The holiday season is over. We’ve welcomed in a New Year and all of that good stuff. Now it’s time to get back to business, with plans to hit the road and find some great live music events. Of course, these early winter months in the US northeast can often be unpredictable, leaving us a little more apprehensive when it comes to pouncing on tickets for events in January and February – the ever-present threat of harsh weather conditions and/or cancellations etched into the back of our minds. But, on an unseasonably warm January evening, we caught a fairly local show featuring Vancouver-born (now Brooklyn-based) singer-songwriter Taylor Ashton – a Canadian artist we had not-experienced-live-until-now, but one who willingly kicked off the “Tivoli Discovery Series” at the recently opened New Spire Arts Theater in downtown Frederick, MD.
Accompanied on stage by touring companions Katie Martucci (bass/vocals) and Dylan Nichols (sic) (drums/vocals), the trio very quickly warmed up the intimate room with a selection of tunes from his 2020 debut “The Romantic” album, with Taylor switching frequently between electric guitar and clawhammer banjo as the set list demanded. “Thank you so much,” he stated following their opening tune, “F.L.Y.” “I just want to say you’ve been a wonderful audience, and I think we have time for a couple more songs.” The audience responded in kind to his humor, welcoming this artist who genuinely enjoyed conversing and spinning tales in-between tracks. I almost expected his opening words to build into some sort of rebuttal for strapping on his banjo at the same time (banjo players get a bad rap) – it could have easily been sound reasoning (for some) to bid the audience goodnight so soon.
But Taylor certainly did not need any advice from this music fan, and held the room captive with some outstanding music and banter over the duration of 80 minutes. Sharing comical tales about his current album one moment (how he released it on February 28th, 2020, at the suggestion of a psychic, only to learn that the post-release fanfare would be outdone by the world crashing down around us) – and then adding some serious sentimentality the next (how living in Brooklyn means being close to the sea, a dunk in the salt water helping him both emotionally and physically when needed). And upon sharing exciting news about his next album – being released sometime this year – Taylor was naturally eager to perform a handful of these compositions – some solo, and others with his band.
One of these new songs, titled “Honey,” was preceded by a question posed to the audience about what we most like to spread on our toast. “I did hear butter. Someone said butter, and just to be clear, butter always goes first, but my favourite thing, after butter of course, is honey,” Taylor offered. “There’s a lot to love about honey. [Its] taste, beautiful appearance, the way it catches the light, the fact that it’s from bees is cool, but of ALL the cool things about honey is the fact that it is endlessly and infinitely shelf-stable.” Pausing for the approval from his audience, Taylor would continue. “You can leave it forever and it will never go bad. And that’s magical, especially if you call someone that you love ‘honey.’ It’s almost as though you’re casting a spell on their mortality as well, and I think that’s a really sweet gesture.”
Midway during a solo segment, Taylor introduced the room to the impetus for his song “Country Radio,” a single he released last summer (ft. Benjamin Lazar Davis). “It’s kind of a crazy life being a musician. It’s not a job people get into for the security,” he offered. “I heard one day that the only sort of genre of music where people are still moving a significant quantity of CDs is pop-country or radio-country, and they’re still selling CDs to people, I guess. I heard that, and I was thinking about what a weird life this is. I was probably looking at my bank account or something.” Pausing for effect, and to appreciate the nods, murmurs, and agreement from the room, Taylor would continue. “And I thought I would put a little toe in the ring of that hot country zone, and it’s kind of a fantasy just playing music and then one day purchasing a free standing structure of one’s own,” he added. “So I wrote a song about it … this song is not meant to be a joke, the message of the chorus is literal.” “Play my song on the country radio / Sing along man, this is how it goes / I wanna buy a home, but I ain’t got the dough / Me and my baby gonna live like a king and queen / Living off those sweet sweet royalties / Hearing this song wherever we go, woah / On the country radio.”
Taylor also discussed an earlier project, his 2018 “Been On Your Side” duets album with Courtney Hartman, and following his solo segment, invited Katie Martucci to join him for a pair of those album tracks. With the trio back on stage, a selection of new material would be shared down the stretch, before returning to his 2020 album to end the evening with a stunning rendition of “If You Can Hear Me.” And, of course, as the band left the stage, the audience were not ready to head out to the exits, applauding enough to coax Taylor out one more time. Seizing the moment, as Taylor returned to center-stage, he faked bending down to pick something up from the floor. “Oh I just forgot something,” he offered with a smile. “Well, I guess while I’m here, I’ll play you a couple more things.”
Strapping his guitar on for the final time, he shared another new track – a comical tale that involves falling into an oversized birthday cake after a ceiling collapse, and finding a love interest in the lady who was to be the surprise bursting out of the cake. Having tickled our funny bones, Taylor one-upped his game and closed the night with a tune from his album with Courtney Hartman. “I wrote this song as a duet,” he announced, planting the seed for his finale. “This is one where one character sings and another character responds – kinda that classic style – and I thought it would be a shame to not invite you all to listen to me sing both parts of this song.” And, after splitting verses with his smooth baritone during his lines, and offering a convincing falsetto for that of his imaginary partner, the rapid call-and-response moment to close both the song and the evening garnered plenty of laughs, and earned Taylor a well-deserved ovation as he took his bow and bid us goodnight.
- The Curse
- Stranger (Unreleased)
- Bitter (Unreleased)
- Country Radio
- Straight Back
- Been On Your Side
- Like A Movie (Unreleased)
- Beauty Sleep (Unreleased)
- Who Hurt You? (Unreleased)
- Honey (Unreleased)
- If You Can Hear Me
- Lost In Your Eyes (sic) (Unreleased)
- Dead To Me