i am so pleased to post this guest review by my wife, pat, of kate taylor's show at the blender theatre in new york city friday night. there is no bigger fan of james taylor and all things taylor (including the extended musical family of taylors) than pat. so sit back and enjoy this great review of her show, and her opening act, the ellis unit.
Kate Taylor at the Blender Theater
Last Friday, I had the luxury of listening and relaxing to the beautiful voice of Kate Taylor in a relatively cozy spot in Manhattan. I walked into the Blender Theater at Gramercy on East 23rd Street not really knowing what to expect. I knew that Taylor, the younger sister of famous singer-songwriter James Taylor, usually played in small venues, filled with incredibly devoted crowds -- since I had seen her for the first time in March of 2007 at the Turning Point Café in Piermont, N.Y. in Rockland County -- but I had no idea what seeing her in Manhattan would be like.
When I arrived at about 7:45 for the 8:00 show, I was incredibly surprised to see a ton of people filling the theater! Oddly, the theater is set up with only about 10 rows of 12 chairs, with a center aisle going down the middle, in the front, near the stage. Behind those rows of metal stackable chairs is a large standing area. There is a bar on either side of the theater and behind the open area is traditional movie theater type seating, with two sets of steps on either side of the theater leading up to the 20 rows or so of permanent seats. I chose a great aisle seat in the second row, which would give me a close up view of Taylor.
It was only when I saw more and more people crowd into the theater that I noticed that there was a distinct difference to this crowd: there were a lot of twenty-somethings who looked "cool." Of course, there were also many people in their 40s and 50s and some of them seemed cool too. But this younger crowd seemed to be a different from the usual Kate Taylor groupies I had seen last year.
Soon I realized that the ticket I had bought said something like "Kate Taylor and the Ellis Unit." What was the "Ellis Unit?" Well, as I was soon to find out, it was a four-piece rock band led by a guy who looked about 22 on lead vocals and guitar, a guy who looked about 19 on electric guitar, a sleepy-looking youngster who looked about 18 on bass guitar, and a drummer who bobbed up and down and looked like he was about 20. There was also a young woman and a young man singing back-up, both swaying to the music with their hands in their pockets. As soon as they started playing, I realized I was going to be in for some sort of rock and roll, though I never really was able to pinpoint their exact style. They played about 6 or 7 songs, ranging from a few loud rock songs, to a couple of loud but slower folk tunes, to a couple of loud bluesy rock songs.
Frankly, I couldn't really hear or understand the lyrics that well and the lead singer's voice was okay but not anything really special (in my uneducated opinion). He seemed a little too shy to be a performer and he had an odd habit of turning his back on the audience and facing the drummer for about 30 seconds at a time while playing. Other times, while facing the crowd, his eyes were closed for long stretches. His fingering on his guitar, though, showed some talent and he seemed to be enjoying himself. And every once in a while, he even showed a boyish, mischievous smile. The guy on the electric guitar did a little bit of singing, as I recall, but otherwise hung back. During some of his solos, though, he did appear to be very talented. I'm no big fan of electric guitar, but he did make it sound really cool. The guys on bass and drums seemed to be having a good time too.
After each song, the crowd showed their appreciation by clapped loudly, though it seemed as if it was mainly the people standing in the back, not the old fogies like me sitting up front. At the end of their set, the lead singer thanked a couple of people and the band exited to lots of applause. When I stood up to stretch my legs and look around, I noticed the that crowd was buzzing. As I was standing there alone, looking around the room and seeing all these young people in black, a nice guy standing across the aisle walked over to me and asked if I was there to see Kate Taylor. I said yes and told him I was a huge fan of Kate, as well as James and their brother Livingston. We chatted about how I even had a CD by Hugh Taylor who owns a bed-and-breakfast out in Martha's Vineyard.
Then I asked him what he knew about the Ellis Unit. He said that the lead singer was Gus Wenner, the son of Jann Wenner, the owner of Rolling Stone Magazine, and the guy on electric guitar was Jack Byrne, the son of Ellen Barkin and Gabriel Byrne. He also reported that "Ellen Barkin was here and she looks great!" "And on top of that, Yoko Ono was sitting up there, in the audience, in the back!" Wow! Little did I know I was in such a celebrity scene. Of course, by the time I learned all this, Yoko and Ellen were long gone and the young, cool people were drifting out of the theater. Just today, I saw this snippet about their concert. Maybe if this band becomes famous, I can say I saw them first in 2008! (This news story tells a little more about these two boys, who are apparently headed off to college).
So, finally around 9:00, Kate came onstage wearing black stretch pants and a blouse with a sort of native-American-type white vest with fringes on it. She has a wonderful mane of blonde hair that flowed around as she bopped around with her acoustic guitar. She had amazing energy and a big smile! She played with a male guitarist (whom I vaguely remember seeing with her last year) who seemed relaxed and mellow, as well as a drummer (am I forgetting a bass player? Hmmm.) Kate started off with her melodic "Beautiful Road," the title track from her 2003 CD, which I play every once in a while at my desk at work. I love the refrain, "I've got wide open valleys, and high walls of stone/ I'll always be a traveler on this beautiful road."
Although the sound of Kate's voice and her amazing range are reminiscent of her brother James, her style is all her own. She has more of a country twinge to her alto voice, and she dances around, swings her hips, and smiles much more than James. Although she seems more outgoing, she also, at times, seems a bit more nervous. Still, she has an amazing twinkle in her eye that an audience member sees only sometimes in James, but all the time in brother Livingston, who is an amazing and fun singer to watch in his own right. I love both James and Liv (especially singing this duet, called "City Lights!" Both Kate and Livingston seem to really love to tell stories to introduce their songs, and James seems to be enjoying that more and more as he gets older.
As I sat down to write this today, I found someone else's review of Kate's "Beautiful Road." I have no idea who Holly is, but I agree with her opinion about the album, so I'm quoting it here:
"Beautiful Road Kate Taylor
"Created out of love and finished in loss, Kate Taylor - the saucy vixen of the musical Taylor family that included iconic singer/songwriter James, the late bluesy Alex, the troubadour bard Livingston - has grown from ebullient eclectic into a ruminative vocalist who can let life filter through the velvet tone of her worn in alto.
“I Will Fly” as elegiac as it is life-affirming opens an album that is as much about the joy of having lived and known as it is about the holes and sorrow of loss, while the sweetly pensive duet with dusty suede throated brother James on the complete “Auld Lang Syne” offers a benediction of hope and possibilities amongst the memories. Having lost husband, collaborator and writer of six songs herein Charlie Witham, Taylor brings a grace to the most difficult transitions that transcends the hardship and expands the beauty… with guests Mavis Staples, Levon Helm and Chuck Leavell, this undiscovered jewel is grown-up music that sows a more expansive sense of what it means to live, die and be fully present in the now and the gone."
When Kate sang "The Water is Wide," a beautiful traditional song that James recorded in 1991 for his album "New Moon Shine" (watch him sing it on youtube), I was floored. Kate has such a sweet but strong, clear and warm voice that her rendition of it was like drinking a mug of wonderful hot chocolate while sitting around a glowing fireplace (coming from a recovering chocoholic like me, that's a huge compliment). The lyrics always warm my heart: "The water is wide/ I can't cross over/ And neither have/ I wings to fly/ Build me a boat/ That can carry two/ And both shall row/ My love and I."
Kate is a lively, chatty woman who recorded two albums in the 1970s, then had two daughters and "just sang in the kitchen" after that. She talked a little about her daughters and then sang an amusing song about a couple who was about to get married but then the woman decides to call it off. She did a few other folk tunes and maybe one or two semi-rock songs - - all of which she put "her all" into.
One of my favorite songs is one that she wrote about her husband, Charlie, who died right as Kate was about to finish her "Beautiful Road" CD. The song, "Red Tailed Hawk," was about a hawk that circled Kate and Charlie's home in Martha's Vineyard at the time that Charlie's illness was getting worse (she wrote the song after the CD came out, so it's not on "Beautiful Road"). As I recall Kate telling the story, Charlie saw the hawk one day and told her that it was looking out for her. Then, on the day of Charlie's funeral, the hawk flew overhead and cawed. Later, at various family functions, even in other locations, a red tailed hawk flew over and cawed. So, Kate told us, she knows that Charlie is up there, looking out for her. This tune has a special meaning for me, as my dad died last August and there are so many times that I feel that he is up there, somewhere, like Charlie, looking out for me.
All in all, Kate played about eight or ten songs, each of which I thoroughly loved. I only wish I could have stayed for the "meet and greet" afterward. Alas, I had to scurry home to get to bed and then wake up early to drive a bunch of crazy runners to a foot race in Brooklyn! ;)