Joanne Shaw Taylor says playing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was both terrifying and wonderful



By Steve Newton

It’s always cool when the inspired playing of an up-and-coming blues guitarist gets showcased by a verified rock superstar. You may recall how it happened three decades ago when the captivating fretwork of a 29-year-old Stevie Ray Vaughan lit up David Bowie’s poppy megahits “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance”.

It happened against last June, during an outdoor concert in London to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. That’s when 26-year-old blues upstart Joanne Shaw Taylor took the spotlight in front of Buckingham Palace—and a TV audience of 17 million—to beautifully reimagine Stevie Wonder’s harmonica licks on a Les Paul during Annie Lennox’s performance of Eurythmics’ “There Must Be An Angel”.

“It was a very interesting experience,” recalls Taylor from her home in Detroit, where she’s just returned from the European leg of the 2013 Blues Caravan tour. “It was quite terrifying and wonderful all at the same time.”

Wonderful is also an apt word to describe Taylor’s latest album, Almost Always Never, the followup to 2009’s White Sugar and 2010’s Diamonds in the Dirt. The CD finds her really coming into her own as a songwriter—and the experts tend to agree. “There are a lot of great guitarists and singers in the blues today,” raves Joe Bonamassa in Taylor’s current Ruf Records bio. “What I see in Joanne Shaw Taylor that sets her apart from the rest is the ability to write a great song.”

Taylor is the first to admit that ability took some nurturing, though.

“The debut album was kinda trial and error,” the U.K.-born musician relates. “Those were the first songs I’d ever written, and to be honest I didn’t know if I could write songs. Since then I’ve become more comfortable in my songwriting, and I know my strengths and weaknesses a bit more than I did.”

Those strengths are most evident on Almost Always Never via tunes like “Beautifully Broken”, which borrows the title of a Gov’t Mule ballad but stands on its own as a gorgeously textured and engrossing blues-funk workout. A fictional song “about a relationship kind of not working, but working at the same time,” it’s one of Taylor’s fave tracks on the new disc.

“That was one that my producer [Mike McCarthy] had a great deal of input on,” she explains, “because when I handed it over to him it was about 120 BPM faster than it is now. He slowed it down and gave it more of a ‘Miss You’ by the Stones kinda vibe.”

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