Review: Joanne Shaw Taylor “White Sugar”

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December 10, 2009 by esarsea

At 23 years young, Joanne Shaw Taylor‘s debut offering White Sugar reminds me why I love guitar-based, power-trio electric blues.

Recorded in Jim Gaines Studio in Memphis, White Sugar features 10 tracks, 9 of which being Taylor originals. Joining Joanne in studio were Steve Potts on Drums and Dave Smith on bass.

White Sugar is a no-nonsense, stripped down and invigorating brand of electric blues, showing Joanne’s named influences of SRV, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix.  Taylor, who started playing guitar at age 8, handles her Telecaster with ease — guiding it through gentle passages, funky chops, soulful chords and blistering solos — all without a hint of pretense.

Joanne is equal to the task on vocals. Smokey yet silky smooth and articulate. Imagine a mature Susan Tedeschi…somewhat softened and without the hard edge, yet with plenty of power and emotion.

A real bonus to this CD is the light-handed approach to production and engineering. Someone got it right. Rather than put out an overly-balanced and compressed uni-level recording that promotes passive listening and which holds the listener at arms length, White Sugar is a very live sounding record that invites the listener in. There’s a lot of open space on this CD where one can crawl inside and get comfortable with it, and other places where you just hang on and enjoy the ride. The end result is a living, breathing musical experience that plays for and with you, not at you.

As debut albums go, White Sugar compares favorably to Joe Bonamassa’s debut release, A New Day Yesterday — albeit lacking some of Joe’s fretboard prowess. But that’s not what Joanne Taylor Shaw is about. Her guitar playing is great, but it’s more about the overall vibe and feel with her…and it feels really, really good.

I’m half tempted to fire up the whole Street Team thing again. We’ll see. 

White Sugar was released on Germany’s Ruf Records (pronounced “roof”) in February 2009 — the same label as Anysley Lister, Coco Montoya, Ana Popovic, Walter Trout, Robin Trower, the late Jeff Healey and others.

Pick up a copy – you’ll be glad you did.

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14 thoughts on “Review: Joanne Shaw Taylor “White Sugar”

  1. torqdog says:

    Wow….. Street team eh? You MUST be serious. Look forward to hearing this in the Man-Cave.

  2. thedark2 says:

    Love surprises like this that seem to come out of no where. Great CD.

  3. Da Goddess says:

    Glad to see a good review. I just may need to go pick up a copy of the CD.

  4. Bill says:

    I’m looking forward to hearing this young woman in CD form! She rocks and I love her Tele tone. Her gig is kinda retro, vintage blues/blues rock, from what I heard of the samples Stu posted here. I like the blues just a teeny bit unpolished most of the time, as well; a little more gut, a little less schmaltz.

    And, She’s a Power Trio! Yay! I loves me a power trio; nothing like ’em. (She is a Power Trio, right, Stu?)

    Very nice, very precise Review. Not too much goop and just enough salsa. Didn’t reach too high and hung-on goin’ round the corners.

    Hey! There’s this 30-something dude who’s a blaze on geetar and sings smokey blues, too, and could probably use a Muse about now.

    I say let’s make an introduction and see where it goes (George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Sonny and Cher, Steve and Edie, move it on over!)

  5. Bill says:

    I have several Frank Marino compilation disks someone gave me a while back and they were my first brush with this guy. I barely remember Mahogany Rush. The dude is a playa! I listened to a couple of extraordinary cuts until they melted in the Jeep CD player. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Stu says:

      Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, one of the great blues rock power-trios of all time IMO.

      I don’t wish to misrepresent the White Sugar CD, it’s really nothing like Frank Marino. There’s just one song that has a little Mahogany Rush feel to it. There’s a couple Texas Blues tunes too, one that leans towards ZZ Top, while the other is more SRV sounding.

  6. Bill says:

    Don’t worry about comparisons. I’m jazzed it’s a power trio, she’s got the voice and the chops to pull off a respectable blues adventure, so what the hell.

    Usually, unfortunately, it seems that blues and blues-rock fans have to be very patient and forgiving of most female blues rock artists because they lack a certain tone or edge or playing ability. In fact, I’ll stick my size 12 EE further up my own backside and say that most female guitarists, regardless of genre, kinda gently suck. They play those big, combo-open string, country sounding chords that they teach beginners and they rarely bend a string or play through a note pattern with any grace and fluidity. Mostly crunch chords and two or three single notes that are banged on, viciously and repeatedly, like they are going to magically produce an aural cornucopia.

    There are a few who can bang it out without leaving me longing for 4 bars of Hendrix or Buddy Guy or Stevie Ray, but, oh, dear! They are far and few between.

    When I need my blood boiled to the thickness of maple syrup, I listen to the Hoax or Gary Moore or a handful of select male musicians. This may sound harsh, and I’ll apologize in advance if it does, but I never find myself thinking,”Gee! I really need some Susan Tedeschi about now, I just need to cut loose and ride the highway!” She’s fantastic, but doesn’t scratch my itch.

    White Sugar has a sound and attitude that should be a lot of fun.

  7. Bill says:

    Got my disk and it’s quite entertaining. Ms.Taylor sure hits her marks singing and playing. Her electric blues licks are very traditional and her vocal talent is really alluring. Kinda smoky, sultry and soulful. Reminds me of Bonnie Raitt from time to time.

    I was surprised to hear White Sugar’s version of The Hoax’ standard, “Bones.” It’s a risky venture to take a hard-rocking, roadhouse blues number and stick it in a velvet glove-shuffle. Quite good and she gave a loyal tribute to the lead guitar break. It was kinda funny, really, playing a disk from someone I’ve never heard before and without checking the titles, I started involuntarily humming along, then lip-synching lyrics and then going,”Whoa! What the Hell? She’s covering one of my favorite tunes from one of my favorite bands (disbanded).

    Good stuff, Stu.

  8. […] day; September 25th at Crow Club in Cashmere, Washington. I posted a review of her debut record White Sugar last […]

  9. Jane says:

    Just saw Joanne live for the first time in early November. EXCELLENT show! loved it and got to meet her. She’s very nice and down to Earth. I think she said she would be back in the states in May or so. in January her live cd/dvd comes out I think…

    Here’s a recent vid of her guesting at a Hoax show

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