It is no secret that Toronto, ON, singer-songwriter Julian Taylor is a firm favorite of ours here at Team GDW. Whether featuring recaps of his live shows, or interviewing him about his most recent “Avalanche” album last year, we are always happy to have such a versatile artist grace our pages and spread the word about his music. Indeed, look up the word versatile in your Webster’s dictionary and there should be a picture of Julian Taylor right there. If you are looking for some sweet R&B music, Julian has you covered. Or how about a little rock ‘n’ roll? Yeah, he’s got that too. Reggae? Another box checked. Funk? Too easy. Old-time soul sounds that will break hearts and bring tears to your eyes? Delivered in abundance! Is there anything music-wise that this gentleman cannot do??? Vintage roots-country music, perhaps? Yeah, I know, that’s a stretch, right? Well….maybe not! Are you intrigued? Then keep reading.
Of course, for those already familiar with some of the country music influences found in the “Avalanche” album, the reality of imagining Julian embracing this genre may not be considered too alien at all. But with the release of his brand new single, “The Ridge,” last Friday, I openly admit that nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear upon that first listen. Commencing with some low-key acoustic guitar, the sudden infusion of snare drum taps and pedal steel signal the arrival of something completely unexpected. “It was mornings like these when the breeze whistled through the trees / The fog would hover and the grass would still be wet / I’d put on my rain boots, and I’d get dressed / And head down to the barn beside the chicken coop,” Taylor recites, delivered with passion and the softest of lilts in his voice, as he reminisces of summers spent visiting his grandparents’ farm during his formative years. Fond memories that Julian discussed with us during his “Avalanche” interview, where he recalled those visits to the west coast. “They used to breed dog and horses … it was a very magical time in my life,” he shared with us. “Every morning I would head down to the barn with my Grandmother and clean out the stalls and collect the eggs from the chicken coop.” Whenever Julian takes time to pause, close his eyes, and find a happy place, this British Columbia farm is where his mind always takes him.
Recorded at The Woodshed Studio (Blue Rodeo) in Toronto, Julian sought the services of some of his closest friends from the city for this project, including Miranda Mulholland (violin), Derek Downham (piano) and both Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther (Dala) as backing vocalists. “I wrote The Ridge to contemplate what life was like back in my grandparents’ day and what life is like now,” Julian explains. “My grandfather was Mohawk and my step-grandmother cared for me like her own. She was quite brave to take that on because that was a lot of prejudice back then, which still exists today. This song is my way of pointing out the importance of innocence in a world that is divided.” With family at the heart of this recording, Taylor also invited his cousins, Barry Diabo (bass) and Gene Diabo (drums) from the Kahnawake Reserve, as active participants too. “We jam every summer at the reserve’s annual powwow and I wanted to capture that energy on this track,” Taylor adds.
With soft-spoken lyrics, haunting harmonies, rolling piano keys and some scorching violin, “The Ridge” has plenty of ingredients that make a true country song. Pushing this truly into the genre, however, is the outstanding pedal steel, courtesy of Western Swing extraordinaire Burke Carroll, and delivered with a perfect splash of intensity as Taylor hits the chorus: “Now there’s a west bound wind / Blowing through the ridge again / You can stay or go outside, and wait for it to die / But either way, it never ends.” “I am so proud of Julian, it was a beautiful [recording] session,” shares pianist Derek Downham. “This is the sound of a man fully embracing all that is good and pure in his life. There are no notes or lyrics squandered. I truly believe the family vibe from his cousins brought a magic to those sessions.” Naturally, as a huge Blue Rodeo fan, I had to ask Derek about his opportunity to perform on Jim Cuddy’s grand piano at The Woodshed. “You can hear me running my nails across the string of the piano at the very, very end of The Range,” he responds. “I almost ran out of piano to play.”
With this single, Julian Taylor continues to go from strength to strength with his musical creativity. Once again he demonstrates his natural ability to construct and convey beautiful messages through the power of song, to provoke thoughts and rediscover fond memories, and to genuinely touch souls. “The metaphor of The Ridge is about that experience of feeling cut in half during a time in my life that was filled with wonderment,” Julian offers in closing, and based upon the feedback and reactions from the music community, many of his peers agree with such sentiments. “Rich acoustics, spacious piano, and delicate percussion are all selfless in support of Julian’s precise thoughtful wordplay,” states William Prince. “Warm wrap-around you sounds with that velvety voice. A very beautiful record,” offers Jim Cuddy. “Beautifully recorded, performed and sung, but the real triumph is the raw honesty at the heart of these stories,” shares Rhett Miller, who speaks for us all about this outstanding new work.