Though he died when she was 12 years old, Chicago blues guitarist Eddie Taylor was an influence on his daughter Demetria. She was raised in a blues family, her siblings all wound up performing in one way or another, and she was bound to join them. According to the liner notes on this, her debut album as a singer, Demetria Taylor spent many years playing the drums before carpal tunnel syndrome made that instrument to difficult. Fortunately, she could sing a little bit, and wound up in front of the band rather than behind it.
Demetria Taylor's Bad Girl
Those same liner notes insist that Bad Girl is an album “that both pays homage and serves as a declaration of independence.” The homage is obvious – she covers songs by both her father and her father’s most famous employer, Jimmy Reed, not to mention material associated with Koko Taylor, her most blatant vocal role model. The declaration of independence seems more a matter of intent than execution. While Taylor has the pipes and the blues feel to interpret these old songs, she doesn’t quite yet achieve the originality and personal approach to make her name in the field. Still, as bar band blues go, Demetria Taylor has plenty of entertainment to offer.
Koko Taylor (no relation) was known for years as the Queen of the Blues, and her gigantic voice and expressive growl is the template for Demetria Taylor’s approach to singing. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the younger Taylor tempers the late Taylor’s in-your-face methods with a greater command of dynamics, and hints of tenderness now and again. On occasion, Demetria Taylor draws from the approach of Etta James, who also used the full-throated growl but had a much greater sense of nuance; Demetria could learn more from those old records, if she wants to create a more personal style.
Wang Dang Doodle
As a Koko Taylor understudy, Demetria Taylor has undoubtedly performed “Wang Dang Doodle” many times on stage, so it’s understandable why she chose to include it on her album. But she brings nothing of her own to the song, and despite a slow burn of a harp solo by guest Billy Branch, and an intriguing guitar solo by Shun Kikuta, mixing his original ideas with Hubert Sumlin’s iconic approach, this album closer is the weakest cut on the record. She does much better earlier on with a cover of Koko Taylor’s “Voodoo Woman,” imparting a sense of breathless fun as she runs down the list of voodoo tokens she can employ to let a man know if his woman’s cheating on him.
As long as we’re talking about Taylor material, we might as well mention the songs written by Eddie Taylor and Eddie Taylor, Jr. Demetria Taylor shifts the gender of her father’s “Bad Boy” and comes up with “Bad Girl,” another song which benefits from some great supportive Billy Branch harp. Taylor belts the heck out of this one, and ends with a heart-felt comment, “I love you, Eddie Taylor.” Her brother, Eddie, Jr., who shares guitar duties with Kikuta on the album, wrote “I Can’t Take It No More,” a smooth R&B number which Demetria sings beautifully, holding plenty of power and passion in reserve. This approach is nicely ironic on a song about being unable to stop emotional release.
Cherry Red Wine
The album’s highlight is a cover of Luther Allison’s “Cherry Red Wine.” Taylor subtly injects emotional cues into the tale of a woman watching her alcoholic husband wind his way down to an inevitable end. She’s clearly sorry for him, then she blames herself, then she realizes there’s nothing she can do to help him. In desperation, she wants to take him to a doctor, then moans with a loss of hope that can only be expressed by the superb guitar solos of Taylor, Jr. and Kikuta. Tenor saxophonist Eddie Shaw plays a hopeless, questioning solo as well, then Taylor brings us catharsis as she revisits all her moods and the band trades licks underneath her. There is no question at the end that the man will die, and we’ve been through the ringer along the way.
Taylor is acutely aware of her role as a woman in a male-dominated field. Chicago bar bands are almost required by law to perform the Muddy Waters classics “I’m a Man” and/or “Hoochie Koochie Man,” so Taylor rewrites them to match her gender. “I’m A Woman” recasts Muddy’s testosterone fuel into a celebration of female sexuality, while “Hoochie Koochie Woman” brags of her effect on men. This medley opens the record, and while the idea is fun, the arrangement doesn’t change much from the umpteen versions of these songs which have been played before.
Taylor brings more creativity to Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” shifting emphasis on notes and syllables which subtly changes the melody, and forces new attention to lyrics we’ve heard a million times and stopped thinking about years ago. Billy Branch proves once again that he’s the most valuable player in Taylor’s team with an extended harp solo which twists and turns all over the familiar melodic ideas.
Steve's Bottom Line
Demetria Taylor is 38 years old, and she’s just recorded her debut album. She promises in the liner notes that next time, she wants to do all original material, a bold enough move in the blues world from a new artist who hasn’t proven she can write yet. But she has imagination, as seen in the better song interpretations on this record, so maybe that will work out fine. In the meantime, we have a good beginning to her career, an album which, despite a few lapses into overly familiar territory, showcases a singer with chops and the beginnings of a personal approach to the blues. (Delmark Records, released May 17, 2011)
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