Katriona Taylor – Blind Passion

 Katriona Taylor – Blind Passion

Katriona Taylor – Blind Passion – Album Review

Lemme tell ya folks…this tiny little corner of the internet we’re livin’ in over here and the small soapbox that I stand upon to rant & rave about your music pales in comparison to the magnitude & magnificence of an entertainment giant like Jools Holland.  Considering the fact that Katriona Taylor’s already achieved his seal of approval on the work she put into one of his songs that appears on this very record I’ve been listening to throughout this past week…I’d say it’s safe to say anything I might have to say from here is probably just adding to a mountain of well-deserved praise for the music this artist has been making.  For this particular album – her fifth in total & first recording in twelve years – she’s embarked on an empowering journey in sound that celebrates the songs of visually impaired artists that have made incredible music throughout our history, in addition to half a lineup that consists of her own originals as well.  After all, she’s shared this challenge with them her entire life being visually impaired – and just like the legendary names Katriona has chosen to cover in the set-list of Blind Passion like Stevie Wonder & Ray Charles – Taylor has proven throughout the years to be fully capable of overcoming any obstacles in the way of her sincere pursuit to create music designed to move your mind, body, and soul.

In a fusion of Jazz/Soul, Katriona instantly confirms she’s still as ready for her moment as she’s ever been as the album begins with “Things Have Changed.”  Taylor can’t help but make an impression with the radiant sparkle & shine she sings with and the pure brightness she brings to a microphone – that’s not even an opinion at this point in her career, it’s a verifiable fact.  As she blossoms & blooms through the course of “Things Have Changed,” you can hear the uplifting vibes of this tune work their magic on ya with increasing power & pull as the song plays on…there’s real clever & insightful writing here at the heart of it all, that not only draws on sweetness we can identify with thematically, but sound-wise as well.  What I felt like I loved just as much as her sensational vocals was the spectacular musicianship surrounding her as well…there are fantastic things happening on “Things Have Changed” like the bass solo mid-song, or the contributions from the piano & saxophone as the song soars towards its ending – these moments speak just as strongly about Katriona Taylor as her voice does, you know what I mean?  How many albums have you heard by a solo artist where it’s simply all about them, pure & plain, and really nothing more?  Lemme tell ya folks – that’s the majority of’em whether you realize it or not – but the amount of time dedicated to letting the instrumentation of these studio-aces selected to assist in bringing Katriona’s music to life is not only respectful, it’s proof that she recognizes any song is bigger than one single person, and more often than not & just like this song, the results of the efforts of many.  Who is that over there anyhow…lemme check this out here…Dave Jones!  Dave Jones the bass-man.  That my friend…is a solo worth shouting out for the audible excellence you’ll experience…so kudos to you Mr. Jones – Katriona’s a tough competitor without question, but that solo is a real highlight as well.

There is…maybe one other tune on this record that I’d potentially consider to be as recognizable as the second track on this album.  Blind Passion is comprised of half covers & half originals – and I felt like Taylor has made really wise choices in terms of what songs to take on – they’re not all the main mega-hits, but more-so clever cuts from the core of the catalog & likely tunes that mean something personal to her.  “It Don’t Mean A Thing” is more of an outsider in that sense when it comes to this lineup of songs – there are other covers you might recognize or think you’ve heard in the past somewhere – and then there are tracks like this that you know inside & out regardless of whether or not you’ve been jamming them on your own playlists.  Music like Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing” is basically larger than LIFE itself y’all…no joke – every single one of you out there reading this right now completely knows which song this is, and the reason WHY that IS, simply comes down to it being a moment in time that’s proved to be everlasting…a part of the soundtrack to each and every one of our lives.  A large part of how that’s achieved is not only through the incredible original, but through the work of artists like Katriona Taylor and her capable crew of amazing musicians along with her…a track like “It Don’t Mean A Thing” will out-live each and every one of us, and spirited versions like this one here on Blind Passion confirm it somehow never gets old!  From the perspective of a person like myself who appreciates just about everything to do with all styles of sound from the first notes on-forward, honestly, songs like “It Don’t Mean A Thing” are extraordinarily underrated despite their continual popularity – the contribution a song like this makes to the fabric of music’s history cannot ever be accurately described or recognized in-full.  Taylor’s rockin’ it, the band alongside her is as well…it SOUNDS like the fun it’s mean to be, and right to the enthusiastic final notes of Katriona’s voice, they all make sure we’re fully entertained as they swing their way through “It Don’t Mean A Thing” with the soulful swagger & style it’s meant to be played with.  Sax-man Vasilis Xenopoulos gets the bonus points here this time for sure – not only for the awesome solo, but also for the back & forth duet between the music & the microphone that occurs right after.  Chris Nickolls supplies the heartbeat of this cut with the spark & precision you’ll find in his drums.

I think you could potentially teach an entire class around the lyrics you’ll find on “In This Place” or at the very least, write one major thesis or two on it.  For real – it’s like…one of the sweetest songs that you’re likely going to hear this year…and yet…how do I say this anything other than bluntly if not only for the sheer pleasure of the unexpected shock-value?  This is about death, more or less, at the real core of its theme, isn’t it Katriona?  I cannot even begin to express my absolute pleasure in listening to this song, lest it make me seem a little more twisted than maybe I am…but the reality is, this is so brilliantly well-written that it can’t be ignored, and “In This Place” was a huge highlight on Blind Passion as far as my ears are concerned.  It’s so beautiful, and so grounded…so dreamy, but so realistic too…I think the writing is basically the definition of award-worthy, and the execution from the band at-large keeps that standard fully in-check as they play it.  I love this like…odd tension you’ll find in the beauty of the sound you’ll hear…it comes directly from considering the words you’ll discover, which actually have you actively trying to figure out whether or not Taylor is actually inviting the Reaper to come dance with her.  The piano is gorgeous and inventive…truly, the entire band gets a standout moment on “In This Place” to make an audible impression on ya through the clever structure, dynamics, and introduction to new sounds along the way…it’s a seriously well thought-out song and stunningly executed from start to end.  Personally I love songs like this that are basically bound to fly right over the heads of the masses for multiple spins until they really put the work into listening, pay full attention, and realize that the sweetness they’ve been listening to, as colorful bright & beautiful as it seems, has a real dark thread to it as well.  Contrast like this is priceless and remarkably rare to find as daring as a song like “In This Place” truly IS – this is a track that takes real courage & integrity to write – Katriona should be incredibly proud of how well this came out in my opinion…I think this speaks volumes on behalf of the craft in her writing.

You FEEL it, you know what I mean?  Have a listen to a track like “Fly Me To The Stars” and tell me you don’t FEEL that from the moment it starts?  You know you do!  Hard to consider a cut like this to be anything other than a complete mission accomplished…and in terms of overall accessibility, I’d probably be inclined to tell ya that you’ll find more in this fourth cut than you will in the first three.  Don’t get me wrong – you’ve read my comments so far, you know I’ve been enjoying myself and listening to this whole record, and the opening cuts are solid as can be – I’m simply tellin’ ya what connects with the people out there on a larger scale…”Fly Me To The Stars” is full of THAT folks, that’s what I’m sayin.’  Chances are you can consider that to be the more heavy lean on melody to be found in the expressive design of the vocals…or at the very least, it comes across in a more tangible way through the main chorus hooks in a way that a large audience of ears will certainly appreciate.  You never know where a song could lead a person in this lifetime folks…maybe Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson hears this song and decides it’s the soundtrack they were looking for as they gaze out at the stars on their next trip to space – and who knows, maybe Katriona’s right there singing it live for’em!  You know what to do internet – get that trend goin’!  Actually…hold up on that for a second…I’m all for sending guys like Bezos & Branson to space…but if I’m being real with ya, I kinda wanna selfishly keep Katriona’s talent here on earth with the rest of us.  She’s got a very natural vibe you just wanna cheer for in my opinion, and dreamy tracks like “Fly Me To The Stars” are a solid example of the personality you’ll find in her music.

Can’t mistake that bounce that comes along with a Stevie Wonder tune, even if you’re hearing it via this version of “Master Blaster” in Katriona’s cover.  Stellar saxophone highlight to be found in the mix here for ya…and for the most part, I’d say I like what I hear…I kinda wanted some of the fireworks that she holds off of until the end to have shown up a bit sooner maybe…but there’s no doubt she’s got a solid cover that works overall.  Not only that, but it’s crystal clear that Taylor’s not just looking to fully recreate what’s already been done – she puts her own smooth spin into the sound of “Master Blaster” in a way that gives it a gentle refreshing for the right here & now.  All-in-all, it’s a relaxed & soulful vibe at work on “Master Blaster” – maybe almost a bit too dialed-back in some ways, but still offering plenty to keep ya fully entertained.  To be entirely truthful, I can fully vouch for the fact that, if you were enjoying yourself listening to Blind Passion to this point, you’ll have no problem digging this tune either – I’m not saying it’ll be your favorite of the set perhaps, but it’s still another quality cut on this record.  Personally I dig the backing vocals and the finale of this track’s last minute or so where all the biggest moments come to life from the lefts to the rights…and I do salute the different spin Katriona & her crew put on the original, and it’s a great example of adapting a cover to suit the cohesion of an album overall.

Flute solo!  Heck ya!  Sign me up.  Lots of fantastic instrumentation to be found on Blind Passion and a whole host of great players in the mix – the flute solo comes courtesy of Vasilis, who plays double if not triple duty on this album when you factor in the two saxes he plays – and while I might not know which piano player between John Crawford and Peter Hammond is doing what along the way in each song, I can completely confirm the sound from both has been exquisite.  The piano’s played a large role in many of these songs already, and it really makes the most of its moment on “A Song For You” – a cover of the late, great Leon Russell song.  I’ll be very real with ya – anyone out there that recognizes the awesomeness of Leon’s music is certainly a friend of mine – so cheers to you Katriona & the crew – I salute you all for covering this song, and certainly for the way that it came out.  I’m a big fan of moments like these…don’t get me wrong, it’s made me so incredibly happy to hear how much of the spotlight that Taylor’s been so willing to share with the amazing players surrounding her…but every once in a while, you gotta bust out that track that reminds us what a whole project is centered around – which in this scenario of course, is Katriona’s vocals.  Here on “A Song For You,” she’ll bring out a remarkably humble, confident, and empowered performance that’s as endearing as it is entertaining – the music is immaculately gentle & mellow, giving Taylor the opportunity to let her stellar voice have a more noticeably dedicated moment.  Between the piano, flute, bass, drums…there’s still enough to keep you listening, but it’s really cleverly set just slightly in the distance, allowing Katriona to occupy the majority of the space up front and deliver one of her boldest & most professional performances.  I say I love moments like these, because so much rides on HER in this kind of minimalist setting…there’s essentially nowhere to hide on a cut like “A Song For You,” and she rises to the occasion with all the right emotion, proving all Taylor’s ever really going to need is her voice & a bit of music to mesmerize the listening ears.

Here’s what I know.  On an album that features songs from legends like Russell, Ellington, Wonder, and even Jim Morrison later on in the set-list later on down the road, any original songwriting resting next to these titans of the industry SHOULD pale in comparison – and above all things, I think that’s by far & away one of the most impressive aspects of listening to Blind Passion…because you’re never gonna feel that way about this lineup.  Listening to how naturally Taylor’s own originals slide right into this record and truly are the guide to its victory overall, is really something in a 50/50 split like you’ll find in the writing of this record.  Her own songs have not only held their own right alongside some of the best in the industry, but quite often reflect how her own instincts & organic talent is a competent competitor.  Need proof?  Check out “Makes Me Wanna Stay” for a highlight example of what I’m talking about – she’s got a verifiably stellar love-song that’s got all the sincere sweetness & soul your ears wanna hear.  Add in the ever-reliable sax-man in Vasilis workin’ that endless magic in the solo…combined with the relentless professionalism of the entire band surrounding him & the heartwarming sound of Katriona on the mic…”Makes Me Wanna Stay” stacks up quickly to a solid win all around.  Truly as well-written as it is executed by the band unified together – you add in a bit of guitar into this tune and you’re not all that far removed from a Bonnie Raitt ballad, crossed with something a bit more fantastical & dreamy, maybe from the mid-60s…somewhere around there, you get the idea, “Makes Me Wanna Stay” has a sweet hybrid design at its core that draws on R&B, Soul, Pop, Jazz & more.  Most folks will come out of listening to this track likely convinced they’d happily listen to Katriona sing the phonebook out loud and I wouldn’t blame them…there’s a beautifully natural gravity to the way she performs that pulls us right in.

“Sunny Days” would be another hybrid example…drawing more from the Progressive side of sound & the 70s, with just a tiny hint of psych-Jazz vibes in the mix for ya to enjoy as well.  Cross-cultural sound in the mix through the Latin influence & Spanish guitar played by Robin Banerjee – there’s a lot of things that really work wonders here in terms of innovation and the combining of art & music together as one.  I don’t think I can argue that it’s necessarily one of the more accessible cuts on the record, but I’m not saying it doesn’t have a strong level of appeal to its sweetness as well either…I think it’s probably going to take a spin or two for a track like this one to work its full magic on the ears out there.  Personally, I think Taylor’s backing vocals sealed the deal for me pretty quickly on “Sunny Days” – it’s such an insightful addition & brilliant part of the personality on this song, and it’s really cleverly added in as a call & answer type of role as the tune plays on.  A bit looser by design when it comes to how it all seems to eventually snap together, but the payoff is completely there & it doesn’t take long before “Sunny Days” finds its true stability and cruises right on to an innovative & imaginative victory.  While heading in a more artistic direction always ends up trading a bit of accessibility for the masses in the process, you can hear how the results speak volumes on behalf of why you should ALWAYS go with your gut and DO IT ANYWAY…because if you’re lucky, you end up with a track like “Sunny Days.”  I felt like this was one of Taylor’s most unique vibes and songs in the set-list overall…upbeat & sweet & smooth – this all suits her.

I really like & admire that she’s been willing to take on as many different directions within the Jazz/Soul sound she’s rockin’ with as possible…it definitely seems & sounds like Katriona is a very open-minded music-maker.  “In The Name Of Love” stretches the album’s range in yet another artistic twist – you can immediately feel the weight & depth come through the rhythm section as the song begins and the more melancholy sound of Taylor’s vocals & lyrics as it starts.  I’ll admit – I was probably more on the fence about its inclusion on Blind Passion than I was about it as a song on the whole – I might have been tempted to go with “In The Name Of Love” as a separate single…it’s right on the fringe in terms of what I’d consider to include with the rest of this set of tunes surrounding it – but that could just be me, and who the heck am I anyway?  I already told ya Jools Holland has left his stamp of approval on Taylor’s music – you don’t NEED mine!  Besides – don’t get it twisted & don’t get me wrong – I really do think there’s a song here still…I’m not 100% convinced that “In The Name Of Love” has yet reached the full potential it has in the power it possesses, but it’s close, and it’s definitely a track I wouldn’t give up on.  Quite honestly, our hero Dave Jones is crushin’ it so perfectly on the bass along with the piano, drums, sax, and Taylor’s voice that I’ve never once found myself complaining as I listened – and just because there’s no one actually here to listen to me complain doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t, or tell ya if I was.  So I’m not as sure if it fit as snugly into the set-list as the majority of the rest…it sure didn’t stop me from listening, and nor will it in the future…”In The Name Of Love” has a real deep groove that grows on you.

Bringing back Stevie’s tunes for another round, I felt like Katriona’s version of “My Cherie Amour” suited her that much more than the previous experience with “Master Blaster” earlier on.  I mean, I’ll be real with ya – the pressure’s on her here for sure – people would just be mad to find this melody maligned, and thankfully, Taylor’s once again risen to the challenge of the task at hand confidently with some of her best.  Dave the bass-man with the solo this time around too!  Dig that cool cats.  “My Cherie Amour” actually ends up being the longest track on the record at nearly five & a half-minutes long, but it’s got that melodic magic happening on the mic & on the piano that’ll keep ya fully engaged as it continues to play on.  To me, “My Cherie Amour” is one of those tracks that would almost be tough to beat up too badly…Wonder created a timeless tune with this song, and it’s one of those cases where you don’t need to one-up the “Master Blaster” himself so much as simply hold your own, which Taylor does completely.  Definitely one of the more recognizable cuts on Blind Passion for the majority of listeners out there, I like the fact that it’s probably going to take at least a minute or so before most people clue in & realize they both know & love this song…and I’m sure that additional recognition will bolster the people’s affection for this cover even more.  “My Cherie Amour” works out really well for Katriona and the crew; the piano is gorgeous, the bass is as warm as the vocals, the drums are subtly charming…and I absolutely loved the departure into the solos of this tune…truly innovative, entertaining, and remarkable moments.

Full disclosure, I’ve never had any use for The Doors…it’s one of the strangest gaps in my upbringing and years strapped into my headphones.  They’ve got their thing, they do what they do, they’re great at it & I somewhat get why/how that would appeal to people, they’ve just never really been my jam personally is all.  That being said…and I’m not even remotely kidding around here…if they sounded anything like what I’m hearing on Katriona’s version of “Light My Fire,” I would be a gigantic fan & definitely inclined to listen a heck of a lot more than I have.  Because this…THIS…is magic – “Light My Fire” could very well be THE gem of all gems on Blind Passion…this soulful & sweet variation is straight-up stunning.  I’ve always found the largest part of the hook to be an awkward fit…that “fire” at the end of it all…and if anything, that still remains to be true a bit here in this version too.  What’s undeniable to my ears however, is how Taylor has unlocked some of the most untapped potential in the sweetness of the melody that rocks the majority of the chorus hooks…listening to her slide right into that part of this cover is pretty much what I get out of bed hoping to discover each and every day – it’s perfection, and without question a massive highlight in the set all-around.  Jazzin’ it up in all the right ways, Katriona has brought a whole new dimension to the way this song flows, and it’s downright irresistible if you ask me.  It’s versions like this that have me appreciating how little I know sometimes; it’s not that I’ve never recognized Morrison as the incredible songwriter he was, but it’s moments like this where you hear how adaptable a song can be from one style to the next that speaks volumes on behalf of how amazing a cut like “Light My Fire” really is, still to this very day.  It takes a smart artist to really know how they’re going to effectively leave their stamp of a HUGE mega-hit like this song is in our history, and I think Katriona deserves enormous credit for choosing to tackle this monumental track with such confidence & clarity.  The way she performs this song…you’d swear that she wrote it herself…she’s that connected to it and the melody of its main hooks, and it’s because of that, we get to experience one of her undeniable best performances from start to finish as a result.  The verses are great, the musicianship is as stellar as it has been throughout the album…but that melodic magic in the chorus…c’mon y’all…that’s the chef’s kiss of audible excellence right there is what that is.  Taylor locked right into the moment here, and nailed it.

I must confess…I know Jools Holland as the entertainer & show host…I actually had no idea he was as musically inclined as he clearly is, having written the final track on Katriona’s latest album, called “As You See Me Now.”  I can tell ya this much, I definitely understand why he was willing to leave his stamp of approval upon it – Taylor & Co. have brought a brilliant dose of gentle swagger & style to the way they play this song, and really get to the heart of its soulful melody.  I mean…I knew the man had great taste in tunes and I love the way the music on the Jools Holland Show is filmed, it’s just about the best thing you’ll see this side of Austin City Limits…but yeah…impressive – I had no clue that he was as much of an artist as he is – he was in heckin’ Squeeze!  I should know that.  Looking at his credentials, I see I’m clearly out to lunch on his many accomplishments and achievements…shows ya how much I know, I just thought the dude had a really cool show, and here I am, reading about a lifetime immersed in music in the world according to Wikipedia.  Anyhow…this ain’t about me, it’s not really about Jools either – it’s about Katriona Taylor and her incredibly talented band cruising & crooning their way to a solid finale and leaving you on a conclusive highlight to finish it off in style.  It’s really been a pleasure to listen to this entire album…Blind Passion yes, but equally audible passion without question as well – I don’t end up in the world of Jazz/Soul too often, but I’m stoked to have found my way into Katriona Taylor’s tunes.  She’s got an endlessly endearing natural charm, a wonderfully expressive voice, and a band of studio aces fully ready, willing, and able to back her up at every moment you’ll hear…really impressive stuff in this set-list that has the right mix of style, soul, and sincerity that’s guaranteed to move hearts & minds.

Find out more about Katriona Taylor at her official website at:  https://www.katrionataylor.com

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