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"I'd rather talk about the songs," Eric Taylor says. "But we can talk about the other stuff, too."
It turns out the other stuff all circles back to the songs, and the songs are woven together from bits and pieces of the other stuff. Eric's early experiences with blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins are best revealed not in story but in the guitar figure that repeats throughout the venomous "Four Great White Fathers," or in a reference in "Sweet Sunny South," in which Lightnin' shows up as a small, improbable detail in a bizarre story involving a stolen Bonneville, a big magnolia tree and a runaway orphan. The tale of native Georgian Taylor's first journey to his adopted Texas home is relayed in "Walkin' Back Home," the brink-of-desperation song of exodus that opens Resurrect, his third album. And the "other man" left unrecalled in "Walkin' Back Home" is unveiled in the album's bookend song "Depot Light."
But this is nothing remarkable. Songs, whether trifling, affecting or affected, are always about life (the author's or someone else's), unless they're wholly dishonest. The difference here is a matter of craft, inspiration and, ultimately, intent. Eric's friend Denice Franke, who sings harmony vocals on two of Resurrect's 11 songs, says these songs are cobwebs, with each strand carrying a metaphor or taste or texture or temperature. Then again, maybe they're dark, captivating little novels you can read without your glasses. They're funny, too, sometimes. Imagine a revived Abe Lincoln packing heat, waiting for the play to begin, or a petty thief's justification for stealing a spoon and coffee cup. Franke says it's like other good writers, only a step farther. Some people say two or three steps.
People have talked about Taylor and his songs for years, since his early 1970s days as part of a Houston songwriter scene that included Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark (you can even hear Taylor's less-than-subdued hoots and hollers on Van Zandt's classic Live at the Old Quarter album). In those days, he worked at Houston's Family Hand club, where he met and learned from bluesmen Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell and others. Those lessons paid off in a rootedness and specificity of language still heard in Taylor's work. As Taylor's reputation and song catalogue grew, he enjoyed a following that included Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett and other young Texas writers like Robert Earl Keen and Darden Smith.
Since then, Taylor has released three albums (1981's Shameless Love, 1995's Eric Taylor, which won a Kerrville award for Texas Album of the Year, and 1998's Resurrect), taken a lengthy sabbatical from the business (he became a licensed drug and alcohol abuse counselor and worked at a Houston halfway house), married the former Martha Seymour and become a father again (4-year-old Alexandra is featured on the cover of Resurrect; grown son Nathan has also been known to put pen to paper), and headlined at the Newport Folk Festival. Even during his time away from live performance, Taylor's songs were traveling the world on albums by Griffith and Lovett.
Nashville-based musician David Olney, himself regarded as one of America's better living songwriters, confirms Taylor's analogy of songs to stories. "Eric Taylor views the act of putting out a record as similar to putting out a piece of literature," Olney says. "It's a higher standard that he uses."