There is a kind of metaphorical crossroads, an infinitely fertile tract of land where blues, folk and country music meet and combine, and where new genres and musical styles are born and set loose into the world to do their thing. Some of the greats of popular music have congregated here over time: Bob Dylan has dabbled in all three forms, simultaneously and individually; Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Bert Jansch and even Led Zeppelin have approached blues from folkier angles, while American artists from Leadbelly and Odetta to Richie Havens and Eric Bibb have come at it from the other side. Of course, you could categorise these artists endlessly and arbitrarily, but what links them is a willingness to knowingly re-appropriate historically important musical forms, to take old songs and push them in new directions. Country, blues and folk are all social forms of music, and they grow and change as societies grow and change.
Of course, the crossroads is a long-standing symbol in the blues tradition: a symbol of death, for sure (death is at the heart of many great songs), but also a symbol of travel, of leaving home or returning home, of choices made, right or wrong. And in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the cross stands for rebirth as much as it stands for death. Each of these themes is, to some extent, explored in Flood & Burn, the new album by London-born singer-songwriter Sean Taylor. Even the album’s title alludes to elemental powers that are both destructive and regenerative. Taylor counts among his influences some of the great songwriters of the twentieth century: Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits. He records in Austin, Texas with an impressive roster of session musicians, and the results are often stunning. Album opener Codeine Dreams, for example, is slow-burning and hallucinatory, a pitch-black meditation on narcotic oblivion, with waves of saxophone courtesy of Joe Morales. Structurally it bears little resemblance to traditional song forms: there is a jazziness to it that brings to mind Tom Waits in his looser moments. And Taylor’s singing – a rough, smoky voice that reeks of barrooms and loneliness – also recalls Waits.