To know Maria Taylor is to know fire. This cindering singer has sharpened her skills in Georgia bars and all-ages dives alongside Orenda Fink in the famed slow-core duo Azure Ray. The ladies' slow-burning dirges led to drinks with Eric Bachmann, duets with Conor Oberst, a record deal with the most respected of indies (Saddle Creek), and an eventual collaboration with the world's most self-righteous bald vegan, Moby. But the momentum of Azure Ray has slowed its roll over time, and as the two ladies enter "hiatus" as such, they are both forging ahead with their respective solo careers.
Taylor's debut, 2005's 11:11, was cold and delicate, a lovely continuation of her time spent in Azure Ray. But this year's Lynn Teeter Flower (an album named after a Birmingham, Alabama family friend) finds her evolving with a more varied sound, fleeing the comfort and ease that would have come with making the same album twice. There is little doubt that this recording is her finest work to date, solo or otherwise. With restrained buoyancy held tight to her chest, Taylor is deliberate with her honey-thick Southern delivery and newfound maturity with the pen. Lynn Teeter Flower is not the usual approaching-30s, pre-midlife-crisis record, nor does it march out the tired, sentimental girl-with-a-guitar posturing. A cast of indie all-stars (Bright Eyes' Oberst, Jim Eno of Spoon) drops by, and as she explains it, "There are many people I would love to work with, but being on an independent label has its limitations. Luckily I have good friends who are amazing producers and engineers."
Adding to the family feel of the record are Taylor's younger sister Kate (piano, keyboard) and brother Macey (bass, organ, clavinet), who also tour by her side. "Since I am, by far, their senior, I get to be their boss. Actually, we work so well together that I can be bossy, but they will just tell me to 'shut up.' I never forget how lucky I am to have them working with me."
The highlight of Taylor's lastest is "Smile and Wave," a scandalous, self-deprecating battle between a pair of women, seemingly sharing the same man. "She keeps a spotless place/She has selective taste/I don't/She'll find out where you are/She'll send you birthday cards/I won't." While there might be a cold disconnect in these lyrics, Taylor never comes off as anything less than completely vulnerable and human. In "Clean Getaway," within seconds of sweetly expressing the relief of making her break, Taylor's mood changes as she shamefully sings "I met someone at the bar/He had a great smile and a great heart/It felt just like love/Except no fear of losing and it wasn't tough."
Her songwriting beams with an earnest Southern adorability, and in the record's sweeter moments it seems as if Taylor hand-knit these songs while on some enclosed Southern porch, surrounded by willow trees and a glass of sweet tea at her side. At times bordering on undemonstrative—yet never cold—Lynn Teeter Flower flickers with heat, like slow-burning Nina Simone ballads for the sad-eyed indierock set.