. Here is a man who knows the blues inside out, not simply the mechanics of the genre. He presents ten acoustic tracks – seven originals and three covers – that encapsulate “The Path” his life has taken, and that of many others. There are highs (a gospel-style cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”,) lows (“No Liberty”), and merry moments in between (“Mel’s Two Step”). Together, they constitute a veritable acoustic masterpiece.

Norman Taylor is a singer/songwriter/acoustic performer from the Philadelphia area. His style is based in the country blues of artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James, and contemporary acoustic bluesmen like Keb Mo, Eric Bibb and Guy Davis. Norman also draws influence from country, ‘70s rock, soul, gospel and a variety of musical forms. He’s been an opening act for blues artists Guy Davis, Corey Harris, singer-songwriter Phil Roy, Pat Wictor, Alexis P Suter, Warner Willams and Jay Summerour, Chris Smithers, Marcia Ball, Trombone Shorty, Janiva Magness, Popa Chubby,Cedric Burnside Project, Jarekus Singelton, Bobby Rush and the legendary rock band ZZ Top. In addition, his music has been featured on  Jonny Meister’s Blues Show on WXPN in Philadelphia, and BB King’s Bluesville on SiriusXM Radio. Norman’s Blue Soul CD on Soul Stew Records was nominated for best acoustic blues album for 2014.

Performing along with Mr. Taylor (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric baritone guitar, slide guitar) are Laura Cheadle on vocals for track two, Michele Peraino on vocals for track four, Mel Roberts on harmonica for track five, Steven Goldstein on acoustic lead guitar for track eight, TJ Fry on mandolin for track eight, and James Cheadle on piano for track ten.

This CD concerns some dark and heavy subject matter: brutality, confinement, oppression, weary resignation. Taylor’s cover of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” by Nina Simone, is the most heart-rending expression of these realities, featuring Laura Cheadle on vocals that might provoke tears. So could the arduous “Bridge of Pain” and a conscience-twinging cover of Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” (eerily reminiscent of Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance”). Let me give you a refresher on “Street’s” lyrics: “Been down so long, getting up didn’t cross my mind. I knew there was a better way of life that I was just trying to find. You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure. Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester.” Ouch.

Collectively, such songs are penned by people who live, breathe and die in the blues, not just sing or play them. Norman Taylor has found a way to turn his anguish into enlightening Meditations.   

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