by James Campion
With over one-thousand performances and seven full-length records released; including 2013’s With Innocence and Go Amaze in 2016, both debuting in the Top 10 on the iTunes charts, Taylor Carson comes to the Underwater Sunshine Fest through our pal, and Fest alum, Stephen Kellogg. Taylor opened for Stephen’s Daryl’s House show in upstate New York late last year and caught my attention by stilling the room as he humbly presented his gripping songs of love, life and family. I was truly impressed with his ability, like Stephen, to make his most personal songs into universal experiences for the audience. With just an acoustic guitar, he commanded the stage without an ounce of showbiz affect. It wasn’t long before I was sure I was enjoying a songwriter who finds the most human of our frailties and frames them with contagious melodies and one of the more emotive voices I have heard live.
“Taylor leads with his heart,” Kellogg told me recently. “On stage, in his music, his writing...I could see that right away. Having him on the road was like traveling with a brother you rarely get to see and whose company you adore. He crushed it every single night.”
Much of Taylor’s sweetly presented diary-esque songwriting can be found on his latest release, After the Tamer Has Gone, which, according to his web site, reminds us to “be brave no matter how many obstacles are in our way.” But more specifically, it is taken from one of the album’s key songs, “Stay” which the songwriter states “represents where my heart is during that particular time in my life.” Perhaps more predatorially dangerous than a sunnier attitude might suggest: “I’m underneath a microscope / Wearing a blindfold walking a tightrope / Locked in a lion's den after the tamer has gone.”
Even this cannot keep him from finding the silver lining in song. “I’ve learned most things the hard way and I’m very much my harshest critic,” he says. “Life holds us to such high standards while battling against us. As if living under a microscope isn’t tough enough, ‘Let’s blindfold you, have you walk a tightrope while you’re in a lion's den.’ And it feels that way sometimes, but there is a way out. When I land in that lion's den, what have I learned that would safely get me out? I always find a way out.”
It is that balance of challenge followed by optimism that makes Taylor Carson’s music so refreshing. “I like my songs to have a happy resolution,” he says. “We’re all chasing the happy resolve.”
Indeed, much of Taylor’s art finds that glimmer of hope, some might say, magic in a sometime cruel world. Indeed, he was kind enough to gift me a copy of After the Tamer Has Gone after his set and, despite some of the dire state-of-mind hallmarks within, I found myself going back to it time and again to lift my spirits. We even debuted a wonderfully touching song he played that night on the Underwater Sunshine podcast soon after titled, "I Believe in You". This delicately sung tune echoes the album’s sentiment of overcoming the noise the world throws at innocent souls. He wrote it, as he would share with the audience that night, for his daughter, singing in its coda, “I am proud of your imagination” as if a note of confidence to all of us who hold our enchanted view of the world close to the vest more than we’d like to admit.
Now 37 years-old, Taylor first started composing at age 16 when he “learned some cowboy chords and immediately began writing.” He told me, “Right away I noticed that writing was an escape; it was my direct line to processing the world.” He gained inspiration from the tender musings of Cat Stevens, the intense story arcs of Paul Simon, and Tom Petty’s ability to capture emotions in three-chord/three-minute vignettes that tell more about the human experience that most novels. “I realized early on that the songs that these artists were writing held up with just a voice and acoustic guitar,” he says. “That's a tough feat, but they’re songs with long shelf lives.”
It is that shelf life that Taylor, like all artists, whether musical or otherwise, are after that keeps him creating and sharing his musical therapy. “Writing helps me understand people and most importantly it helps me know myself,” he says, before concluding, “I’d better keep writing!”
Admittedly, I did not know much about Taylor Carson before his set that evening opening for Stephen Kellogg. It was one of those moments, like seeing the great Dan Bern open for Ani DiFranco back in the early aughts or Eric Hutchinson supporting Joe Jackson in 2005 that brought me to these wonderful singer-songwriters, making their stand and sharing their stories. But he, like all the Underwater Sunshine Fest musicians, cannot hide their need to express without limit. “It is such an honor to be on the bill with artists that I enjoy,” Taylor emailed me recently. “I am so lucky to have been introduced to y’all via my friend Stephen Kellogg. The last time I was in NYC was at the City Winery with Stephen. I am going to bring the love I felt that night with me to the show on April 6th!”
Taylor’s home on the Facebook
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Listen on Spotify
And in Apple country