Lewis Taylor is a brilliant soul singer. But his artistic strength and Achilles’ heel is that he’s so much more: Musical tributaries flow in from Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, just for starters. His near-flawless eponymous 1996 solo debut had the faithful swearing that Marvin Gaye had been reborn, and a slew of high-profile celebs (Aaliyah, Elton John, D’Angelo) sang the praises of this wildly eclectic singer-songwriter/producer. He never gained a foothold in America — never even released the record here — but for a moment was the Next Big Thing in the U.K. But after his followup, Lewis II— which might be described as his Embrya — Taylor lost his major-label record deal and descended to cult/critical-darling status. Subsequently, he’s released one fantastic album after another.
Taylor’s stateside debut, Stoned, is a re-sequenced version of ’02’s Stoned Pt. 1, supplemented with five new tracks (many culled from other limited-edition albums); it’s also one of the finest albums of the year. Taylor’s silky voice, with just the slightest hint of graininess, effortlessly shifts from the self-penned, party-vibed “Lovin U More” to the romantic sweep of “Positively Beautiful,” then covers David Sylvian’s “Ghosts,” Brian Wilson’s “Melt Away” (reverent but passionate) and the Thom Bell & Linda Creed R&B classic “Stop, Look, Listen.” It’s his own lyrics that slay you, however. The gorgeously wrought, self-flagellating “When Will I Ever Learn” is drawn from a well of anguish familiar to anyone who’s ever fucked up a love affair (“Have I been a burden to you?/I tried so hard to please . . .”). Produced to fuse soulful delicacy (those gorgeously layered, Brian Wilson–influenced vocals) with offbeat alt-flourishes, Stoned is heady stuff that floats far above 99 percent of contemporary pop and R&B — likely to its detriment.
LEWIS TAYLOR| Stoned (Hacktone Records/Shout! Factory)
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