Album Review: Samuel James Taylor – Wild Tales and Broken Hearts

Samuel James Taylor – Wild Tales and Broken Hearts

Folk | Americana


Would the first warm sun of spring lift your spirits in quite the same way if you hadn’t first endured all the cold dark winter nights to get there? Would a walk through the woods and fields, with only birdsong to break the stillness, offer the same rejuvenation if it didn’t represent such a departure from the usual rat race and daily grind. Darkness and light, chaos and calm, joy and sorrow: you need to know a certain measure of one to truly get perspective on the other.  

Following a medical diagnosis that forced Sheffield troubadour Samuel James Taylor to slam the breaks on a life of hectic touring, came a period of self reflection. Being held back from what once gave you drive, meaning and identity for so long would surely leave anyone feeling lost and uncertain of where to head next. There’s a version of this story that ends right there, calling time on a passion and lifestyle unable to be pursued further. And a version that sees a very different record, one which dwells on what was lost and ruminates on how we all in the end lose the things and people that once gave us purpose. Instead, Wild Tales and Broken Hearts is built on a foundation of contrast and perspective. Living in the shadow of something lost leaves you with a greater appreciation for what you still have. The result is a record full of joie de vivre to rekindle the adventurous inner child of those forced to sacrifice, compromise and otherwise settle into routine. 

The slow build of ‘Through The Silence And The Half Light’ shares the spark of fresh inspiration, ambition and resolve in the wake of a setback, while ‘Rage and Fight’ and ‘Time May Dance’ show that love provides the brightest star to steer by when everything else feels uncertain and unstable. Upbeat acoustic rocker ‘Virginia Girl’ reminds us that staying a dreamer is the greatest act of resistance when the mundane threatens to grind you down, the gorgeous lap steel and expressive bass on ‘Exquisite Pain’ offers a truly blissful escape, and album highlight ‘Churchville Avenue’ is a flawless exercise in scene-setting and environmental storytelling.  

But while the album’s overall outlook is influenced by contrast, we also find it lacking contrast in its musicality. Drawing from the same musical palette throughout makes it harder for the finer strokes to stand out. The clearest example is the brief instrumental ‘Reverie’; a moment of quiet introspection sadly has little escapism to offer on an album that is already pretty quiet and introspective. Just a couple of tracks with a little more energy or a more fleshed out arrangement would have done wonders for the pacing and elevated the record as a whole. While the album quite often says an awful lot with relatively little, there are a few moments that feel as though they’re missing something. Tracks like ‘I Kissed Your Sister By The Apple Tree’, ‘Map Of Love’ and ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ feel a bit too sparse and simple to draw you in the way the subtle soundscapes found elsewhere do. 

For Wild Tales and Broken Hearts, Samuel James Taylor went back to his earliest inspirations in order to rekindle the love for music that had dulled and faltered. That golden age of singer/songwriters that included Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and Carole King among so many others. You can hear that influence in every word and every note. Albums from artists like that have a certain hand-crafted quality to them, and forever bear the mark of their maker. Like tracing the grain on a wooden carving, or feeling a faint fingerprint on a hand-thrown pot, it’s those little rough edges that give a piece its own history and character. It’s something you can’t fake or replicate, and in an increasingly polished and aloof sphere the contrast of that raw personal touch makes a world of difference.