Ben Taylor’s new album, Listening, is a lesson in why nepotism is sometimes a good thing. Taylor is the son of Carly Simon and James Taylor, and he will likely always be known as their son. That’s what happens when your parents are legends. With this effort, however, Taylor continues to prove himself as a viable artist on his own merit.
Taylor recorded Listening over the span of four years, which explains the eclectic mix of influence present throughout. “This album runs the gamut from both the production style and the period of my life in which they were recorded,” said Taylor in a recent interview. “These songs are little windows into the last four years of my life.”
You can pick out strains of Johnny Cash and Creedence Clearwater Revival coupled with a vocal styling comparable to Ben’s father. The Taylor boy uses an array of instruments that, when molded correctly, provides an understated backdrop for this record. The album is riddled with acoustic and light electric guitar work over organ and keyboard. The percussion is kept at a distance, allowing Taylor to shine vocally.
He takes chances with some upbeat guitar riffs, too. While it works in “Oh Brother”, Taylor falls short when he leaves his comfort zone altogether (“Dirty” and “America”) and forays into a weird progressive-blues style that doesn’t feel natural. For the most part, though, the intermittent keyboard effects (“Not Alone”) placed alongside some well-placed horn work result in a winning formula.
With a well of four years’ time to draw on, the album broaches a variety of topics, including the everlasting quest toward maturity in “Next Time Around” (“I counted my blessings and learned my mistakes/ I’ll see you the next time around”), self-confidence in “Oh Brother” (“All you got to know is who you are/ It will be alright/ Oh Brother/ Once you realize you are a star/ You’re going to shine so bright”), the temporal nature of life in “Worlds Are Made of Paper” (“Nothing lasts forever because people change their mind”), and love lost in “Giulia”.
Don’t get me wrong, Listening is unlikely to have the commercial success of other rock spawns; it’s not as radio-ready as Jakob Dylan’s Bringing Down the Horse, for example. But there is a lot to like here, and on Listening, Taylor steps out of the family shadow and into his own light.
Essential Tracks: “Giulia”, “Burning Bridges”