Nashville based singer-songwriter fails to build on promising debut with sophomore offering.
Taylor Alexander burst on to the scene back in 2019 with his debut album, ‘Good Old Fashioned Pain’, delivering a brand of outlaw country music that lay comfortably within the genres boundaries and received plaudits from across the Americana community. However, as the saying goes, timing is everything, and unfortunately just as momentum was being gathered 2020 saw the the world put on pause and the time to perform and promote was replaced by a time to retreat and reflect, and possibly write. It is from this place and the upheaval within his own personal universe that form the basis for Alexander’s sophomore album, ‘Hymns For A Hollow Earth’.
The album opens quietly, piano and strings acting as a gentle conduit for ‘The Earth Is Hollow’, as Alexander reminds us that, “Everything looks fine if you don’t look to close”, which at first implies the chance of something deeper possibly darker beneath the surface, alas, only to conclude that in fact everything is hollow. This sense of emptiness and loss permeates through out the album, witnessed again on the second track, ‘Fences’, the first promotional single. Here the pace remains sedate, a drum loop replaces the piano of the opening track, while the subject matter evolves around the breakup of Alexander’s parents thirty year marriage. Clearly an emotive topic, lines like, “Every stone you throw is helping to build a wall”, offer not just a brief glimpse into the obvious turmoil and heartache but also the lyrical possibilities that unfortunately are not pursued, as if Alexander is reluctant to reveal anymore than the surface scars or run the risk of taking sides. All the while the musical landscape is drifting further from the familiar waters of the debut album.
‘Born With A Broken Heart’ does at least up the tempo, with a radio friendly ambiance, but lacks in conviction and is littered with rather banal cliches, while ‘Unmarked Graves’ opens with the line, ‘What’s the point of trying’, and continues with the negative vibe. It’s clear by now that creating an overall mood for the album was high on the priority list, and producer, Brendan St Gelais, who incidentally was at the helm for the debut, has certainly helped to create a musical landscape that reflects Alexander’s disposition. The album continues in a similar vain rarely changing either in tempo or emotion, with tracks such as ‘Nothing Makes Me Happy Anymore’ and ‘It’s Hard To Be Happy’ simply emphasising the creeping malaise. The mood finally lifts on the the last track, ‘One Day I’m Gonna Let Go’, where simple arpeggiated notes picked on an acoustic guitar support a relatively more positive outlook as Alexander sings, “Nothing Broken Stays. Hey, Maybe that’s okay”.
The difficulty of the second album is well documented. Too often acts play safe and stick to a formula that’s previously worked, rather than be brave and choose the riskier path of artistic growth, therefore such ambition should be applauded. However, choosing the path least travelled comes with numerous pitfalls, where a lack of familiar surroundings, road signs and white lines can soon leave an artist lost, adrift, lacking any clear identity or direction. To create your own, “genreless space”, requires not only great vision, but also great heart and commitment, and here Alexander has chosen to play too safe, not for commercial gain or to broaden his appeal but simply not brave enough to fully explore the inner depths of his personal journey that he is offering to share leaving the listener emotionally unsatisfied and slightly frustrated. Gone is the confident swagger that so embellished the debut album, replaced here with a real sense of insecurity and fragility. There is no doubting the intimate sincerity Alexander brings to each song but the repetitive theme only tends to numb whilst any dark humour is lost in the delivery.
The hope will be that this is an album that Alexander needed to make to exorcise the difficulties of the last few years, thus enabling him to move forward, both in his own personal life as well as artistically so that a third album can be a little more cohesive, delivered with a little more conviction.