Essay / Misc.

Terry Taylor, California Singer/Songwriter

This week I attended a small concert by Terry Scott Taylor, my favorite singer/songwriter. Terry’s been recording since the mid 1970s, with his serious band, a joke band or two, under his own name and various pseudonyms. These days he’s spending a lot of time writing music for animated cartoons. How’s that for versatility?

But it’s not all boings, wokka-wokkas, and kersplats for the creative dynamo that is Terry Taylor. He’s just completed a new CD with one of his bands, the Lost Dogs, a kind of supergroup built around a team of guitar-playing lead singers from various successful bands. The new CD, entitled The Lost Cabin and the Mystery Trees, will be released before the summer’s over.

The CD is going to be great, and everybody ought to go straight out and buy it. Terry Taylor is a mature songwriter whose work consists of one honest line after another, linked together in artful narratives that always orbit somewhere around Christian faith. He’s a wounded veteran of the Jesus Music scene and the Christian Music industry that followed it, but he’s outgrown any bitterness, opting instead for forgiveness, genuine affection, and a wisdom that could only have been gained by coming through all those reversals with the integrity of an artist.

One of the many mistakes that the dreadful Christian music industry has made over the past decades was to think that everyone with Jesus in their heart and a banjo on their knee ought to be put into conventional pastoral ministry, doing altar calls, providing youth ministry, taking up offerings, and setting themselves up as spiritual examples. Taylor is from the generation that tried not to go stark raving mad under those expectations, and he led the way for a handful of musicians who found their way through the confusion and defined themselves as artists first and foremost. At times he’s had to stake out some territory as someone who has the right and responsibility to pursue art for art’s sake. So it’s ironic — wonderfully, graciously, ironic — that now in his fifties his craftsmanship has matured in a way so centered on Christ, so committed to the things that matter most for a believer. In spite of it all, Terry Taylor is a man with a ministry. The stuff he’s writing right now is solid gold. Nobody else is doing work like this.

The recording sessions for Lost Cabin and Mystery Trees was only a couple months ago, so this little concert in Berkeley was the first time Terry Taylor has played any of the songs in public. Here’s the set list, with links to lyrics for the songs from earlier albums.

As for the brand new songs from the forthcoming Dogs album, take my word for it: prime work from an artist at the peak of his powers. “Broken Like Brooklyn” is a careful, probing travelog of the American soul; “This Business is Going Down” is as funny as it is twisted; “Only One Bum in Corona Del Mar” drove the audience over the edge with its light-opera buffoonery; and “That’s Where Jesus Is” is the show-stopping album-closer anthem that manages to be instantly accessible and several layers deep at the same time.

1. Startin’ Monday
2. The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes, and the Pride of Life
3. Honeysuckle Breeze
4. Ten Gallon Hat
5. Broken Like Brookyn
6. This Business is Goin’ Down
7. Capistrano Beach
8. Moses in the Desert
9. Only One Bum in Corona Del Mar
10. Papa Danced on Olvera Street
11. Angels Must Smile Like That
12. Bad Indigestion
13. That’s Where Jesus Is
14. You Lay Down
15. Crushing Hand
16. Joel

Share this essay [social_share/]