Online since August 2002

British, female and blues

Reviewed September 2009

White Sugar
White Sugar
By Joanne Shaw Taylor

Ruf Records: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Stevie Ray Vaughan has been gone for over 19 years, but his influence continues to be heard in blues guitar circles. Joanne Shaw Taylor is a 23-year-old Birmingham, England native being hailed by some, fairly or unfairly, as the newest, hottest-playing and female SRV.

After being discovered by Dave Stewart (late of the Eurythmics), and working in his touring band, Taylor brought her Telecaster into the studio and recorded "White Sugar" with a power-trio format (like Vaughan's Double Trouble, with bass and drums). A wise choice was made in selecting producer Jim Gaines, who produced several of his records as well as those of a roster of other players that reads like a "Who's Who" of blues guitar for the last quarter century.

The sound on the 10 Taylor originals here is stripped-down by design. Though multi-tracked, there are few overdubs, and backing vocals on only one song; the idea seems to have been to rely on Taylor's guitar skills and vocals without trying to prop them up. Her voice is low and soulful, a good match to the guitar. Her guitar playing is smooth and clean, with good phrasing of blues scales. The comparisons to Vaughn are exaggerated; she seems to have style that recalls his to an extent, but also contains elements of other blues-rockers like Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher and Buddy Guy.

"Going Home" is a dark, minor power blues that starts the disc off as she shows surprising vocal power, then matches it with a guitar break that mixes chopped chords and high-wire shred. "Bones" is a galloping boogie with more aggressive lead work by Taylor, with a solo that recalls Gallagher with a quiet-down, crank-up approach. An attempt at a semi-conventional blues-rock song, "Who Do You Want Me to Be?" with female backup singing and a complicated arrangement, is clumsy until Taylor cuts loose with a Hendrix-inspired lead break.

A more traditional, mid-tempo twelve-bar blues ballad, "Time Has Come," gives her a framework to play her slow blues licks. Halfway through, she falls victim to a temptation to overplay, but Taylor still shows plenty of pick speed and ability to push the upper register. The title cut is a lot like some of Vaughan's instrumentals, with a lot of fast strumming and some nice, funky lead lines. Another churner is "Watch 'Em Burn," a rocker with a driving beat and another sharp turn on the guitar by Taylor. "Blackest Day" is a slow nod to Stevie Ray's similar, great "Cold Shot" – this closing track makes as many points for its growling vocal as the fluid guitar work.

Joanne Shaw Taylor is definitely a talent to be reckoned with. Her guitar playing is fiery, and the songs on this disc are impressive – especially for a debut disc by a young performer. Before long, she will be known for her own music, and rightly so.

Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.

CD Review Archive | Music Home Page | Turbula Home Page