I was minding my own business at the management office, researching something for Puremusic. Probably running down some obscure artist that somebody had told or written me about. A gang email came in from my friend Bob Goldstone, a culture vulture and soulful music aficionado. He is a manager of some kind at Tower Records here in Nashville, and is in charge of the in-store concerts that occur regularly.
I've seen and I've played a lot of those in-store shows, and they usually blow. But I go sometimes just because they do, and you get to see artists under very unusual circumstances, in the light of day next to the bins, with a pretty humble sound system and no lights whatsoever. It's just interesting to see artists up that close in compromising circumstances, see how they handle themselves and the situation. You know?
Anyhow, the email says that The Ben Taylor Band, featuring the son of James and Carly, will be appearing today at 6 PM at the store. I finish at 6, it's up the street. Young Ryan and I buzz up there, he's a 25-year-old songwriter closer to James Taylor territory than Dave Matthews.
There's a good little crowd for a Tower show, for Nashville. As we walk by the stage area, there is obviously a little technical difficulty. The keyboard player (Adam MacDougall) has his Wurlitzer piano somewhat disassembled, and is going at it like he's very conversant with its idiosyncrasies. He's not amused, but he's not unglued.
We pass Ben, who's sitting playing his guitar. He's making this face that looks so much like his dad that I start laughing, and walk over to say hello. "Man, you're doing this face that's so much like your father, it's amazing" and he does a more exaggerated version of it as if to say "Oh, you mean this one?" and I laugh. "Yeah, I know. It's crazy," he says, and we shake hands. He's very personable and nice.
It becomes obvious to the trained eye that the keyboard is not going to work, and also that the keyboardist is a crucial and very gifted instrumentalist, that vibe is in the air. Ben seems slightly chagrined, but handles it extremely well, is cool and gracious about it. The quintet bashes on as four, the acoustic lead player (Rick Musallam) steps up to the plate very impressively, completely unfazed. Seems to enjoy the added pressure of having to carry a suddenly greater load. If the set list changes at all, it is not evident. When Ben asks the acoustic lead guy if he can play such and such without the keyboard, the guy assures him on every occasion, as if to say "I could play all of these by myself if it comes to that, just count it off." All the players are excellent, and the level of interaction is high, it's a good vibe despite the difficulties.
Ben sounds almost exactly like James, it's pretty shocking. His material is of course different, it's more hip hop influenced in the lyric rhythm and in some of the instrumental grooves. The artist is tall and lanky (yo) and busts some cool moves on the little stage, which at 6 PM next to the record bin is pretty cool. His tunes are immediately appealing, really good melodies, the lyrics at first listen seem thoughtful, hipster philosophic kind of thing. Young Ryan seems to enjoy it as much as I do, which in itself is interesting.
After the show, I go back to have a word before Ben starts signing CDs. Ben tells the guy in front of me, "Hang on, my old man's gotta go," and I turn to see his dad standing there, waiting to say goodbye to his son. He's in one of those floppy fishing hats and khakis, the legend that John Mayer rightly dubbed "the blueprint" at the Grammys. There is a tenderness between them that stops me in my tracks, I'm witnessing something very special to me. You can feel the mutual respect, and the father's pride. They exchange a couple of hushed remarks, and James makes a quick exit, but not before he speaks to a couple of admirers, takes the time.
I drive away, but come back to buy a CD. Ben's just finished signing and is packing up, says yeah, he'll sign one more. I tell him about Puremusic, he says to call him in the afternoon tomorrow, let's do an interview. (That conversation follows.)
I enjoyed the hell outta the CD Famous Among the Barns, we think that a listen to the clips provided will make a buying believer out of you. The Ben Taylor Band have put it out on Iris Records, which I believe is owned by Ben, band co-founder and drummer Larry Ciancia, and manager Kipp Stroden. A previous major label deal got typically swallowed up, shelved and otherwise lost in conglomeration, leaving a lingering distaste for that approach, and the story goes that doing it all again at all took some coaxing of Ben by Ciancia and others. But I'm glad The Ben Taylor Band did emerge, we certainly think they will be a creative force and an act with which to reckon. They are touring hard, and coming soon to your town. continue to interview