Live review - americana UK - A different thread

Kicking off the night’s proceedings were ‘A Different Thread’ who are made up of Robert Jackson from Lichfield and Alicia Best who originally hails from Durham, North Carolina and who first met whilst busking over on the west coast of Ireland back in 2016. Deciding to join forces their combined sound embraces a mix of English and American folk music, sharing a similar musical territory to that of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Tonight’s set list is made up of songs from their debut album ‘On A Whim’ that came out in 2018, and ‘Call Of The Road’, which was released earlier this month. Jackson plays guitar and harmonica, whilst Best is in charge of percussion, both sharing lead vocals and together delivering some delightful harmonies. To help flesh the sound out on the night the duo were joined by Birmingham’s very own Mike Seal on double bass and the trio very quickly had the audience on side with selections from the new album such as ‘Didn’t Wanna Go’, and the title track proving most popular. Another highlight was a stunning version of ‘Potter’s Field’ which originally appeared on the debut album and was also warmly received from the appreciative crowd, suggesting a return visit by the trio in the not too distant future would be most welcome.

Live Album review - Bluestown music - sean taylor trio

2023 will see the first ever Sean Taylor Band album release, a live album, featuring multi-instrumentalist Mike Seal on double bass and the Thompson Twins percussionist Paulina Szczepaniak. 

This album almost never happened, unbeknown to Sean the sound engineer at one of his band gigs in 2022 recorded the whole concert, afterwards and once Sean heard the recording, it sounded so good that it would be perfect as an album to showcase the new band format. 

Ten songs are written by Sean with two unique covers of Richie Havens Woodstock classic Freedom and a psychedelic version of the musical football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. Sean’s soulful vocals are centre stage as he effortlessly moves between guitar, piano and harmonica. This album captures Sean and the band at their best, in front of an appreciative audience. 

Sean Taylor is an international touring troubadour. His songs are best described as roots ; influenced by blues, Americana, jazz, spoken word and folk music. As well as prolific songwriter he is a multi-instrumentalist; a singer, guitarist, pianist, and harmonica player. 

He plays 100

live album review - american blues scene - sean taylor trio

Sean Taylor is one of the most exciting and prolific troubadours on the global roots and blues stages, his original music fusing blues, Americana, folk, roots, spoken word and social commentary. His distinctive sound has been described as “a late-night cocktail of Tom Waits, with the voice of Van Morrison and a guitar style of John Martyn.” He is currently touring with his band, multi-instrumentalist Mike Seal on double bass and percussionist Paulina Szczepaniak. 

While Sean has recorded multiple solo albums, this is the first Sean Taylor Band release. And it almost never happened. Sean was not aware that the sound engineer at one of last year’s band gigs had recorded the whole concert. As soon as Sean heard the recording he knew that it would be the perfect platform to showcase his new band format.  Sean plays some fine wailing harmonica interludes in the opening song, “Number 49,” which delves deep into the blues with its theme of addiction and funky beat courtesy of Paulina’s impressive percussive work. Above everything else, Sean is a political activist, peace and justice campaigner so the inclusion of “This Is England” in the set list is no surprise. His increasing anger and frustration are evident in the spoken words, both the message and the vibe enhanced by the mesmeric drum backing. Sean’s central messages of Life goes on, Be strong and Fight On are emphasized in “Life Goes On” from his seminal Flood And Burn album. The intricate guitar picking, strong bass lines and cymbals make this a classic live version. 

“Texas Boogie” is an outright blues and rock and roll jam born out of Sean’s love of Austin, Texas in which he pays tribute to all time greats from that city. The trio really gets the joint rocking on this one, the audience joining in and clearly enjoying the show. The intriguing mantra of the words in “Hold On” creates a calming effect, the chorus being relevant in today’s world as we all seek to hold on in these difficult times, whatever happens. The song is another rhythmical, percussive showpiece. The Spanish poet Lorca inspired “Perfect Candlelight” with its beautifully sung chorus adds drama and mystery. A new psychedelic sounding version of the football anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is a masterpiece when performed solo but benefits from the dimension added by Paulina and Mike which takes it to a new level. The sound engineer, Mike Mellor must also take credit for this aural extravaganza. 

With its laidback beat to Sean’s expressive vocals and fluent keys, “The Beat Goes On” breezes along effortlessly, assisted by Paulina metronomic timing and Mike’s nimble double bass in this jazz-infused composition. Atmospheric cymbals provide the perfect background to the beautifully crafted, poetic lyrics of “The Heart Of The Ocean,” a love song for the eternal beauty of the sea. It starts with graceful filigree piano keys and ends with an epic climax where sea and sky are one. 

The lyrics of “So Fine” are reminiscent of Paul Simon at the peak of his creativity, and the song is one of Taylor’s best compositions. With Paulina enhancing the mood through her magical percussion sounds alongside Sean’s sensational guitar work, the song reaches a new height as layers and patterns are created to reach a dramatic crescendo. 

It is hard to believe that nearly six years have passed since fire engulfed a residential tower block in London killing 72 people making it one of the UK’s worst modern disasters. Sean dedicates “Grenfell” to the families and friends of those who perished as justice is sought on their behalf. Taylor is forthright in his criticism as he exposes the harsh reality of “Cladded towers for wealthy eyes, Follow the money find the lies, Entomb neglect beneath the sky.” 

Whilst Sean has a mellifluous voice, at times almost a whisper, he also possesses an incredible range when required such as the anguish and heartache expressed during Richie Havens’ “Freedom.” This show-stopping finale brings the Woodstock energy into what is an eclectic set of Sean’s back catalogue at its best, enhanced by the three outstanding musicians. 

Sean Taylor is a force that transcends genres, his lyricism reflecting remarkable empathy, intelligence, and observational skills. Above all, Taylor challenges the establishment and makes listeners take notice of, and take a stance on, important contemporary social and political issues. He is also a highly entertaining performer and a talented singer and multi-instrumentalist. Forming the Sean Taylor Band by adding two more innovative and accomplished musicians to the mix is another clever move forward in his illustrious career.

Live Album Review. - Liverpool Sound and Vision, Rating 8.5/10 - Sean Taylor trio


By definition, a musician will slowly reveal their most intimate selves the more they shed others around them. 

It is understandable that the group of friends who grew up together, rehearsed, argued, loved, made their statements of their youth and observations, should slowly drift apart and their worlds take on different meanings. As night follows day, the longer the musician stays in touch with the public, the more likely they are to have a solo career that outshines, at least critically, their former life within the structure of the band. 

For Sean Taylor the opposite seems positively, gloriously, true. A talented and fruitful solo artist, he instead has taken on the responsibility of the band approach, albeit one in his own name, and alongside Mike Seal and Paulina Szczepaniak, gives the audience a sense of the supreme involvement of the Sean Taylor Band in their live and debut recording. 

From the solo spotlight to sharing the stage, few make that journey, even less make a success on their first attempt, you have to be in the same company as a luminary of Neil Young stature to do so. 

This may appear high praise, but as tracks such as the openers Number 49 and This Is England sparkle and sizzle, the beginning of something generously different can be felt stirring, the listener at home can feel a new dynamic form as of it was taking pace before them, and it is welcomed with a hue sense of appreciation. 

With tracks such as Texas Boogie, Perfect Candlelight, The Heart Of The Ocean, and the hurt and pain, the truth of Grenfell comes to light, the Sean Taylor Band reflects an energy joined by a cohesion, a union of simple pleasures bound by trust. That one spirit to all which entertainers and artists abide by, trust, and each song shows this off with form, grit, and positive notes of internal belief. 

There is a lot to be said for taking a chance, the opportunity to spread the wings of harmony in a direction formally unexplored, as Sean Taylor Band Live shows so elegantly and with force, it can be a revelation.

live album review - at the barrier - sean taylor trio

Sean Taylor is no stranger to these pages.  We’ve been following his progress with great interest over the past few years and we’ve been mightily impressed – most recently by his The Beat Goes On album, which tickled our fancy just about a year ago.  For those not yet in the know, Sean is a singer/ songwriter whose songs cover the whole spectrum from cut-to-the-chase polemic via contemplations of the darker side of human activity to tender intimacy and positive reassurance.  His music encompasses strains of blues, jazz, soul, folk and Americana to produce a style that merits comparisons with the likes of John Martyn, Tom Waits and Van Morrison and he embellishes his work with masterful guitar and wonderful piano. 

He’s a busy man, too, regularly playing 100+ gigs each year, appearing at such venues as Glastonbury, Cambridge Folk Festival and The Avignon Blues Festival and frequently opening for such legends as Robert Cray, John Fogerty, Richard Thompson and Eric Bibb.  During 2022, he toured with his band – double bassist Mike Seal and Thompson Twins’ percussionist Paulina Szczepaniak – and, fortuitously, one of the shows from that tour was captured on tape, and that recording has morphed into the debut album of the Sean Taylor Band. 

I say fortuitously because Sean wasn’t actually aware that one of his sound engineers had pressed the ‘record’ button as the band hit the stage at The Hop Barn, Southwell, Nottinghamshire on 7th October 2022, but, by heck, I bet Sean’s glad that he did.  Indeed, so am I, because the result is a fine album. 

Sean-watchers will recognize much of the material here; the set draws heavily upon his recent albums, particularly 2019’s The Path To Blue and the aforementioned The Beat Goes On, and quite a few of the songs also featured on Sean’s 2020 Live! in London set.  But, wow, how the presence of Mike and Paulina has spiced things up!  Mike’s bass is solid and dependable and adds just the right amount of depth to emphasise Sean’s lyrics and guitar/ piano heroics, whilst Paulina’s percussion parts provide exactly the mysticism and atmosphere that takes these songs to the next level.  And, when I talk about ‘percussion,’ I mean everything you could possibly imagine that can be hit, stroked, dropped or shaken. 

Sean introduces Number 49 – a song from The Path Is Blue, and this album’s opening track – as “A song about misbehaving” and, immediately, the impact of the band is plain to hear.  Bass and percussion add the requisite sinister edge as Sean directs his oblivion-seeking acquaintance to the home of the local dealer, and Sean’s sleazy harmonica adds the final touch to encourage the listener’s flesh to creep along with the song’s creeping rhythm. 

This is England, Sean’s critique of this nation’s obsessions with gentrification, social media and the inexplicable need to distance ourselves from our friends and national neighbours is a long-term live favourite.  Lyrics like “We want our country back, they scream, but now they can’t find where they left it – As we morris dance to Brexit,” and “No one likes us but we don’t care, Britain is only Great when it bombs everywhere” will retain their relevance as long as we continue to invite incompetent inward-looking self-servers to govern us and I’m sure that Sean will continue to sing them until that day arrives. 

To add a little local flavour, Sean usually changes the title of Texas Boogie, another live favourite, to reflect the town in which he’s performing.  So, on this occasion, it’s Southwell Boogie and it rocks along nicely, suitably enhanced by Paulina’s crisp percussion and wonderfully jazzy bassline from Mike.  As always, Sean gets the audience to call and return the town’s name with him and, as he calls “South-well,” the locals respond with a rousing “Suthull!”  It’s all in the translation… 

I’m familiar with the bluesy Hold On from Sean’s Live! in London album and, whether it’s my imagination or not, it seems to have come on leaps and bounds since then.  The band certainly helps, but the real highlight is Sean’s guitar mastery as he plays (somehow) an engaging percussive rhythm whilst adding runs and slide parts on top.  That’s a trick that only the best can manage. 

Sean channels Van Morrison on the quiet, intimate, Perfect Candlelight, a track from his 2011 Walk With Me album, before moving on to the first of the album’s two covers, an amazing interpretation of You’ll Never Walk Alone, a song that is, of course, best known as a football terrace anthem.  Sean and the band have reimagined the song as a smouldering Pentangle-like fusion of jazz and traditional folk and the effect is divine.  The band mesh together perfectly to produce one of the album’s genuine highlights. 

The band is on fire again for The Beat Goes On, the title track of Sean’s most recent studio album and his positive ode to the power of music to enliven, encourage, restore and entertain.  The band really swing as, once again, they elevate Sean’s piano to a new level.  And we stick with The Beat Goes On – the album – for a stunning version of The Heart of the Ocean, perhaps my favourite track from that album.  If anything, Paulina’s atmospheric percussion is even more vivid and immediate than the part played by Mark Hallman on the original as she raises the stakes from the image of a gentle sea lapping against a tropical island that I felt with the original, to a vision of a turbulent, boiling ocean. 

And Paulina’s on top form once again as she pulls off every percussive trick in the book – and that’s just during the intro – as the band move on to the excellent So Fine.  Like a heady brew of John Martyn’s I’d Rather Be The Devil and Dr. John’s Gris Gris Gumbo, this version takes on a voodoo persona that’s fully enhanced by Paulina’s congas.  Magnificent. 

And it gets even better…  Grenfell, another song from The Path Is Blue is a song that someone of Sean’s calibre HAD to write.  It’s the ultimate swipe at those who ignored building regulations and previous lessons, falsified records and cut corners to line their pockets and, in the process, construct the inescapable death trap that was Grenfell Tower.  It’s one of Sean’s best-known songs but, nevertheless, there are lines that stand repeating.  Statements like “Cladded towers for wealthy eyes/ Follow the money, find the lies,” “Is the money that you make/ Worth the lives that you take” and “One of the richest cities in the land/ Corruption and money at its command” only begin to express the anger that is felt on the behalf of the Grenfell fire’s blameless victims and they’re messages that mustn’t be forgotten. 

And, to wrap up an amazing album, Sean and the band deliver a stunning take on Richie Havens’ Woodstock anthem, Freedom.  Sean sings in admirable approximation of Richie’s voice and the audience claps along in the appropriate places, driven by the band’s engaging rhythm.  At the end of the song, Sean offers sincere thanks the Mike and Paulina – and those thanks were definitely well deserved.  This is, indeed, an excellent album, whether you’re already a convert to the Sean Taylor mission or if Sean is a new name to you and you’re keen to find out what all the fuss is about.

Fatea - Told Americans - and Grey Becomes One

Told Americans describe themselves as an “experimental jazz trio”, but although the truth of that three-word tag can’t be denied there’s another dimension to their music: the poetic prose of their bassist Mike Seal, recited or declaimed to the restless, ever shifting musical backdrop. The end product is a musical and dramatic experience that’s pretty much unique, at least in this day and age. Perhaps the nearest comparison that could be drawn is that of some of the work of The Liverpool Scene circa 1968-70 (when it transmuted into a rock group), possibly also with something of a Pete Brown sensibility. For, like the trio’s earlier EP, released in May last year, And The Grey Becomes One presents a collection of poetic musings on themed moods refracted through the lens of improvised jazz. 

Typically, a Told Americans composition will begin with a couple of minutes or so of instrumental exposition to set the scene for the spoken-word contribution. This musical element may consist of a busy, freewheeling, tumbling improvisation around a specific motif (All The Things, Traffic), or a layered free-jazz-styled soundscape evoking a time and place (London City State), or an impressionistic song-style prelude (Which Side). It’s indicative of the trio’s deep-seated conviction and belief in the power of music as a communicative tool that the instrumental pieces into which the poetic prose is configured are so intrinsically satisfying – which is not to say they don’t need the spoken-word element, but that they would in many cases nevertheless stand up well as self-contained musical inventions. Interestingly in that context, penultimate track The Night Burns Bright In Belgrade is purely instrumental, bereft of any spoken-word, and really delivers as an organic, extended (just over ten-minute) tone-poem, providing one of the most satisfying of the album’s bespoke experiences. 

The closing Which Side is also eerily evocative, and is built upon and around a wary, insistent pulsing beat and (unusually) a melodic acoustic baritone guitar figure; here, Mike doesn’t bring his prose in until the final minute or so, and this really makes an impression, leaving the listener stimulated and curiously energised – and, incidentally, rather inclined to return to the CD’s opening track (Other People’s Lives), which I thought a little reminiscent of early Soft Machine with its cool jazzy prog-rock vibe and song-like melody of irregular time-signature; this track culminates in a splendid electric guitar solo. Traffic snarls across the speakers like a literal depiction of the horrendous bustle, giving way to a vituperative rant containing some caustic observation. Lies trots out nuggets of contemporary wisdom with barely concealed irony, keeping the dictum “the bigger the lie the bigger the sell” for the punchline moment. London City State is probably the most melancholy and hard-hitting of the poetic commentaries as it reflects on the state of London City. Mike’s special brand of poetic prose has been dubbed “agitating”, for it kindof stirs both the emotions and the motivations; the simpatico musical backdrops from Christos Chatzispyrou (electric guitar, mandolin) and Kostas Bechlos (drums) are just brilliant, with never a note or nuance wasted. Told Americans possess an abundance of expert musicianship with energy, passion and a desire to truly experiment with preconceptions and push the artistic envelope to accurately express the ideas of the collective, and the result is unusual, stimulating and most invigorating.

alan cackett - A different thread - call of the road

A Different Thread is basically a duo, comprising Robert Jackson (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Alicia Best (vocals, fiddle), though for this, their second full-length album, and some live gigs, they utilise the talents of other musicians, including Mike Seal (double bass), Chris Elliott (fiddle, bouzouki, backing vocals), and Caitlin Jones (flute, Penny whistle, backing vocals). Having come together whilst busking in Ireland in 2016, UK-born Robert and American Alicia, are part of a crowded niche, playing a blend of Americana, British folk, Appalachia and singer-songwriter fare, that’s always enjoyed more critical heat than commercial success. The couple really know how to throw down an amazing musical tapestry, one which beckons like a siren song. They perform with pure sincerity and joy but also an originality that is exciting and inspiring to experience. Their rich, human vocals have an amazingly full and deep sound sure to turn any unfamiliar listener into a head-shaking enthusiast. Prior to the pandemic they lived a kind of nomadic life, touring extensively across Europe and North America. Being separated during Covid gave them a fresh outlook that inspired many of the songs on this aptly titled album, with its themes of longing, separation and wanderlust. There are pieces of country, Celtic, folk and blues tossed into the eclectic pot. 

The title song is full of heart-breaking vulnerability portraying the turmoil of unrequited and distant love. Alicia’s plaintive vocal packs an emotional punch as harmonica wheezes in the background and Robert adds high harmonies. Change straddles the line between easy-going California soft rock and a folksiness as Robert laments the tortured, overstayed welcome of a relationship outgrown. Cradle To The Grave is cobweb-delicate, stunningly beautiful harmony-drenched beauty. An ode to silver linings and hidden upsides, this is a heartfelt reminder that often times we can find some joy and happiness in even the worst situations. 

Their vocal harmonies emphasise a certain commitment to the cause, bringing a delicate sound to the beguiling ballads Get Close and Try To Ask You. There’s a finger-snapping rhythm to the bluesy I Didn’t Wanna Go, a good-timey song about an unwanted parting … the easy-going tune rolling round and round instantly from the opening notes. The Devil You Don’t is a devastating ballad about the guy who broke her heart that feels so intimately specific, with weary anger so finely honed with sawing fiddle bringing a darkly gothic Appalachian vibe to the traditional-sounding song. The album closes with Linda’s Crossing, a Celtic-flavoured instrumental piece that revolves around and around your head long after the music has faded away.

fatea - a different thread - call of the road

He from Lichfield, she from Durham in North Carolina, while husband and wife, the pandemic forced Americana duo Robert Jackson and Alicia Best to spend months apart, so it's perhaps inevitable that their new album, recorded with bassist Mike Seal, Chris Elliott on fiddle and bouzouki and Caitlin Jones contributing flutes and whistles, should feature themes of separation. It's there from the outset on the opening 'Didn't Wanna Go', which opening with distant handclaps and whistling in a lazing ragtime blues sung by Robert, the first lines of which are "You left me this evening/ You left me to roam Across the Irish Sea/ Where you wait for me/To come home", continuing "There ain't no doubt in my mind…That you didn't wanna go". 

Shifting to a shuffle rhythm, the harmonica and strummed acoustic duet 'Cradle to the Grave' sounds like a song addressing the pressures and the resulting depression of the pandemic ("I'm in my mind/Just trying not to drown/It's all the time/From the cradle to the grave/ But I can see the sky/And the shadows coming down") and trying to carry on, but finding strength in each other "we're rich in what we love/And we'll get by/We'll get by on just enough"). 

Sung by Alicia with her drums anchoring the rhythm, the slow sway title track again concerns separation, but here in the tradition of the siren call of the road and the feel of the wind on their face to the restless wanderer ("I'm not ready/To settle down…and I'm going I'll call the road my home/And if you ever feel like roaming/I'll happily welcome you home"), acknowledging "it's not fair/To be five hundred miles away/And to tell you I care" as she sings "I saw a picture of you with a lover/ Your smiles so bright/I'm happy you found another/ Who fits into your life/I know New England is perfect/Oh at this time of year". 

Featuring banjo,' Change' also concerns drifting apart and going separate ways ("We see things a different way/It feels kind of strange/Just to throw it all away"), relieving yourself of an emotional burden brought on by the distance ("You are a weight I carry with me/Post cards that I never send/Each line that I write feels empty") or even the way the enforced closeness and mental stress of lockdown saw many relationships break down ("Somehow you became a stranger/Look how you're living in your head/Somehow put our love in danger/Now we dangle by a thread"). 

Taking a slow waltztime tempo, opening with the question "Will the rabbits stop looking for muscadine", one I assume pertinent only to North American vineyards, 'The Chase' comes at things from the mixed metaphor perspective of the roving eye ("I saw you looking/Like fox on the prowl/Downtown 'til dawn/You always were a night owl"), albeit here in the figure of woman ("You weren't just the Golden Girl/You were more than that/You were her whole damn world"), and how it never ends well ("you felt the chase/And it caught up to you…They called your mother/She couldn't handle the news"). 

Elliott on fiddle, the backwoods feel 'Get Close' is about uncertainty and ambivalence in matters of the heart ("I wanna get close/I wanna run away/I'm afraid to hold on too tight/I wanna let go/Or I wanna stay/I wanna wait 'til the moment's right"), again turning to themes of restlessness and following your own path in "There're all these seeds we planted/But I can't wait for spring/See the flowers blooming/And you'll think of me/I'll be gone/I never did straight rows/The wind picked up and I had to go". 

It gets into the second half with harmonica blowing and Robert on lead for the world weary country sway of 'Behind the Curtain' that again touches on the domestic ruptures lockdown brought about ("My blood is pumping/Your fists they are thumping/Like somebody's trapped inside/And I don't know for certain/If the face behind the curtain/Belongs to somebody I know") but also the calm after the storm is unleashed ("After the madness/You sat on the mattress/You asked me to leave you alone/Now I'm watching you undress/You pull off your fortress/And my heart skips like a stone"). 

Continuing with reluctant partings, Robert sings the bittersweet late night mood 'Try to Ask You' ("I met you at the crossroads/Standing there in line/I didn't want to leave you/So we took our time") which I suspect has some McCartney buried deep within its DNA, Alicia picking up the vocal baton for the sparse strummed 'Ode to the Leaving of Liverpool ' which, as you might surmise, references the evergreen popularised by The Clancy Brothers and The Spinners, though the echo here is more one of Sandy Denny, on another reluctant parting ("I boarded the ferry/I had no choice… If only you could come to me/Across the wild and crashing sea/Then maybe we could bend the rules"), though here there's an upbeat ending of sorts ("I need a friend/Luckily she's waiting where my journey ends/With her arms wide open/I can come in broken/And I know she will take me in"),with the narrator "safely waiting here in Ireland", while confessing "I cannot pretend to know what the future/Will be bringing in". 

The album ends with a Celtic-hued whistle and fiddle-led instrumental lament, 'Linda's Crossing', but before that, lyrically somewhat at odds with the previous primary theme of true love torn asunder, comes Alicia singing the traditional folk styled slow 'The Devil You Don't' with is fiddle core and equally traditional lyrics of betrayal by a lover with a silver tongue ("My idle hands you put to task/To dress you in gentleman's robes/I wrote your sins in the water/Your praises in brass") as she ruefully declares "They say it's better the devil you know/I'm getting to know/The devil I didn't so/Now I know both". 

Their debut album and the subsequent Distant Shore EP loudly proclaimed them as rising stars on the UK Folk-Americana scene, this firmly puts them up there among the very best.