Ben Taylor, the 29-year-old offspring of James Taylor and Carly Simon, must be sick to death of being his parents’ son. Some of the patrons at The Ark this past Friday, most of whom were suspiciously middle-aged, may have been drawn to Taylor because of his blood: others, to his soothing voice and mellow grooves. But after acoustic guitarist David Saw’s opening set and a short intermission, Taylor loped onto the stage in ill-fitting grey khakis, a yellow T-shirt and a five o’clock shadow, and all comparisons seemed to converge.
The first person who comes to mind when Taylor opens his mouth is Dylan (witness the crowd’s hushed whispers of “Dylan! Dylan!“). But after a few minutes, it became clear the apple does not fall far from the tree. Taylor turns phrases and strums melodies in a way that is overwhelmingly similar to his father’s music. His voice, while a bit deeper, has the same curved qualities. He even has his father’s mouth and slight, endearing underbite.
While his songs – a mix of jam sessions and stripped-down acoustic solos – are reminiscent of his musical upbringing, they’re truly his own. Ben ventures further from typical song construction than his father ever did, and appeals to both today’s young audience and the elder Taylor’s fans.
Ben made use of his cross-generational appeal once again on one of the last songs he performed. Titled “I Am the Sun,” Taylor informed the audience with a wry grin that the last word of the title is spelled s-u-n. Despite the light-hearted disclaimer, the lyrics to the song tell a different story: not about planets, but about parents. The song explodes with, “I am the sun / That’s all I’ve ever been since I begun / All I’ll ever be until I’m done.”
Taylor, who was reluctant to become a musician like both of his celebrated parents, explored many avenues before succumbing to what he felt was his only calling. On this song he sings resonantly, “Even though I chase the darkness every day / Shadows only ever seem to run away.”
While it’s foolish to take any song lyrics too literally, the tremendous urge to identify with Taylor based on the limited confessions buried in his lyrics is strong. He’s acutely aware of his inescapable upbringing and understandably concerned with blazing his own musical path.
Sonya Kitchell and her husky, sultry sex-kitten voice joined Taylor and his band on the song “When I Was a Cowboy” before she returned for her own set later that night. The blonde Kitchell and her sweltering vocals were astonishing to hear, but after Taylor finished and left the stage complaining of a cold, the ambiance in the room tangibly deflated. He had held the audience spellbound for his entire set, and it was plainly sad to see him go.
At one point during the show, Taylor asked with a madman’s smile, “So what do y’all reckon, do I sound like James Taylor?” He raised and lowered his eyebrows in question and the audience cheered and laughed encouragingly. If this show is any indication of Taylor’s future, it’s sure to be as bright as the sun he sings about, brilliant parents or otherwise.
Ben Taylor and Sonya Kitchell
At The Ark