Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Mick Taylor Mick Taylor (1979)


Mick Taylor’s solo debut is surprisingly good. No, I mean it, really: not ‘great’ or ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘amazing’, just a good, normal, inoffensive record that would be heavily recommended for Stones fans and, of course, especially Stones fans of the Taylor period.

To tell you the truth, I never even expected that quality; in his Stones days, the only thing Mick excelled in was immaculate soloing, and I was really somewhat afraid that, being separated from the Riffmeister’s basis and Jagger’s sly hooks, Taylor would just go down the drain. In a certain sense, he did: Mick Taylor was his only complete solo album with original studio material that he had recorded until the very recent A Stone’s Throw, and most of the other time you almost heard nothing of him.

He sometimes rose out of the mist to play with Dylan (esp. on his Infidels album and the supporting tour, check out Bob’s Real Live for that), and on one occasion he even reunited with the Stones on stage, resulting in a concert whose quality is universally panned by fans (on the 1981 tour). And later on, he had a few remarkable (or unremarkable) collaborations with Carla Olsson, but that’s not being discussed at the time.

Anyway, this debut album will pose quite a few surprises for the listener. Out of nine songs, four are instrumentals, and the other five are pleasant pop/roots-rock tunes featuring Mick on vocals. Now he may not have a great voice, and actually, people like to bring on the vocals as the downside of the record, but I find few problems with that – his singing never really grates on you, and he’s got enough of a human touch to sound convincing on numbers like ‘Leather Jacket’ or ‘Baby I Want You’. In fact, sometimes I could easily describe him as a ‘Dylan without the hoarse’; that’s not a compliment, because ‘Dylan without the hoarse’ is actually not too interesting, but it’s not a putdown either.

And the songwriting is tons of fun. He follows the Stones in trying to diversify his approach while at the same time never really venturing out of ‘normal’ rock – cool experimentation you will find NOT. But he takes on several distinct genres and sounds self-assured and steady in most. ‘Leather Jacket’ is the most Dylanish tune on the album, a soulful folk rocker with a warm, live guitar tone and a catchy structure – I can easily imagine that one in the hands of the Bobster as one of the better tracks on something like Planet Waves. ‘Alabama’ steers us into country, and it contains a major misfire in its lyrical content: I can almost imagine Mick punching his head and trying to bash out something that would come out as ‘authentic’ and failing. Instead, he turned to Colin Allen to provide the lyrics, and the dude couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘only halfway through Louisiana/on my way home to Alabama’. Ooh, that rhyme makes my hair stand on end. Luckily, Mick compensates for it by inserting a marvelous, inflammatory guitar solo recalling some of his work on Exile On Main St.

‘Baby I Want You’ probably has some Dylan influences, too, but eventually it comes out as a slick pop song in the vein of, say, something Christine McVie used to write (he even shares the fabulous ‘McVie intonation’!) That’s okay; I’m a big fan of good old Chris, and if Mick had been listening to a little Mac on his way through the record, well, that’s… you know… that’s good. What else can I say? The guitar is fine and pleasant, the vocal melody is enthralling, and the rhythm is held all the way through. It’s better than some of Keith Richards’ balladeering stuff, that’s for sure.

Now ‘Broken Hands’ is more or less the only Stones-sounding track on here – a typical Exile-era rocker underpinned with ferocious slide rhythms and absolutely Stones-like electric licks. Actually, the number it reminds me most of all isn’t any Exile track, but rather ‘Hand Of Fate’ off Black And Blue: some licks are almost played in the same way as on that song, and even the guitar solo is similar. That’s all the more funny since I have no information about ‘Hand Of Fate’ being a Taylor era outtake (remember that Black And Blue was recorded already after Taylor had left). Did they conceive the song pre-1975 with Taylor taking the idea with him as he was quitting? Or did he just rip it off from Black And Blue post factum? Feedback, please! Finally, ‘S.W.5’ returns us back to folk-rock territory, and it’s a good number, this time highlighted by Jean Roussell’s piano and a high-pitched solo guitar.

Now I actually have mixed feelings about the instrumentals – don’t even know why, they’re all quite solid. Maybe it’s because I was expecting some tremendous guitar heroics but didn’t get it? I mean, ‘Slow Blues’ bloozes along nicely, but is it all that special? Not at all. ‘Spanish’, at seven and a half minutes, drags on for too long, and while at times it does give us Mick playing, well, Spanish, it can’t really overshadow his Santana stylizations on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’. And I don’t particularly care for the piano-dominated ‘A Minor’, either, nice as it is. I suppose this has a lot to do with my passion for Steve Hackett and his Spectral Mornings of the same year – an album in which the man clearly demonstrated that the possibilities of the electric guitar were not yet entirely spent. Taylor, on the other hand, just often plays generic muzak, forgettable ear-candy that’s good for one seance and that’s about it.

That said, I really enjoy ‘Giddy Up’. It’s not too long, it rocks, and with that marvelous descending guitar riff, it just might qualify as my favourite number from the album. It doesn’t pretend to be ‘highly emotional’, like ‘Spanish’, and it doesn’t entirely rely on cliched blues formulas like ‘Slow Blues’; it just contains a brilliantly constructed solo that flows perfectly, never grates, and, I suppose, is a great thing for beginning solo players to learn. One thing I always liked Taylor for when he was in the Stones was his inventiveness with his instrument – he was always able to find new fascinating chord progressions and arrange them without having to rely to Hendrix- or Townshend-type gimmicks (in this he qualifies as my second-best preferred guitarist of the type after John Fogerty), and this is the track that best proves this on the album.

Ah, well. ‘I believe it’s time to go’. Kudos to Mick for not really disappointing us. I don’t know anything about his backing band (except that one of the drummers was an ex-member of the British prog-rock Gong, if you’re interested), so I won’t be naming them – what’s in a name, after all? Unless that name is Mick Taylor, of course. Recorded at the Rolling Stones Mobile, by the way – what a friendly gesture.

May 6, 2013 - Posted by | Mick Taylor Mick Taylor |

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