Believe some of the hype
That frantic scratching you hear is the sound of music scribes on both sides of the Atlantic working up their best superlatives to herald the U.S. distribution of London white-soul virtuoso Lewis Taylor’s Stoned, released in the U.K. in 2003. Taylor’s surfeit of talent is undeniable, but let’s be clear—this is not the second coming of Al Green, Stevie Wonder or Prince, even though Taylor does possess a sensuous alto, plays all the instruments himself, and pulls off fleet, Hendrixian fretwork that calls to mind His Purpleness, however briefly.
For all Taylor’s technical facility, he’s more journeyman than auteur, more R&B classicist than avant-soul genius. His attention to detail and intuitive feel for rhythmic phrasing elevate Stoned’s otherwise lightweight songcraft and meandering lyricism, which wander around in your basic lovelorn, love-lost and lovestruck R&B mood. “How you made a mess like this,” he sings on the title track, “I just don’t know / Did I crumble? / I told you so.” And as with other one-man bands like Pete Yorn, an overarching sameness sets in after about three tracks. A creative partnership, with, say, a Jon Brion or Marius de Vries might add the interest to Taylor’s next outing that’s missing here.
Even so, the record’s earnestness and solid, intelligent performances sound better with each listen. So don’t feel bad if Stoned doesn’t meet the impossible expectations created by over-enthused critics, but neither should you be surprised if you’re still spinning this disc long after you’ve forgotten whether Jamiroquai was a band or an exotic ice-cream flavor.