Ben Taylor and Sweet Talk Radio | Musical Gifts

Ben Taylor

Looking for a Superb holiday gift? I recommend two recently released CDs that show new musical directions for each of these artists. One is Listening, by Ben Taylor, the son of Carly Simon and James Taylor. The other is the magnificent State of the Union, by Sweet Talk Radio, an LA-based husband-and-wife, singer-songwriter duo who visit Fairfield periodically.

Ben Taylor

As a young man, Ben Taylor was not sure that he would follow his parents’ musical footsteps. However, he changed his mind after performing during a Caribbean trip about ten years ago. Soon thereafter, he released a cover of Paul McCartney’s “I Will” that sounds eerily similar to his father’s voice.

But if you expect to hear another James Taylor when you listen to Listening, think again. Ben claims that Listening is a diary of the last four years of his life, and with time, Ben’s signature style has developed and matured. You might hear influences of Paul Simon or a flavor of James, but more often, Ben simmers distinctively in his own confident, gentle vocal style, one that breathes easily with well-crafted lyrics and skillful interplay on acoustic guitar, percussion, horns, and keyboards. No doubt, Ben is stepping past his family’s shadow into his own morning light.

Recommended tracks: Begin with “You Could Be Mine” and remind yourself that Paul Simon is not singing, “Come on, Rosie, won’t you let your long brown hair down.” Then delve into “America (acoustic),” with its reggae beat and inflections, that asks the political question, “How can we believe, after what we’ve been through?” Next, step into my personal favorite, “Not Alone,” that promises the ultimate comfort: “I am always holding you.” This song seems particularly destined to show up on a romantic movie soundtrack. On the title song, “Listening,” I imagine Ben Harper hearing it for the first time and smiling wryly with an approving “yeah.” The 1999 Macy Gray cover song “I Try” shows Ben’s talents in interpreting and lifting a song. All in all, this is the kind of sonic experience to which I can come back again and again.

Sweet Talk Radio

The duo Kathrin Shorr and Tim Burlingame began collaborating at music venues in LA several years ago. Their style reminds me of the Weepies—female-male harmonies with lyrical folk themes. The pair’s chemistry developed when they began to sit in and back each other’s performances with instrumentation and vocals. They also grew closer and eventually married. On their debut 2009 CD, My Hallelujah, the duo proved that their live concert talents translate well to CDs. With their second album, State of the Union, Kathrin and Tim build upon their synergistic magic—Kathrin with her confident, smooth vocal delivery and Tim with his subtle guitar accompaniment and vocal support.

On State of the Union, Tim takes the lead on “Writing in Pen” with lyrics that seem to praise his wife’s influence on his songwriting. Continuing with romantic themes, Kathrin confirms that she still has a twinkle in her eye on “I Love You Still.” And finally, we come to the song that tugs at my heart: “Dance with Me” harkens back to the classic torch songs that invite  us to the dance floor for the last spin of the evening. I hope this song will be playing when I take my daughter Caroline for the traditional father-daughter dance at her wedding next June.

I have so many positive memories of Sweet Talk Radio. At their first Fairfield concert a few years ago, they completely charmed the small and enthusiastic audience. At the end, as the lights came up, I observed many people staring toward “the blissful-beyond,” hardly believing what they had experienced. On their second trip, the place was packed. We can only hope for another visit sometime soon to showcase this new CD.