ERIC TAYLOR ē SCUFFLETOWN (Eminent, five flowers (the maximum))

By John Conquest, Third Coast Music

Spooky isnít quite the operative word here. Taylorís voice is spooky, his songs are spooky, his guitar playing is spooky and his sparse production and arrangements are spooky, so the cumulative effect is beyond spooky Along with Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, Taylor was a major figure in Houstonís thriving singer-songwriter scene in the 70s, but after making Shameless Love in 1981, he withdrew from music for over a decade, though his influence, as they freely acknowledge, pervaded the development and work of Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle.

Twenty years later, given Blaze Foley ís untimely death and David Rodriguezís voluntary exile, Taylor remains the last great undiscovered Texas singer-songwriter. This despite two exceptional CDs, 1995ís Eric Taylor (this man is so talented he could even make a good, if overproduced, album on Watermelon) and 1998ís Resurrect on Koch. Whether or not third time is the charm, this is quite definitely Taylorís best album, an edgy, unsettling collection from, as G reg Johnson of Oklahoma Cityís Blue Door aptly describes him, ďthe master short story writer disguised as a songwriter,Ē whose struggles with personal demons clearly inform his work but who has the intelligence and grace to make his songs personal but not overpersonal, demanding but not overdemanding.

Like Townes Van Zandt, whose Where I Lead Me and Nothiní Taylor chose for the first covers heís ever recorded (the album also includes a medley of Willie McTellís Delia and Taylorís own Bad News), deceptive simplicity conceals levels of complexity, apparent non sequiturs are charged with meaning, the seemingly clear-cut becomes enigmatic, the opaque becomes manifest. To put it more simply, this is a keeper, an album which will reveal a little more of itself, and maybe Taylor, with every playing. Preternatural, thatís the word Iím looking, though brilliant would be pretty good too.