It’s been three years since the release of Wild and it’s an album which served Joanne Shaw Taylor incredibly well. However, even with an extensive back catalogue such as hers, it’s still not enough. Indeed, with her rising prominence and undoubted guitar prowess, Sony had the right mind to sign her and Reckless Heart is her first album on a major label (if anyone bothers with that nowadays).
If you’re looking for more of Wild, you’re not going to find it. Yes, there’s still the top-notch modern production but the move from recording in Nashville to Detroit (where Taylor resides) has had an obvious effect. There’s a cleaner tone to her licks with warmer production – part of which comes from recording live – and it’s very much more in the fashion of the blues which originated from there in the first place. If anything, it’s reminiscent of Taylor’s earlier work and the riff to opening track “In the Mood”, is strikingly similar to “Mud, Honey”.
Musically, it’s largely an upbeat album as Taylor gives as she reflects on the last couple of years. Songs like “All My Love” and “Bad Love” are fiery, up-tempo tracks showing it doesn’t always have to plod along at a funeral procession pace to be classified as blues. Where “The Best Thing” sounds delightfully retro, “New 89” goes in the complete opposite fashion to sound like early Rival Sons, full of grit, swagger and boogie.
However, those sombre numbers do have their place here, too, namely in the shape of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “I’m Only Lonely”. Much slower and sludgy than their counterparts, the former clocks in just over the six and a half-minute mark as it builds to its gargantuan crescendo. Meanwhile, on the latter, whilst it’s another of the album’s lengthier tracks, the guitar takes more of a backseat as Taylor rings out the subdued notes in favour of Chris Codish’s Hammond organ.
Elsewhere, the title track which follows has a gospel vibe to it. Taylor’s soulful and throaty vocals are a perfect fit with its thrumming bass line and percussion bringing an edge to the tenderness found in its other elements. It’s one of the album’s most unique songs and in an album full of gems, a highlight. There’s acoustic-driven moments too with “Break My Heart Anyway” and album closer “Jake’s Boogie”. The latter is far rougher (and much more so than the rest of the album) with Southern twangs and stomps to bring the album to a thrilling conclusion.
Throughout, Taylor plays with skill and passion. And it’s the latter of which sets the best blues players apart from the rest of the pack. It’s been obvious for years that she’s got both in equal measure. Going back to her roots has made her flame burn brighter than ever as the riffs strike your soul and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. Before the opening track has even finished, she’s re-asserted in one fell swoop just how damn good she is.
If there’s one thing which screams from this album, it’s versatility. Whether it’s new or old, guitar-driven – acoustic or electric – or fuelled by Hammond, upbeat or soft, this is an album which can show how many different incarnations the genre can take. And by the same token, show how Taylor can pull on various different elements to show how versatile her guitar work and her voice can be. Whilst it may seem like there’s a lot of different styles here, it feels remarkably tight as an album and each song is allowed a step out of its overall region to give it its own identity.
Reckless Heart is yet another fine addition to Joanne Shaw Taylor’s catalogue. If the last couple of albums were the ones which put the Black Country girl on the map, this is the one where she gets to enjoy her reign as one of the best living blues players around. Long may it continue.
Header image by David McClister
Reckless Heart is released on 15th March