Houston Music

Eric Taylor

We hereby nominate Eric Taylor as Houston's musical poet laureate. His ex-wife, Nanci Griffith, and former protégé Lyle Lovett would no doubt second the motion, as they both sing his praises (and his songs) and reflect what they've learned from him in their own compositions. But with the release of Scuffletown, nobody makes Taylor's case better than the man himself.

On his third album since returning to the music business in the 1990s -- after a decade of sorting himself out -- Taylor produces his own recording for the first time, and to better effect than anything on the two previous (and excellent) CDs. Scuffletown is a set that lives up to the maxim propounded by Townes Van Zandt (whose "Where I Lead Me" Taylor inhabits here as if it were his own): "There's only two kinds of music: the blues and 'Zippity-Doo-Dah.' " This set lands squarely in the former category, even though the only track that really embodies the blues is Taylor's stitching together of the traditional lament "Delia" with his own "Bad News." Yet there's an overall mood that evokes shades of blue, underneath which Taylor paints earth-toned portraits, much like the paintings that grace the front and back covers of this disc's booklet. Taylor's characters are the kind you might meet over drinks in a dark bar, or perhaps robbing a bank -- denizens of the aptly named Scuffletown.

Taylor casts a spell that you are helpless to break, one that not only makes you think and feel but brings you close to dangerous edges. It does so in such a narcotic fashion that the album begs for even further spins after the last note ends, an addiction that challenges instead of kills. It's the album on which Taylor's larger-than-life legend from the '70s club scene not only becomes tangible to the unfamiliar but also is vividly renewed and amplified for the 21st century.

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Rob Patterson