Listening to Listening, the fourth studio album by singer/songwriter Ben Taylor, I have to say I feel a little sorry for him. Not because he’s not good (because he really is a terrific songwriter), or because he won’t find success in what he does (because he already has), but mainly because he’s one of those few artists who probably always feels he has to live up to his lineage.
Let’s just say if we could listen to Ben Taylor’s music without being constantly reminded that he is the spawn of two of the greatest songwriting icons in history (namely, James Taylor and Carly Simon), he’d have more of a chance at mainstream success than he currently has. The very fact that he has pursued music as a career instead of staying far away from it says a lot about his character and commitment. So to do the guy justice, let me write the rest of this review as though I had no idea who his parents are.
Comprised of songs written over a four-year period, Listening touches quite a few musical styles (including acoustic rock, funk, folk, country, and a bit of reggae), which is really a testament to Taylor’s range as a musician and a writer. (“Dirty” even delves into a bit of rap and electronic music, while incorporating jazz elements.) So to classify him simply as the run-of-the-mill coffeehouse folk artist is to deeply understate him. And the thing is, he covers all of these styles with the excellence and ease of someone for whom music is obviously as natural as breathing. Judging strictly from the music, it’s obvious that Ben Taylor is a born musician. Personal faves on the record include the funky “Oh Brother,” the sparse, electric-piano driven “Not Alone,” and the easy rock vibe of “Burning Bridges.” I could do without the reggae influences on “America” and “You Could Be Mine,” but that’s a personal preference. Stylewise, there’s not really a misstep on the record.
Does this make for “perfect Listening?” Not quite. My only complaint is that from a songwriter standpoint, I don’t hear a lot in the way of hooks. Good music, yes. Hit records—no. I have no doubt that Taylor is capable of it, but he may have to dig a bit deeper still.
So to get back to Ben Taylor’s lineage for just a moment, I’d like to point out that while the musical genes are apparent, Taylor is definitely his own musician. There’s a timelessness in his music that certainly parallels that of his parents, but he doesn’t sound like either James or Carly. He sounds like Ben Taylor. He’s following his own musical path, and while the shadow cast by his parents may present a few obstacles, Taylor has plenty to say musically on his own. Listening is worth a listen.