There are songs that bring tears to your eyes. Sad songs. Songs about lost love and missed opportunity. Then there are songs that make you cry openly. Songs about death and regret and the ones who’ve gotten away. On the other side of the spectrum, there are songs that beg you to sing along, to dance, to laugh. Happy songs. Songs about found love and triumph and empowerment. Then there are the songs on Sunny Taylor’s latest EP.
These four stunning tracks – “Highview Drive,” “Paper Tiger (Getting Over It),” “Break My Heart Please” and my personal favorite, “Trucker” – run the emotional gamut from devastation to celebration, often in the same song. They’ll have you smiling through your tears, whistling while you weep. The complexity of both the songwriting and the arrangements on this self-titled work delivers that all-too-elusive satisfaction that can only come from hearing a truly great piece of music. It’s better than a good book, a wonderful meal, a flawless movie. These songs bring the entire banquet, and even though Taylor’s latest effort is an EP – and hence on the short side – you will not walk away hungry. Or at least you’ll simply be eager for the full-length to come out as soon as possible. (Incidentally, Taylor told me she can’t wait either. New songs are ready and simply waiting to be recorded.)
It’s been four years since Taylor’s accomplished and award-winning full-length Lock the Door and Leave, and in that time she’s not only amassed an incredibly loyal fanbase in and around Fort Wayne (she is, without a doubt, one of this town’s most beloved musicians) but she’s also matured as a songwriter and singer. I can’t say anything negative about Lock the Door – songs like “Overcast,” “Unresolve” and “Weightless” have gotten me through many a rainy day, made me feel in lonely times like I wasn’t alone at all – but the tracks on this EP, which Taylor recorded in the Nashville studio of much-respected independent producer Mark Hornsby, show a new side of Taylor, a grown-up, fully realized womanly side that I can’t help but credit to her life as a mother of three girls, a wife, an artist who knows how to juggle what she wants with what she needs.
They also exhibit a full, richly textured sound, thanks in part to the incredible session musicians Taylor worked with at Hornsby’s Java Jive studio – Tom Hemby (electric guitar), Phil Naish (piano and keyboards), Scott Williamson (drums), Dirk Darken (percussion) and Brian Beller (bass) – and the string arrangements of John Hinchey. But this collection would be nothing without Taylor’s smoky, sure voice and sharp pen which, together, spin poetry out of everything from loneliness and divorce to what it means to have a home and be human.
The EP begins with “Trucker,” a song Taylor wrote after talking with a friend who felt very much on the outside of things. While others wake up to family, friends, lovers, she wakes up to her “best-laid plans.” I dare you to listen to this track and remain stoic and unmoved. It’s impossible. The song progresses through a woman’s day and night, the evening sky reminding her of the one who’s missing from her life. In Taylor’s hands, the mundane becomes the sublime and vice-versa. A window lamp is “a conflagration,” the heavens, the map of the human heart.
Next up is “Highview Drive” a song that took Taylor 10 minutes to write and years to record. It’s another tear-jerker that, in this case, deals with a bittersweet childhood marred by divorce. In this complicated track, bird houses mingle with dog cemeteries, comfort with anguish. No matter the tenor of your younger years, “Highview Drive” is guaranteed to strike a chord and have you reminiscing about your first home and earliest memories. And, if you’re like me, it’ll have you going to Google earth to see the place. Don’t bother. Taylor’s depiction is the one that matters.
“Highview Drive” is followed by “Paper Tiger (Getting Over It)” a wonderful primer on how to survive heartbreak of both the small and earth-shaking variety. It’s the most upbeat tune on the EP and has an irresistible melody that will creep into your consciousness and have you asking unanswerable questions like “How do you kiss goodbye to a face you’ve never kissed?” Here’s another question: Has longing ever found a more concise expression?
The EP ends with the moving and majestic “Break My Heart Please.” The title would seem an odd request, but one listen makes it all clear. This is vulnerability in song form. Anyone who’s ever loved someone will recognize in this track an undeniable truth. Sometimes sympathy and kindness from another is the most heartbreaking thing of all. “I know myself a little too well,” Taylor sings. “It’s why you should give me hell.”
I’d rather give her her props. She certainly knows herself and her art well. The Sunny Taylor EP blends folk with country and rock and the best parts of pop for a sound that is, to paraphrase a friend and fellow Taylor fan, unlike anything that has come out of Fort Wayne before. Some of the best singer-songwriters – Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Dar Williams – have nothing on Sunny. Before I can be accused of hyperbole, get yourself a copy of this EP. (They’re available for $8 on www.sunnytaylormusic.com.) I stand by my words. To listen to Sunny Taylor the artist and Sunny Taylor the EP is to know you’re in good hands, to relax and relish the unique pleasure of enjoying the work of an artist who has hit her stride and can’t – won’t – be stopped.