The third collaborative album by Bill and Rachel Taylor-Beales under their musical partnership name trawls some thirty-five years for what they call balladeering ‘dystopian maladies’, musings on time and existing within it, penned across the decades in places as diverse as Melbourne and Nottingham and finally coming home to roost.
Drawing on shared and individual influences, David Bowie and Tom Waits included, Bill on vocals and Rachel providing back-ups as well as sax, it ranges across musical textures, embracing baroque folk, blues, jazz and narcotic rock shapes, opening with the heady, atmospheric title track which, with its mantra like refrain, dazedly moves from a musical fug to the pealing finale.
Wrapping dissonant guitar notes around a 60s psychedelic pop melody ‘Seaside Town’ draws a picture of autumn years romance and memories before late night sax wails over the keyboard mists of ‘Old Blind Jack’ with its evocative chorus of “Tonight I’ll tame the dragon/All fiery orange and blue/I tattoo my arm to try and keep warm/And I do it just for you”.
The slurred ghost of Lou Reed hovers over the self-imposed isolation of the musically skeletal ‘How Many Times’ (“How many times do I have to tell you not to walk so close by my side?”), the images of emotional dislocation (Rachel echoing “it’s not unusual – to be alone”) percolating through the heavy-lidded, druggy sluggishness of ‘Heaven’.
Moving to a slow, weary sway, ‘Living On Concrete’ stems from Bill’s work as a socially engaged artist and creative practitioner wherein he uses music and portraiture to interact with people looking to find a voice and tell their story. Specifically, it was inspired by conversations with residents in a children’s hospice, hence the theme of mortality that pervades the lyrics as he sings about a woman whose “body was broken/Before she was born” who says she’s going “Some place better than here”, just sooner than she’d like.
Etched out on hymnal piano, the softly sung, somnolent ‘Neptune Didn’t Rise’ (“what’s a god supposed to do when the Devil is always new?”) has a gospel feel, reinforced by Rachel’s backing vocals, shifting to the musical box intro of the sparsely arranged, similarly spiritual musical colours of ‘Lay Down’, Rachel taking over the vocals for the play out lines “Gonna’ sink all the boats in the harbour now/You can dive, you can dive right in”.
Another musically pensive number, picked out on single piano notes and ambient backing, ‘Running Home’ (which reminded me a little of Procul Harum) is another example of Bill’s often impressionistic and evocative lyrics (“Ladies sit, mirrors on their laps/Waiting for the fine dust to fall/And the ladies sit wiping from their lips/Fine powdered sugar from the sky”), before things come to a close with the five and a half-minute splendour of the apocalyptic ‘Sometime Later’ which, opening with radio static, air raid siren, crackling beats and piano, has Bill, live from the Armageddon Broadcasting Company, providing the spoken narrative introduction before Rachel steps into the vocal spotlight for the chorus on a song namechecking and celebrating the musical legacy of Dylan, Waits, Joplin, Denny, Patti Smith and Gillian Welch and remembering “their kind words and wisdom” before the tower of song finally crumbles into the sea.
An album that requires you to sit down and let it soak in, it repays the time you spend. And, on top of which, all proceeds will go towards funding Picture Me, a project partnership between Hushland Portraits and Ty Hafan, a Welsh children’s hospice, to provide free portraits to the children’s family members.
Sir Silence & Lady Hush
Album: It's Time She Said
Sir Silence & Lady Hush is the collaborative musical partnership of Carmarthenshire-based “socially engaged artist and professional creative practitioner” and guitarist/songwriter Bill Taylor-Beales and his wife Rachel, a talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in her own right. This is their third album under that moniker. Its immediate predecessor Scratch The Sky appeared in 2008, since which time they’ve avidly collected together some more of Bill’s “dystopian maladies” for pair-wise performance. These pieces span 35 years and pay homage to a broad span of musical influences that have accompanied the couple throughout their varied creative adventures. Bill terms them “many memories caught within the strings of my old Epiphone guitar that I bought over 35 years ago”. Found within the fretboard, there’ve been lost songs and lyrical fragments penned all over the globe. As ever, and thematically speaking, Bill’s songs are described by Rachel as “musing about time and some of the different human responses to the mystery of what it means to exist within time. The songs themselves have been waiting many years for their day… and now their time has come.”
Rachel contributes the gorgeous backing vocals as well as her strong multi-instrumental skills (piano, organ, harmonica, soprano sax, celesta and midi-accordion), in support of Bill’s characterful vocal lead and inventive instrumental work (acoustic, electric, slide and bass guitars, beats and loops). I salute Bill and Rachel for their engaging and imaginative scoring which brings the songs alive in such a distinctive way while making timely capital out of the lyrics’ special quality of haunted melancholy. For each of the songs has an individual aura, inhabiting a different soundscape and couched in an imaginative, often playful arrangement that takes full cognisance of the story being told within. Temporal musical references from the course of the past 35 years lead us from the gentler side of John Cale (Seaside Town) and Lou Reed (How Many Times and Lay Down) to David Bowie (Old Blind Jack), while there’s a hazy, drugged (almost hallucinatory) sense of consciousness pervading Running Home and Heaven. The theme of mortality recurs across the album, but arguably comes across strongest on Living On Concrete, which was inspired by phrases from conversations Bill had with residents of a hospice. Writing this song and recalling the power of visual art within the hospice setting paved the way for his artistic side project Picture Me, and, fittingly, all proceeds from this album will contribute to funding that initiative which will enable Bill to offer portraits of children within the hospice to family members free of charge. In which context, the album’s final item, Sometime Later, with its spoken word narrative and angelic sung peroration, feels even more apocalyptic before its mantra fades into the heavenly ether.
Or, as the sleeve slogan has it, “Now is as late as it’s ever gonna get”. Think about it…