CD Review: Lewis Taylor, Stoned

British neo-soulster Lewis Taylor will be getting some long-awaited US exposure with early 2006 concerts supporting the American release of Stoned, his sparkling new CD. Whether American audiences will respond in a big way to Taylor’s sophisticated sound is, of course, an open question, but if they don’t it will be their loss.

Taylor, who sings in a falsetto that ranges from Russell Thompkins, Jr.-smooth to Steve Winwood-acid, has obviously absorbed much from the soul music greats of the seventies like Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and the Stylistics; the influences are evident in both his songwriting and his singing. Modern drum sounds and effects give his arrangements an up-to-date feel, but since he takes the bulk of his inspiration from the great songwriters and interpreters of the 70s, his music has much more richness than most of today’s neo-soul, which owes more to modern limp R&B than to classic soul music.

One of Taylor’s own most distinguishing characteristics, besides his supple voice, is found in the vocal fills that encompass a style of his own as well as wider-ranging influences – “Throw Me a Line” and “Melt Away” even evoke Queen and the Beach Boys. Another is the acid-rock guitar that occasionally shakes things up, as in “Shame,” one of the best tracks of this solid one-hour set.

Not every song is equally marvelous, but each has something to offer and each listener will have his or her own favorites. The CD can be appreciated both as an homage to, and a reinterpretation of, the golden age of soul. It’s seriously good music for grown-ups.