CD Review—

Harvey Taylor

Points of View (Tree House)

What is real? Harvey Taylor is the sort of poet and musician who humbly speaks of the wonders of reality just beyond our view, about the indelible yet elusive nuances of nature.

"A Tree, Singing," is a meditation on the cello's woody eloquence, "evoking a wind moving through a forest carrying the scent of balsam the bowed strings weeping profoundly over stumps left on clear cut hillsides."

Such tree-hugging sentiments are deftly understated but let you know upfront Taylor's world view. He also speaks about human nature, admitting to its myriad idiosyncrasies and its destructive, stuck-in-ego mode.

Turn this record on and you'll fall into the mellifluous rhythms of his voice and musical atmospherics, a sort of psychic windshield wiper revealing quietly wondrous and comical sights.

His style recalls the sage-like ruminations of Ken Nordine, the beat-era tale-spinner.

Taylor, who makes a seasonal living as a Milwaukee longshoreman, has long balanced hard, honest work with creative engagement with the world around him.

He is serenely observant. On "Reverence & Mystery," at an Indian mound, he notices a spider and web tucked in a small cavity, and muses, "This is a good place to be dead, and alive."

Yet Taylor delivers plenty of the Westerner's ironic slant along with his Zen-like beamings. He pokes delicious fun of those cosmetic spinning car hubcaps, which cover up the way America seems to be sliding backwards while pretending to progress. Our fascination with shiny things takes us back to the cradle. But Taylor's p.o.v. seems to suggest that something's to be gained by clearing the mind for pure, child-like receptivity.

As in several other pieces, this one shifts smoothly into lefty oratory, which can sound like a bumper full of tattered stickers. But these days it also sounds mainly like common sense.

Yet the best pieces radiate in the mind. "The Beach Walkers" retells the astonishing true story of Kalahari bushmen ancestors of superior intelligence and sublimely simple lifestyles. Another recounts a priceless impromptu trumpet lesson Taylor once received from Louis Armstrong, who put Taylor's horn to his epic lips and left him "listening to the rain, as the sky reverberated."

"Walking" is a mystical variation on that anecdote, in which Taylor and friends receive a profound gesture from a venerable giant snapping turtle on the Lake Michigan shore.

Another celebrates two tirelessly insouciant public dance partners, who've grown older, "but they're still dancing, by God."

"How Cuba Got its Name," by contrast, will stop you dead in your mental tracks.

The accompanying music of simpatico Milwaukee musicians—ranging from synthesizer player Mike Link to didgeridoo player Julio Pabon—moves from spacey sonics to palatable Miles Davis-like fusion. Taylor has developed into a warmly appealing trumpeter, inspired by his father. It's yet another manifestation of a fellow who has expertly hunted and gathered precious beauties and wisdoms.

—Kevin Lynch - 7/19/2007

Copyright 2007 The Capital Times (Madison, WI)