Taylor Hildebrand is a beautiful soul. In fact, I would wager that just about anyone who knows him would attest to his warm company. I, however, fall into the category of acquaintance...having worked with him on a few festivals, but I can tell you that there are few artists who are as friendly or so open. He sets you at ease. Which makes his outstanding lyrics the more disarming. It helps that those lyrics are propelled by a soulful and dynamic voice that soars above the soft melodies he has crafted. His sound recalls Ray Lamontagne a bit, but less Memphis and more Portland. His bands Horse Trailer and Passenger Jones are stylistically quite different, but equally able to showcase Taylor's strengths, as a frame would a portrait. But not on this particular evening.
Standing in the dining room of Hal & Mal's and performing to a sparse and largely quiet crowd, Taylor was simply Taylor. Alone and beautiful in the simplicity. Horse Trailer's bassist Valley Gordon joined with some soft standup on a few songs, but otherwise, it was a stripped down solo gig. And in that format, he soared, reminding us how a song on a simple acoustic can be just as powerful as its heavily amplified counterpart. It was like a warm hug from an old friend to this listener, because my first introduction to Taylor was solo at Jacktoberfest in 06 (note - If memory serves, he was in fact the very first performer ever for Jacktoberfest, making him the christening bottle to the bow of the good ship Free Festival.) He had a few less miles on his tires...a few less stories to tell. But even then, there was an old soul behind his sleepy eyes. Some things only get richer with time, and the depth of a few years of experience had seasoned the flavor on this night in the present tense.
Journeying through Passenger Jones staples, covers of Sun Kill Moon and Ryan Adams, as well as some tunes from his upcoming solo EP, the short-ish set felt like a good cross-section of strong lyrical songs that fit the acoustic format well. To Be The One, a not often covered song from Ryan Adam's legendary Heartbreaker album, was particularly memorable. "The empty bottle, it misses you. But I'm the one it's talkin' to" flowed from Taylor as if the words were his own. And the conviction applied to them made the illusion all the more potent. But the highlight of the night was Taylor's own Float Slowly. The lament of a long held love lost, he belts out the lyrical daggers of the song's beautiful chorus "Spun wild out, swim around my head. Only to float slowly now it's bellied up and dead." Later into the set, the similar tempos of many of the songs did muddy the pace a bit, bleeding one song into the next without much distinction between them. But it could have been that I was on my fourth pint. That I must concede. Even still, Taylor can grab your attention and snap your head back up pretty quickly when he steps into the mike for extra emphasis.
After paying the tab and shuffling out the door, past a cadre of bearded hipsters on the way to my truck, I bumped into Taylor again. Expressing my approval of his set (as if he needed my affirmation), I noticed that the warmth of his soul, like the craft of his songs, had grown richer with the years. The brief moment was like a desertif after a fine meal...the warmth lingering long after the night had ended. And like consuming anything worthwhile, the conversation with friends afterwards quickly turned to the subject of "what a great night it was." A testament to this, we all agreed to do it again soon. And I can think of few better hosts.
Taylor's band, Horse Trailer, plays at Hal & Mal's Red Room on Jan 30th.
Chris Nolen is an Art Director and writer in Jackson, MS
Love this, Chris. I knew there was something special about Taylor (and Passenger Jones) when I saw him perform at that first Jacktoberfest myself. We've only met formally once, and I don't even know if he remembers me, but I really admire his work. I think he is going places, and Jackson is really lucky to have him.
Couldn't agree more, Andi. We are quite lucky to have him. Artists such Taylor, Cody Cox, Johnny Bertram and many others Jackson is gifted with are rarer than we have appreciation for. They might not stick around forever (see Living Better Electrically) so supporting them now is so important to the culture of the city.
- Chris Nolen