Gig review: Joanne Shaw Taylor – “The Dirty Truth” – Annapolis, MD – 2015-02-11


English guitar phenom Joanne Shaw Taylor takes Annapolis by storm in support of her new album “The Dirty Truth”

It wasn’t all that long ago that the blues was a prominent part of the music scene, with the stars of the blues scene being household names in the general public. Young rock musicians, who learned to play by spinning the albums from the blues masters and trying to copy what they heard, revered blues guitarists and treated the albums as sacred artifacts.

As long as people experience love and loss, and the eternal struggle between the sacred and the profane, the blues will never die. In 2015, however, the blues scene has fragmented into any number of niches, each with a small but dedicated set of followers, and the stars of the genres seem to be known mostly only within the larger blues community. Blues 2015 seems to be defined by rigid rules and styles, at times seeming almost a formalistic exercise in style where both the artists and the audience know exactly what’s expected of them.

But a genre as hoary as the blues can still surprise. One of the surprises to me over the last decade is how vital the European blues scene has become. There are summertime folk/blues festivals throughout Europe, and the fan base seems to be as fervent there, especially with young people, as anything in the US. On a business trip a few years back to Moscow, Russia, I serendipitously caught a local blues festival and was really surprised by how much the young people were into it as if it were a new thing being freshly invented.

An even bigger surprise to me is how many of the young European blues guitarists are female. Two of the most well-known of this new breed are Serbian whiz Ana Popovic and England’s Joanne Shaw Taylor, the latter of whom played a terrific set on Wed 2015/02/11 at the Ramshead in Annapolis, MD in support of her excellent new album “The Dirty Truth”.

I’ve followed Ms. Taylor’s career since her 2009 debut with “White Sugar” but last week’s show was the first I saw in person. She really is as good as advertised, and I would strongly recommend seeing her if you’re interested in what 2015 blues and boogie-rock sounds like.

Taylor eschews the typical pitfall of young blues phenoms of always trying to play as fast and loud as she can. Instead, she employs a style that is supple, melodic, and lyrical, while retaining all of the power.   Although there were occasional times where she just threw down a monster solo on her Les Paul, far more often she let the melody and music take her at their own pace, with her soloing and riffing style in service of the music, rather than vice versa.

Backed by an able rhythm section from Detroit, she ran through selections from her entire career from “White Sugar”, “Diamonds In The Dirt” and “Always Almost Never” although she did focus on songs from the new album “The Dirty Truth”.

In addition to her sparkling guitar playing, Taylor is an engaging vocalist, with a whiskey-soaked voice belying her years and an expressive phrasing that has obviously been honed by years on the road.

Highlights to me were “Diamonds In The Dirt” as well as “Mud Honey” and “Tried, Tested and True” from “The Dirty Truth”.

If Taylor is an example of the hands into which the blues have been entrusted in 2015, then the statement that the blues will never die may just turn out to be true. If those hands happen to be young, white, female and English all the better.

If you ever get the chance to see Taylor in concert, by all means do so. She’s the real deal.


Photo courtesy of Natasha Cornblatt

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