Susan Douglass Taylor got her first guitar on her 11th birthday. At age 17, she became enamored with the five-string banjo, her dad’s favorite instrument. Over the years, she honed her talent on both instruments at bluegrass festivals and during living-room jam sessions. She even played in a bluegrass band called String Fever for 10 years.
So it’s somewhat surprising that it took her so long (she’s now just a shade or two north of 50) to record her first solo album. But that doesn’t make it any less gratifying to hear the songs on her disc, “Great Falls Road,” because they resonate with a rich sense of time and place, and are delivered with the maturity of an artist who’s seen much in life and knows what’s important and what is not.
“Great Falls Road” is about life in a small town and all the simple pleasures and family ties that make life there so special. The town in question here is Winnsboro, S.C., Susan’s hometown, and songs such as “Black Top,” “Old Brick Tavern,” “Little Town,” and the title track are all wonderful reminisces that ring with Southern sincerity.
Many great players contributed to the disc, including Robert Bowlin on fiddle, John Wayne Benson on mandolin, Michael Hearn on harmony vocals, and stalwart Texas pedalman, Lloyd Maines, on pedal steel guitar. One of the Midlands’ most respected bluegrass musicians, Danny Harlow, produced and recorded the album.
But it is Susan’s beautifully pure voice and delicate guitar playing that carry the day. This is music that sprang from her heart. There’s a touch of Western swing here, a dash of bluegrass there, and it’s all sung and performed with a gentle warmth that wraps around you like a fresh mound of hay in a hayloft.
At her CD-release concert last week at the UU Coffeehouse, Susan demonstrated that she was a fine bandleader, too. She was wonderfully supported by Harlow on mandolin and guitar, Collin Willis on dobro and pedal steel, and her husband Cary Taylor on bass. It was a superb evening of harmony vocals, soaring instrumental solos, and solid ensemble playing. It was like watching our version of Alison Krauss & Union Station, and I’d like to see this cracker-jack band play a few more dates around the Midlands.
Congratulations to Susan Taylor and her fine new CD. It’s exciting to see someone who’s been a quiet mainstay for so long on the South Carolina folk and bluegrass scene to step forward with such a great batch of original songs.
-- Mike Miller