Map to the Fire is Sunny Taylor’s first full-length album of new music since 2007’s Lock the Door and Leave, and it’s only her fourth full-length album since her debut, 1999’s Lux in Tenebris Lucet, but there’s been a lot of maturing going on over those 15 years. These new songs aren’t the spirited complaints of a kid anymore, but the self-assured poetry of someone who’s started to figure things out.Taylor still calls her music “folk-alt rock,” but Map to the Fire is only “alt” by the standards of the late 90s, when anything that wasn’t Britney Spears was considered “alternative.” These days, Taylor’s songs, especially the tracks that open this new album, fit comfortably into the mainstream of folk rock and contemporary country. She does her share of subtle genre hopping (when the band kicks in on “Fire Fire,” she stomps confidently into blues rock territory), but you’re not going to find anything here that’s reminiscent of The Decembrists.
The real strength of the songs, though, lies in Taylor’s lyrics, all of which speak from a position of maturity. Some of the songs – “Hurricane Annabelle,” “10 Ft Tall” – are about clashes with other personalities, but they’re about stepping clear of the drama rather than participating in it.
More of the songs are about pushing through the everyday disappointments and regrets, for good or for bad; when she says in “Bury It Low,” “we take it on the chin and off we go,” the tone is set for the entire album. The tone, however, is not despair, but a pragmatic hopefulness that if she does the right things, everything will turn out okay. In “Big Little Fish,” in which she comes to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with being in a little pond, she reminds herself to “forget the hook and write your song.” It’s an important lesson learned.
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