Taylor McCall takes some dark turns on his new album Black Powder Soul.
By JIM HANNAFORD
Like many people who make music, Taylor McCall finds it to be a necessary distraction from everyday life. Casting a line for trout is another way he finds his release.
“Both of them are an escape,” says the 20-something songster from South Carolina. “When you’re fly fishing, you’re not thinking about anything else. It’s very therapeutic.”
Before he decided to go for broke in the music business, he spent of lot of his time fishing the mighty rivers and streams of Montana. Too much of it, it turns out, to satisfy his parents or his professors at Montana State University. “I didn’t really do much studying. I was out there to fish, and that showed up in my grades.”
He calls Nashville home now, and has just released a full-length album, Black Powder Soul, that clearly separates him from the pack of young singers his age who are traveling the pop-country route. “No truck songs were harmed in the makin,’ ” he quipped recently on social media. He didn’t mean it as a dig against anyone else, just that he’s charting his own stylistic course. He has some strummy acoustic tunes, but his edgy, explorative approach includes wilder elements of hard classic rock and deep blues. At the center is the throaty, full-grown singing voice that this naturally shy and silent type discovered only a few years ago. “I just opened my mouth and there it was,” he says. “I don’t even really like singing, to be honest with you, but that’s what allows me to play guitar for a living, so I do it.”
He comes from a line of singers, though. Drop a needle on Black Powder Soul and the first voices you hear will be those of his late grandfather and his mom when she was a teen. They were in a traveling gospel group, and the 49-second snippet of their earnest delivery of the spiritual hymn “Old Ship of Zion” can still bring McCall to tears. The audio family heirloom quickly gives way to the rumbling, sometimes ominous sounds McCall created with producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sean McConnell. Their driving grooves recall early Black Keys at times, but it’s bolder and more daring. While some of the tracks could land safely in the Americana fold, others creep toward a darker realm. Lyrically, McCall seems wise beyond his years, or at least curious about life’s big questions. In songs like “Red Handed,” “Crooked Lanes,” “Lucifer” and “Hell’s Half Acre,” he ruminates on these deep issues over a dense but elastic sonic bed. “I tend to write cinematic music,” he says, that’s suitable to accompany a gritty old Western or maybe a Red Dead Redemption mission.
McCall has built up a strong grass-roots fan base in just a few short years and is hoping his new release will help him reach the next level. In another of his adventuresome songs, he worries that “if the devil don’t kill me, the highway will.” Despite any concerns, he’s hitting the road soon on a promotional tour that includes some dates in Texas. He just might be scoping out some new fishing spots, too.