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On his last solo outing, the 1998 Beatles-meet-the-90s masterpiece John Wayne, Daniel Amos frontman Terry Taylor took shots at spiritually bankrupt Orange County, as well as topics ranging from the Christian music industry to personal hypocrisy. This year’s Avocado Faultline covers many of the same topics, but instead of talking from an outsider’s perspective, Taylor has chosen to get inside the heads of his characters in a Flannery O’Connor-esque fashion.
For example, in the heartbreaking “Pretend I’m Elvis (For Just One Night),” a track originally written for the Lost Dogs’ never-released album The Green Room Serenade Part 2, Taylor writes from the perspective of a lonely barfly attempting to pick up a woman:
a little long in the tooth, babe
here’s to dim lights in dingy bars
In other songs, Taylor speaks from the perspective of a parent who has lost a beloved child (“The Afternoon”), a misogynist (the hilarious “Pie Hole”), and a man who has just seen a heavenly messenger (“Angels Must Smile Like That”). In fact, he role-plays so much in Avocado Faultline, that he felt it necessary to put a disclaimer in the lengthy liner notes:
“…It’s important to draw a distinction here between the drunken lout in ‘Elvis’ as opposed to the actualities of my life. I wouldn’t bother to do so, were it not for the fact that some people out there are perhaps a little thick and quick to vent some kind of knee-jerk condemnation and self-righteousness when they hear such a song. ‘Pretend’ is fiction. I am not this person.”
Speaking of the liner notes, those of Avocado Faultline are easily the most in-depth and classy of any Terry Taylor-related album. The thirteen-page booklet, in addition to the standard lyric sheet, a brief essay by Terry Taylor on the subjects of Los Angeles, songwriting and the record, as well as full colour pictures of the various sites and places mentioned in the songs Terry Taylor fans will likely give Silent Planet some extra brownie points.
Avocado Faultline is, for the most part, finger-picked acoustic country music, with the rather strange (but still appropriate) additions of mellotrons, accordions and chimes, as well as the more typical country instruments like pedal steel and Hammond B-3. It’s worthwhile to note that fellow Silent Planet artist Phil Madeira, who definitely proves his versatility, played most of the auxiliary instruments. Taylor has stated that the album would not be what it was without Madeira’s musicianship and creative input, and he’s certainly right on that account. There’s a little bit of rock thrown in on “Built Her a Cloud,” the only track to feature an electric guitar prominently, a slight jazz feel to “Angels Must Smile Like That,” and a Dixieland outro reminiscent of Taylor’s video game side project Neverhood Songs at the end of “Pie Hole.” But the majority of these songs are straight-up country music. This may not please fans of DA’s rockier material, but it should appeal to admirers of the Lost Dogs, as well as fans of old-school country artists like Hank Williams and Willie Nelson.
The Spirit of Avocado Faultline is classic Terry Taylor: funny, heartbreaking and convicting, all at the same time. If Silent Planet Records plays their cards right, then it will gain Taylor some new fans while still delighting longtime listeners.
Michial Farmer 7/20/2000
The liner notes accompanying Terry Taylor's new album Avocado Faultline are extensive and to be honest, I'm thrilled about that simple fact. Of course, I buy CD's for the music they contain but as a book lover at heart, I feel a bit cheated when they are only accompanied by a one page insert with scant information and no artwork. For me, the liner notes are part of the entire experience a CD offers. I'd venture a guess that Taylor himself feels the same way. For example, the recent re-release of Daniel Amos's The Alarma Chronicles included a 169 page book. And if you recall the original release of the four albums that comprise The Alarma Chronicles, you'll remember the mini-novel Taylor wrote to accompany them. Though he doesn't entertain similar literary notions with the liner notes for Avocado Faultline, the insert does include some great artwork and Taylor's explanation/apology for his recent work.
Most of what Taylor says in his "explanation" won't surprise his fans; he indicates he is not the characters he portrays in his music. I agree. Consider Daniel Amos's last album, told from the perspective of the 65-year-old Bud Akendorf; or the Swirling Eddies, the "other" band Daniel Amos sometimes becomes; or the ironic distance implicit within Taylor's incisive wit. However, despite the layers that separate Taylor from his characters and his music, he has always communicated sincerity and personality. An idealist devoted to personal and social commentary, he demonstrates a profound sympathy for the people he portrays and the things on which he comments. Avocado Faultline portrays characters with whom we feel connections despite (or maybe due to) their faults.
For those looking for the alternative rock of Daniel Amos or a direct musical follow-up to Taylor's John Wayne, this album may come as a surprise. Avocado Faultline draws on country and folk music traditions and in some ways, serves as a companion piece to the Lost Dogs' Gift Horse (entirely written by Taylor). However, the musical tenor of this album serves very well the work Taylor sets at hand: profound, story-driven sketches as well as songs filled with Taylor's vibrant images. Several treat comically wide-spread neurotic habits such as "Startin Monday" (which details a laundry list of good things to start doing soon) and "With What I Should Have Said" (which describes a life filled with comebacks cleverly devised but devised too late). The acoustic arrangements not only allow the lyrics to be featured prominently but also accentuate the general tone of the songs (humor and mock-seriousness, respectively).
The characters created within these songs seem likely to exist only as a joke, to deconstruct their own integrity with their preposterous desires (as in "Pretend I'm Elvis (For Just One Night)"). Over and over on Avocado Faultline, Taylor defies that easy way out and creates fully developed characters. Many are conventional "losers," but the dignity Taylor gives them demonstrates his soft spot for them all. Specifically, this is demonstrated by the man who wanted to build his loved one a castle but only "Built Her a Cloud." Even more wistful is the character in "Capistrano Beach," who recognizes his dead end and need for redemption and feels helpless:
Oh fly on you mixed up swallows,Here, Taylor demonstrates his ability to use familiar images (a bird's freedom) and motifs (the need for hope and healing) in wonderfully irregular and poignant ways. Again, distinctive moods are created by the arrangements; the "tear-in-my-beer" association with country music's guitar and accordion serve these songs well. As well as recognizing Taylor's songwriting, I must also credit his players: Phil Madeira, Steve Hindalong (both masterful), and an all-star list of guest players (Jimmy A, Derri Daugherty, and Mike Roe, among others).
Taylor offers a distinctly personal take on life with his Father's Day memory called "Papa Danced on Olvera Street." Avocado Faultline is dedicated to his father and this focus may or may not explain the themes and sound of the album. Regardless, it serves not only as a recognition of family ties but our common links as human beings living in this fallen world. The opening song "Cowboys with Engines" describes the violence to which we've become too accustomed and the closing song "Kind Word" hopes for something more through kindness to others:
I know it isn't muchA closing song equal in power to "You Lay Down," featured on Taylor's last solo effort, "Kind Word" is a statement of hope. Whether it is Taylor of a character of his own creation singing these words is irrelevant. This song fills me with a fervent desire for God's will to be done on earth as it is in
Terry Wandtke 8/4/00