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Joanne Shaw Taylor - White Sugar

Ruf Records

Whatever the actual meaning is behind the title of Joanne Shaw Taylor's debut CD, "White Sugar" is certainly a deliciously charming collection of songs by a compelling white blues woman. Be prepared when you enter the disc into the player, though, or when clicking on the mp3 files for the first time, as her sound may not be what one would expect out of an eye-catching, 23-year-old from Birmingham, England. You'll immediately hear music that's gritty and seasoned, followed by a voice to go with it, one that's soulful and intense. Discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics, he was amazed by her talent to play the blues in such a deep and passionate manner.

The aforementioned opening song, "Going Home", is a perfect yet startling display of this young lady's talent as a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. When it comes to the sound of her voice, picture Joss Stone with a style that's more bluesy and rock injected. Her guitar licks and chops are dazzling, and her tone is amazingly full and chunky (all conjured through Fender Telecaster Customs and Thinlines fit with Humbucking pickups in the neck position for extra punch).

Following the opener is "Just Another Word", a song with a pleasant vocal melody backed by addictive dual rhythmic chops separated stereophonically. The driving rhythm section of drummer Steve Potts and bassist Dave Smith move this one along, as well as the rest of the album's ten tracks, in a fine manner. Each instrument is prominent, as the abovementioned two are the only other players heard behind Taylor's voice, along with her infective guitar chops of course. And the sound is amazingly clean and full. Not to take anything away from Taylor, but the fact that renowned producer Jim Gaines was involved in the album's creation, in bringing all three musicians together in the studio as well, most likely has much to do with the proficient sound of each recording.

Taylor utilizes the CD's title song, "White Sugar", to its fullest potential within its four and a half minute time frame. The album's lone instrumental is a solid display of her astounding chops in both a funky and bluesy manner. Later on, "Heavy Heart" enters a funky and bluesy atmosphere again, yet in more a seductive and smooth flowing manner, vocally as well as instrumentally.

"White Sugar" is an impressive debut release from Joanne Shaw Taylor, a performer with more than adequate vocal, guitar playing, and songwriting skills. And although she's definitely bluesy, as a blues vibe encompasses most of "White Sugar", it's easily noticeable that her music crosses the line into rock locale quite a bit. That said, the album's closer, "Blackest Day", will certainly arouse the perception of staunch blues fans. It's a killer slow blues track deserving of attention. Her soulful, sensual, and bluesy voice and amazing guitar licks are incredible throughout.

Reviewer Brian Holland is a music journalist who resides in Massachusetts.

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