This was a London launch for South Carolina’s Taylor McCall. A showcase, but a low-key and intimate one. Without the frills of a compère signalling his entrance, somehow McCall was there, unexpectantly in our midst, unannounced, already playing the opening bars of new single ‘Mellow War’, a sad gritty country song that suits his voice perfectly. At the end of the song, he chuckles and says shyly “Just here to bring you some Carolina warmth” and then a bit of a geography lesson, “I’m from Greenville, SC, some 300 miles from Nashville.” His label, Thirty Tigers, is based in the Tennessee capital and they appear to be doing a good job with a quarter of a million weekly listens on Spotify (more than many established AUK faves and on a par with some well-known labelmates.) He slides into ‘Rest on Easy’ a new song, the effortless rasp in the vocal and accomplished finger-picking a trademark of his back catalogue. He wears a trucker’s hat pulled low on his brow throughout the set and between each song he has a guitar tech handing him a newly tuned instrument, a sign that this is not a shoestring operation.
There’s a section in the middle on electric guitar punctuated with kick-drum, all from the heavier side of McCall’s debut 2021 long player ‘Black Powder Soul’ that reflects the heritage of the country blues of Taj Mahal. These songs, including ‘Lucifer’, ‘Devil Wants to Dance’, and ‘South of Broadway’, all visit the themes of Heaven/Hell/ God/Devil that are recurrent on McCall’s work. His love of the wild places and in particular his other self-taught skill of fly-fishing also influence the sparseness and rolling landscapes of his slower and more americana pieces like 2019’s ‘Jericho Rose’ which was a highlight of tonight’s performance.
He has spent most of his first visit to the UK as main support act on Robert Plant’s tour of England, kicking off earlier in the month in Brighton where Plant stood in the sidelines watching the entire set. This, for someone who admits to his own past reluctance to even put his hand up in class, should have been daunting, but the previous years spent honing this act has made him a relaxed persona when finally up there in the spotlight. Songs and playing are to the fore here, he looks humbly into the audience and says, “I’m glad that people turned up.” The crowd is a good mix -all ages, people sway in the darkness, some are old Troubadour regulars, others, like a young couple on a discreet first date, are new discoverers. There is a friendly contingent from the European office of Thirty Tigers based in London, no doubt keen to assist this young talent to get a deserved foothold outside the US stronghold.
The Troubadour is full of romance and history and atmosphere: subterranean with a hidden garden and bohemian Liberty wallpaper and nooks and crannies including a little shrine to Jimi complete with kneeler. It was in there that I first noticed Sebastian Schub, in quiet contemplation before his support set, vintage Hawaiian shirt and brown oversized suit draped on his slender frame. Schub opened with ‘Paradise’ and played a short set of growing intensity and power befitting his origins as a busker in London and Dublin. At the end said he something that made me think: “Attention is a currency hard fought.” So true of many audiences and their dwindling concentration. Thankfully both Schub and McCall were given the attention that they sought tonight. The night ended for most with McCall completing his set with the title track from ‘Black Powder Soul’ and then, during applause, as discreetly as he had joined us slipping away stage left.
“Where do we go next “asked the first-date couple, mistaking me for a west-London bon-viveur. I don’t know… but probably somewhere with a slightly cheaper bar.