The Upshot: Singer-songwriter Dulcie Taylor writes exemplary songs with lyrics drawing heavily on real life, each imbued with a distinctive, poetic lilt. Her recordings aren’t quick-gets – they take some time to warm up to as the hooks are subtle, yet all the more barbed over time. Her slight, elfin vocals and some phenomenal accompaniment lift each of them to praiseworthy heights.
BY ERIC THOM
In this hyper-competitive world of so many singer-songwriters seeking your attention – and working with a fraction of the clout it takes to get noticed – success will out if the quality shines through. You may not know Dulcie Taylor but it’s not for her lack of trying. Sporting her 7th release, Better Part Of Me is proof enough that it’s time to discover something you could be missing. Truth be told, her last album blew me away – ‘14’s Only Worn One Time – but I was late to the party. Better Part Of Me continues a steady progression of exceptionally-crafted songs, deliciously thoughtful accompaniment and the intimacy that only comes with the focus she demands for her small but tender voice.
This release is deceptive. It won’t knock you over the first time you hear it. Or the second. But, over time, these eleven tracks will tunnel into your brain and grow on you like they’ve always belonged. One of her secret weapons is the quality instrumentation that help elevate each breath she takes to higher ground. Of particular interest is the relationship between the singer-songwriter and her guitarist extraordinaire, George Nauful. The one complements the other, each raising the other’s game. Nauful (who also plays piano, sings lead and background vocals) also produces Taylor within an inch of her life, surrounding each tiny, often delicate melody with a swirling vortex of stringed sounds – dobro, acoustic/electric/slide guitar – that transform each relatively simple song into an eye and ear-opening extravaganza. Take the softly powerful “Used To Know It All”, which launches the record as it sets the high standard for the musicianship that surrounds her soft, yet confident, vocals. Slightly pinched with a slight country twang via South Carolina, Taylor’s vocal style is a soft, gentle caress blessed with the sort of complete confidence from her depth of experience, accompanying herself on dulcimer or acoustic guitar. Consider “God Did Me A Favor” – which unfolds like a beautiful first-bloom flower – and which could easily represent the quintessential Taylor composition. It, too, benefits from Nauful’s deft production gifts as he adds subtle percussion and his patented backdrop of lush instrumentation, reinforced by some of the best players available: Damon Castillo, Domenic Castillo, Joey Landreth (guitars); Abraham Robles, Tracy Morgan, Cameron West (drums); Dillon Johnson, Cameron West (bass); drawing on additional hues from organ/piano (Kristian Ducharme), cello (Erin Snedecor, Bob Liepman), strings (Pete Whitfield), mandolin (Tyson Leonard) and backup vocals (Valerie Johnson). At the same time, Taylor’s energy level moves her slightly forward in the mix as she underlines the depth of her love. However, it’s the comparably dark yet sultry “Watch Me Hurt” that proves to be one of the disc’s strongest songs, anger fueling her impassioned delivery, bolstered by simpatico background vocals while embraced by sensuous, sinewy guitars.
“Long Gone” is, likewise, embellished by cascading guitars which carry a slight jazz feel as Taylor dishes out more complex melodies chronicling her heart-weary ways. The comparably bluesy “The Moon Is Cold” offers a more laid-back feel as Taylor near-whispers her way through her lead vocal, her bitter criticisms of a bad lover offset by some tasteful guitar flourishes and the warmth of an acoustic bass. It’s the head-turning “I Do” which provides the disc’s greatest moment – a beautiful piece revealing an entirely different Dulcie – very much in love, her outlook buoyed by acoustic guitar, piano and bass. “Halfway To Jesus” may have been selected as the lead single, however, it’s not her strongest suit. While it’s great to hear these exceptional musicians cut loose and heavy things up a bit, its scolding tone and exaggerated vocal doesn’t reflect her true strengths – mining intimacy with a delicate touch. This word-heavy piece serves as an interesting band sound (with some great B3), as Dulcie’s soft vocals take a backseat to a more muscular workout. It may be ‘catchy’ but its crusade-like tone and aggressive stance seems an odd detour from the other ten originals here. Case-in-point is “Hearts Have To Break” – a light and lovely duet with Nauful, its cello and backdrop of acoustic guitars providing a soft place to fall, given its bittersweet lyrics. Slide guitar sets up the small town scuttlebutt behind the failed relationship of “Shining In His Eyes”. You can almost hear the neighbours talking over the fence as two guitars spar, gently, behind them. Yet, nothing can touch the deep-dish loneliness of “Dove Crying In My Window”. Acoustic guitar, piano and cello provide a haunting backdrop to the sound of painful loss.
The title track serves as somewhat of a lullabye – granted the sort that helps you cry yourself to sleep. But this slow-moving reflection strives to button up what seems a lifetime worth of bad choices and heartbreak, throwing a positive light on the life lessons learned, the scars revealing the “Better Part of Me” in the bargain. Dominic Castillo tosses in some stinging slide guitar as if to cauterize all wounds. After all this torment and pain, Taylor regains her composure and remains entirely upbeat and hopeful – a million miles away from the emotional punching bag you might have assumed – a final track which reveals so much about her.