House of Healing – Heather Taylor

A review of Heather Taylor's latest solo release, "House of Healing."

House of Healing – Heather Taylor

Solo folk-ish singer-songwriter Heather Taylor released her newest album, “House of Healing” on September 8th. A product of 1809 Studios, it was produced by Taylor and Dave Drago, and featured Taylor on vocals, octave mandolin, and flute, Drago on bass, guitar, and auxiliary percussion, Jake Walsh on drums, and Gabe Schliffer on fiddle and cello. The album is a seven-song collection with tunes that are personal and introspective, and follow themes of self-discovery, self-esteem, and becoming one with yourself. Having heard Taylor’s story on the Rochester Indie Musician Spotlight with her describing her songs as “self-therapy,” this theme was unsurprising.

Taylor’s music doesn’t fit into a clean “folk” box. Her classical training on flute has influenced her sense on melody, and her ability to control a very tight vibrato with the harmonic language of bluegrass makes for an interesting blend. She’s a modern folk-influenced musician, and Drago’s work producing the album brings it together.

For those expecting a more bare-bones, typical folk sound, this album will surprise. Drago continues his theme of spaciousness from Jon Lewis Band’s “Out to Lunch,” but does it in a way that highlights a more bluegrass sensibility. Many of the instruments are mixed to the background – and even Taylor’s vocals seem distant at times – but it works for the sound, and allows for cool moments when a line or part comes to the front.

The opening track “Sick” starts with Indian-influenced meditation sounds, ranging from the sitar to a percussive flute. This ethereal track features a nice drum groove from Walsh that is reminiscent of a mountain scape, and a repeating line of “give it one more day” acts as the mantra for the meditation sounds.

“In What Spirit” borrowed the bouncy two-feel and some harmonic language from hot jazz and gypsy, with some scatting sections, and some surprise guitar distortion in the bridge. The words “in what spirit” act again as a mantra, as they begin many lines that question the motives of actions that the narrator addresses.

“She is Not Helpless” is probably the “pop-iest” track on this record, thanks to Walsh’s perky and unexpected groove. A song of self-discovery, the bridge featured a reduced texture with distorted guitar and a flute solo. The melody works unexpectedly well for this odd synthesis of pop, distortion, and folk.

The middle track “I Love You” functions perfectly in its role, as it combines and showcases all the things this album tries to accomplish rolled into one song; there’s some fiddle, more Indian meditation sound and sitar with strings, that craggy groove from Walsh, and it’s a poem that sounds like a love song to oneself.

“Fat-Hearted Woman” might as well be called “Fat-Hearted Woman Blues,” but it works either way. The 12-bar blues was a great surprise, and the texture chance from the first feel you hear to the second that brings it home was an unusual but effective choice. Lyrically it combines the Western words (whistles, trains) and the stigma and self-talk that are a part of an insecure person’s life.

“Cloudy Haze” was another surprise, as the combination of modal guitar, flute, and vocals was very Led Zeppelin (“Battle of Evermore” and “Stairway to Heaven,” to be precise) and was a ton of fun. “Medieval running tune” comes to mind as the narrator counts down the tears she has left to shed before she “cries for the world inside.” Taylor also vocally took off in this track, showcasing her higher and lower range that she didn’t access most of the album.

Finally, the track “Made to Wander,” that Taylor also released as an animated music video by Jon Lewis, had the most lyrical melody, with an “arranged” sound that opened up towards the end in rock-folk-power-ballad.

Taylor’s album is a winner, as it sets out and accomplishes everything it seeks to. Taylor’s poetry is wonderful, and doesn’t lose its effectiveness in recording, though the words were sometimes hard to understand given how far back they were mixed. This album should satisfy rockers, folk-lovers, and those on the indie scene.

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