Jasper Hill Cafe & Bistro, Holliston, MA
September 7, 2016
Earlier this year, when perusing live music schedules in the area, I stumbled across a Jay Taylor listing at the Jasper Hill Cafe & Bistro. I couldn’t get out to that gig, but I was impressed enough with his music that I added one of his tunes to a personal SoundCloud playlist – yes, I’ve been remiss in posting a new public playlist, but when I do, Jay’s “Hold On” will be on it. In any case, when he was back in the area this time, I made sure to get out to hear him. Coincidentally, he was at the same venue through whose concert listings I initially discovered his music.
There ain’t no two ways about it. This dude has a special voice. It’s mid-range, but it’s rich and smooth, with the ability to go deeper if necessary and to add emotion without adding too much gravel to his voice. That’s – here’s that word again – special. Not that this was a surprise, of course. I’ve heard his recordings. It took a unique talent to get me to drive so far for live music on a Wednesday night.
Jay is currently touring with a full band. A very talented band, at that. Guitarist Steve Hensley periodically stole the show with his guitar histrionics, at home across genres. And Alex Pierson (bass) and Russ Sternglass (drums) comprised a tight rhythm section that could keep up with Jay – or toy with him a little when they wanted to. Jay added acoustic guitar to the mix while, of course, manning the lead vocals (except on a couple songs, on which the guys did a fine job, but they ain’t no Jay Taylor).
Jay opened the night with “Wagon Wheel,” showcasing his crisp, powerful vocals and sporting his harmonica. The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” also made an early appearance. Songs moved from mellow to rollicking throughout the night, and genre lines were crossed and blurred.
I noticed three songs from Jay’s EP Hold On during the evening. The title track (and still my favorite) was the earliest entry, following the Eagles and, dare I say, kicking the Eagles’ butts, in part due to its increased tempo, of course. All the sharpness, power, kick, and hook of the recorded version made their way over to the live rendition and, if anything, were amplified. A little later, Jay growled his way through “How I Wanted To,” accompanied by a tale that exhibited both his stage presence and his comfort in front of an audience.
A bit later in the set, the other song Jay performed from Hold On, “The Green Dress Song,” was delivered with a hint of twang and a pretty strong, hooky rhythm that was stepped up a bit from the recording. It was followed a few songs later by Jay’s fourth and final (that I noticed, at least) original of the night, a solo acoustic performance of “Back Road”; this tune starts out its verses in a vocal tone that initially seems ominous before becoming more apparently sentimental as each verse unfolds. I’m not sure I’m describing it properly, but it’s another sign of Jay’s deft vocal skills and worth noticing if you listen closely enough.
The rest of the set, which stretched almost three hours, ranged from Alabama to Bruce Springsteen, from Randy Travis to Elvis, and from Merle Haggard to Eagle Eye Cherry. As the hours passed, the tone of the evening grew more and more country, particularly old-fashionedly so.
The Elvis song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was loungy (in a good, Vegasy Elvis way), boppin’, and smooth. I also quite enjoyed Jay’s vocally oh-so-smooth version of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind.” And he shook the room with a rousing rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”
As impressed as I was with Jay Taylor’s recorded music, I left the live performance that much more convinced he is one tiny break away from being a big-stage concert favorite; you know, the one “tiny” thing a talented, hard-working musician can’t control. (I’m almost never this impressed by a male country singer; this dude’s really good.) Of course, now that you know, there’s no reason to wait to hear Jay on the radio; check out his music for yourself… now.
Jay has several upcoming gigs listed on his website. You can catch him tonight, Friday, September 9th at Loretta’s Last Call in Cambridge, MA. Tomorrow, Saturday, September 10th he’ll be taking the stage at 3:15 at the 19th Annual Wachusett Mountain MusicFest, on the main stage right before local favorite and former The Voice top-five finisher Kristen Merlin. The other September gigs are Tuesday, September 20th at the Opry Backstage Grill (Nashville, TN); Wednesday and Thursday, September 21st and 22nd at Tin Roof (Louisville, KY); again Wednesday, September 28th at Tin Roof (Louisville, KY); and Friday, September 30th back at the Opry Backstage Grill (Nashville, TN). The remaining gigs listed are all at Tin Roof bars – Fridays, October 21st and December 2nd in Charlotte, NC and Saturdays, October 22nd and December 3rd in Columbia, SC. Obviously, there are a bunch of open dates in there, so keep an eye on Jay’s website to see if those dates are filled in at clubs near you.