Maria Taylor – LadyLuck
Record Label: Nettwerk Records
Release Date: March 31, 2009
The third time’s a charm and it really has little to do with luck.
With what is arguably her best release to date, Maria Taylor absolutely shines on LadyLuck. That’s no lip-service laurel; between her membership in Saddle Creek mainstay Azure Ray (three full-lengths and a collection of EPs/singles) and her own solo work, which had previously included two proper full-lengths and an acoustic album, Taylor has been a busy little lady. This, of course, doesn’t even cover her numerous appearances on almost every Bright Eyes release in the past seven years. Suffice it to say, Taylor has kicked around the Midwestern indie scene long enough to tell a Mayday from a Mogis.
With 2005’s 11:11 and 2007’s Lynn Teeter Flower, Taylor seemed almost to hold back, offering moody indie song after moody indie song. Both were well-crafted releases, but they seemed a bit chillier than Taylor’s luscious voice would normally allow. All hints of winter are gone with LadyLuck. We still get the electric shimmer that we’re used to in such excellent tunes as “It’s Time” and “A Chance,” but even here there’s a maturity and expansiveness in the vocals that feels unprecedented. Taylor is assisted at points by some extremely apt strings in “My Favorite Love” and “Broad Daylight” and it seems that this match has been waiting to happen for some time. It’s just too damn perfect. Also familiar are the stripped down tones of “Orchids,” which is a strong contender, among a collection of winners, for the best song on the album. Andy LeMaster, in addition to producing the song, lends his vocals to the brilliantly haunting harmony and by the time the echoing electric strains slip through the speakers, it’s hard to fight off a shiver.
That Taylor can craft a lovely and lonely tune is no surprise, which is probably why the most delightful places on LadyLuck are when we get a breath of fresh air. The exuberant pop of “100,000 Times” is just begging for radio play and the title track, while not a huge step off the beaten path, offers a group of beautifully written woodwind parts that feels brand new. Perhaps the biggest surprise is “A Chance.” Pairing Taylor's near-whisper with a driving snare, plush cymbals, and dancing electric guitars, it’s just begging for a place on Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight. I won’t besmirch it with a ‘disco’ label, but I’ll be damned if it won’t get people on their feet.
Although LadyLuck features a move up the block from Saddle Creek to Nettwerk, there’s no shortage of familiar faces peeking out of the woodwork. Production was handled by the delicately nimble touch of LeMaster (Bright Eyes, Azure Ray), Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), and Lukas Burton. Their combined approach fits the album’s variety of sounds like a warm blanket as each tune takes on its own homespun liquid heat, flowing like musical whiskey at the end of the day. Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes and Mckenzie Smith from Midlake each make equally smooth appearances, but both are topped by the distinctive harmonies of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe in the ear-to-ear grin of “Cartoons and Forever Plans.” With its bouncing beats and beaming lyrics, it’s saved from being overly sentimental by Stipe’s well-worn tenor.
I wouldn’t want to offend by calling this album a total surprise, but I’m at least a bit shocked at just how good it is. There are no misses to be found and each song has a story to tell, whether it be simple and joyful or abstract and tragic. Simply put, LadyLuck is the best indie-folk album to be released in quite a long time. And that’s no dumb luck.