I was reading a piece the other day with Gary Hoey, where he talked about learning new things. That’s not easy. As he put it himself: “man, it was a hard road, but it’s the blues. Blues should be hard.”
I kept thinking of those words when listening to “Reckless Heart.”
There is a sense here that Joanne Shaw Taylor is putting more of herself into her seventh record than she has into the others, and the whole thing seems deeply personal.
It’s not just that she’s written ten of the 11 songs on her own (and co-wrote the other), but more that the lyrics lay a few things bare in a way that hasn’t happened before.
The opening song, in that respect, is aptly named. “In The Mood” sounds as feisty as you like, and you’d best believe that JST sounds like she’s desperate to get in trouble of some – any – sort here, and the piano work makes this sound downright sleazy, not to mention it is a full on rock solo not a blues one that punches here.
Now, I thought all I shared with Jo was a hometown – a non-descript place on the outskirts of Birmingham that she had the sense to move away from to the US and I didn’t – but it turns out there may be more to it.
Only those that make all the important decisions in their lives in the small hours (and probably wake up tired before deciding all those ideas were bollocks….) will truly understand the lyric “I am in the mood to set fire to good reason.” Which is followed by “I am in the mood for burning some bridges” to make this one a real highlight.
Elsewhere, though, the misery is largely to do with love. And there ain’t a person reading this who won’t understand the desire to give someone your heart, as on “All My Life”, and there ain’t a person who loved The Faces that won’t be fully on board with the vibe.
“The Best Thing” a more soul-filled blueser with magnificent organ, swaggers with confidence and JST’s vocals – which have always been husky – are positively gravel filled here, as everything seems to have gone up just a notch or two.
Crucial to that perhaps is the band – some of Detroit’s finest players – and Al Sutton (who produced Greta Von Fleet) does a fine job of harnessing it all. “Bad Love” – a more classic blues stomper- has a mighty chorus, “Creepin’” is yet more proof, should it be needed of Taylor’s versatile playing and there is real stoicism about everything here.
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is more balladic, and has enormous intent. There is something of Bad Company about the way it broods, while the title track, perhaps more than any of the others, reveals all JST’s many sides.
A pulsing bass groove, vocals that sound cracked and fragile but a gritted teeth attitude that suggests that whoever “babe” is here had best stay out of her way. And, in fairness, its also got “break -up anthem” writ large right through it.
“Break My Heart Anyway” is acoustic led and has hints of the wonderful Chris Whiteley. That and thoughts about “I don’t like it here, outside the lines where nothing’s clear. My over anxious mind is working overtime” make this a pretty special cut.
“New 89” is covered in slide guitar, but it is balanced by the acoustic and solo “Jake’s Boogie”, which is straight from the delta swamps and is the type of thing you might have thought that Kelly Joe Phelps had the trademark on.
I’ve no idea if what I am saying here is anywhere near correct, but it feels like “Reckless Heart” is something of a concept record. If it is then “Only Lonely” feels like the punchline. “I am only lonely when you’re here” sings JST over something that sounds truly soul-drenched.
If I am wrong about that, then here’s something I’ll say with more certainty. “Reckless Heart” is the album that Joanne Shaw Taylor wanted to make right now – who knows, she may have needed to make it too? – and the results are stunning. The record she was always capable of is right here.