Johnnie Taylor had a long and varied career in blues, gospel, soul and even disco in his lengthy career, a tenure that ran from 1954 (when he was a member of Chicago’s Five Echoes) to his death from a heart attack in 2000, just a year after putting out his final Southern soul album for Malaco Records, where he’d spent 15 years cranking out album after album.
Stax Soul Music
Taylor's most beloved material, though – and the stuff that best showcased his remarkable, overflowing-with-soul vocals – was recorded for the Memphis-based Stax label from the mid-1960s to the label’s demise in 1975. From the tough, bluesy Wanted: One Soul Singer (1967) through the chart success of the title track to Who’s Making Love (1968) and culminating with the less commercially successful Super Taylor (1974), his time spent in Memphis (and later Muscle Shoals) found him making some of the best pure soul music of the era.
Taylored In Silk (1973) is rightfully viewed today as one of Taylor’s masterpieces, and it’s a collection of romance-themed songs that are so moving you can’t help be moved by them, no matter what stage your love life is in at the time you listen.
Johnnie Taylor's Taylored In Silk
From its first cascading guitar notes, feather-bed chorus of “oohs” and subtle organ flourish, Taylored In Silk announces itself as a tour de force of soul. The song is “We're Getting Careless With Our Love,” a slinky, sultry cheating song that finds its protagonists on the verge of getting caught, high on both their love and the excitement of sneaking around. From there, the album proceeds through a variety of stories of good love, bad love and the end of love. If the running order were rearranged, you’d have a perfect, poignant soundtrack to the slow dissolution of relationship and its aftermath.
Things are good on the string-fueled ballad “Talk To Me,” where twinkling flute serves as a metaphor for the intimate conversations the pair of lovers is having. “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)” the album’s biggest chart hit, is a beautiful mid-tempo track that finds the couple resisting the rumors and innuendos of friends and acquaintances and reveling in their own happiness; it’s easy to see why the song was a #1 R&B hit and nearly made the Pop Top Ten.
One Thing Wrong With My Woman
From there, cracks start appearing in the idyllic relationship. Besides the aforementioned “We're Getting Careless With Our Love,” there’s the sheer heartbreak of “One Thing Wrong With My Woman” (the one thing? “She doesn’t love me anymore”). The string arrangement here is lush and gorgeous, providing a foundation for another ballad (and make no mistake, Taylored In Silk is rife with ballads). On the lightly Caribbean-flavored “I Can Read Between The Lines,” Taylor knows it’s over, even if the words haven’t yet been spoken.
Divorce rears its ugly head on Sir Mack Rice’s funky, up-tempo “Cheaper To Keep Her” – and even though Taylor is cautioning against ending the marriage (because “when you get to stare that judge in the face, you’re gonna wanna cuss the whole human race”), it’s for practical reasons only that he urges the male character to stay.
This Bitter Earth
At some point along the way, the couple has tried to rekindle their love (the lovely, hook-laden “Starting All Over Again”), but in the end, what’s done is done, and it’s made Taylor acrimonious. Still, “This Bitter Earth” isn’t quite hopeless, as the singer still dreams of finding a new love. It’s tunes like this one that epitomize why Taylor was known as "The Philosopher of Soul."
This reissue adds six tracks that were the A and B sides to singles released prior to Taylored In Silk. “Hijackin' Love,” another cheating song, is grittier than anything than on the original album. “Love In The Streets (Ain't Good As The Love At Home)” and “Shackin’ Up,” a dance tune, are throwaways, but they’re catchy ones. “Standing In For Jody” is a sequel to Taylor’s own hit “Jody’s Got Your Girl And Gone”; it became a hit itself in 1972. And “Doing My Own Thing,” parts 1 and 2, are a return to the hard-edged blues of Taylor’s earlier career.
Ken's Bottom Line
It’s no understatement to say that Taylored In Silk is one of the great soul albums of the early 1970s. For anyone who’s had love, lost it, or is trying to navigate its murky waters, these songs are going to resonate. That’s as much due to producer Don Davis’ song selection and arrangements as to Taylor’s smooth-as-butter vocals; according to Bill Dahl’s excellent liner notes, the musical tracks were finished by the time Taylor arrived to deliver his parts. But regardless of how the record came together, it’s a moving, startlingly honest collection of songs from start to finish. (Stax Records, released May 10, 2011)
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