(23 October 2005) Maria Taylor has one of those voices that is instantly recognizable and full of paradoxes, sounding both fragile and unflinching, disembodied and earthy, dispassionate and intense at the same time. Along with Orenda Fink, Maria Taylor comprises one-half of Azure Ray--the highly acclaimed duo credited with bringing the sound of "southern gothic" music to a new audience. In fact, Moby is such a big fan of the duo that he got involved with their project.
With 11:11 (Saddle Creek (USA) LBJ-74, 2005), Maria Taylor breaks into refreshing new territory with an album that--like Orenda Fink's solo project, Invisible Ones--is actually stronger musically and vocally than her work with Azure Ray. Those who are somewhat disenchanted with the overabundance of sensitive female folk singers need only to listen to the opening track "Leap Year" to be persuaded: this is not a typical angel-voiced singer singing acoustic ballads.
First of all, Maria Taylor writes and sings with an elegant intensity that is unique and captivating. On "Leap Year," lush string arrangements and military drums combine with synthetic pulses and heavenly harmonies to create a feeling of cinematic luminosity. "Song beneath the Song" has a touch of 1980's OMD aesthetic mixed with Maria's folk influences. "Two of those Two" is a sweetly meandering piano/guitar tune made all the more beautiful for its simplicity.
"Nature Song" is another spellbinding and magical song full of melancholic wonder. Sounding like a Tennessee folk song from the 50's Maria's acoustic guitar and stark harmonies are wonderfully backed by lilting strings. The listener is instantly transported to another place and time. "Light House" is an evocatively rendered musical vignette recalling summer evenings in the countryside.
Taking the music in an effectively groovy direction, "One for the Shareholder" is a retro-clash piece of electronic cynicism that calls to mind Heather Duby's remote amibence. Both enjoyable and unexpected. "Xanax" is a guitar driven song laden with dream-etherealism and a melody of regret. Slightly Beatle-esque with touches of Roy Orbison, "Birmingham 1982" is straightforward folk-rock of the highest quality.
"Speak Easy" is such a simple and marvelous resurrection of bluegrass/americana that it is hard to believe that it was not written in the 30s or 40s. Maria saves the best for last with "Hitched," a knockout slice of irresistible musical ingenuity. With earnest and touching lyrics evoking a deep south wedding, "Hitched" jaunts along with almost honky-tonk restlessness but transforms into a glorious hymn-like song with celestial choir. This song is not to be missed.
If 11:11 is an indicator of things to come, we eagerly anticipate future Azure Ray albums as well as an further solo efforts by Maria Taylor. What she has done is create an album that may well become a "classic." With its
timeless quality, impeccable musicianship, and, of course,
Maria's divine voice, 11:11 deserves to become a standard example of excellent American neo-folk music.--Justin Elswick in Provo, Utah and Russ Elliot in New York