Is there anything more American than baseball? The smell of the grass, the smack of a worn leather glove, the crack of a wooden bat, the rolling of a cold beer down your throat. Willy Tea Taylor is a poet and songwriter who, better than just about anyone, captures baseball, heartache, death and rodeo, wrapping the all-American themes into simple, cyclical songs that ring with the innocence of childhood and the pain of growing up.
A broken-down truck, a run-down barn, a bourbon-soaked prayer to the lord; Tea Taylor's themes are easy to predict, but the intimate composition of his songs is hard to replicate. The co-frontman of The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit from the cattle town of Oakdale, Calif., has been called "the best songwriter of our generation regardless of genre, scene, commercial or critical success," in a review by Saving Country Music; a big claim to be sure. But after sitting with the 10-track album 4 Strings, listening to the songs through once, twice, and still only wanting to hear more of the meticulously gut-wrenching stories, I was strapped to think of another.
There's an authenticity to Tea Taylor's writing and performance that sets him apart from his folk contemporaries, especially when he talks about death, which is most of the time. In songs like "Everywhere Now," "Bones," and "Hummingbird," Tea Taylor puts words to the raw fragility of loss, and he's talking right to you, eyes shut with his trusty parlor-sized guitar swinging under his wide-brim hat.
The crackling vocal lows that bottom out at the dusty crux of heartfelt storylines are accompanied by simple, but somehow joyous riffs on Tea Taylor's instrument of choice, an archaic four-string guitar with a hole below the neck the size of a fist. The instrument looks like it's been on a longer journey than Tea Taylor's ragged overgrown beard and his guttural growl, and nearly sighs under the weight of his picking as he bounces it on his knee like a fragile toddler.
Murder ballads about hookers in six-shooter standoffs, bull riders, his brothers, heartfelt apologies, a snoopy fishing pole and broken hearts weave their way into Tea Taylor's winding American narrative that slowly uncovers the truth of life: You'll never win the pennant because life isn't a baseball field, and that ultimately, we're all going to die. But those realizations haven't stopped Tea Taylor from pursuing the next best thing to being an outfielder—documenting his American experience through song.
Leonard Peltier Benefit Concert
Willy Tea Taylor and the Good Luck Fellas, Mosley Wotta, Jeshua's Marshall Law and The Sumner Brothers
Thurs., April 17 | 8 pm.
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.
$10 suggested donation.