If you like some soul in your roots or Americana—call it what you will—Dione Taylor is a singer-songwriter of whom you should take notice.
Raised in Regina, a product of a childhood spent surrounded by her pastor father’s church, and now based in Toronto, Taylor brings the gospel spirit to her music, a blend of soul, blues, and roots.
When some writers state, “I couldn’t get past the first song,” they mean it negatively. Not me, not here. I literally couldn’t get past the first song, “Water.” I played it over and over again, for the better part of a half hour. A product of Taylor’s pilgrimage to Tennessee’s Tanasi River, the ‘singing river’ inspired this tremendous song and album.
Controlled percussion effects and drumming open “Water,” discrete guitar notes provide additional colour until Taylor’s voice weaves into the established groove: “Deep in the dark dead of night, when all the world is fast asleep, there’s a still small voice whispering, whispering, for all the souls to keep.” The sparse arrangement is haunting, and there is certainly “something in the water.” It is a highly unusual song, country-swamp instrumentation with a deeply soulful voice communicating the spirits of the past, spectres ever-present and influencing actions today.
“Water” is an incredible song, artfully constructed. Co-producer Joel Schwartz’s guitar works ideally with Lyle Molzan’s drums and Mark McIntyre’s bass, creating an organic sounding, well-produced song, full of mystery and even hope. Remarkable, and it is the kind of song that ‘should’ be a huge hit, not that I have any idea of what a hit sounds like in 2020.
But enough about the lead track; the album has 33 additional—and just as intriguing—minutes to explore.
Perhaps the thesis of Spirits in the Water is best left to Taylor to explain: “Legendary stories and family history travel through us, flow into the waters and down the bloodline. If the water speaks, and if we are still and listen then what fascinating stories do we hear? Perhaps, tales of eternal happiness, brutal hardship, necessary murder, unspeakable love and beautiful pain are buried in the muddy waters.”
Taylor takes us on this journey, to hear the truths of the past in an attempt to reconcile these with our current situation. In “Where I Belong” she sings, “Can’t find a home where I belong, chasing the phantom of a song, memories whisper in my ear, they linger and they beg, leaving me to wander and carry on,” and it becomes apparent that Taylor is as invested in our journey as she is in her own. Shade of Yola’s Walk Through Fire become apparent here, and later on songs including “Down the Bloodline” and “Spirit.” “One More Shot” also lends itself favourably to comparisons to Yola, but Taylor is her own artist; the similarities never appear deliberate, rather a natural confluence of inspiration and experience.
Schwartz, who has played with Birds of Chicago, brings the right type of ear to the producer’s desk. The songs are uncluttered, but far from vacant, each note infusing a sense of necessity to the songs. Songs not produced by Schwartz—“Spirit” and an uplifting reprise of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”—provide a different feel, a welcome adjustment to approach and execution, and for this Taylor and co-producer Sandy Mamane are to be congratulated.
Taylor and her co-writers, including Schwartz and Mamane, tackle a variety of topical elements including racism, inequality, injustice, and sexism. Rather than presenting as heavy and didactic, the album feels light, its messages—as are the finest meaningful anthems—indelibly engrained within the music and lyrics.
Most strikingly, “How Many Times” cries for justice: “How long do we have to wait until we get what we need?” The impact of systematic oppression is communicated through each anguished note Taylor sings.
I am so pleased that Spirits in the Water found its way to me, and those who purchase it are likely to feel similarly. An excellent roots music creation, and yes—“Water” is a striking song. What Spirits in the Water reveals is that the remaining nine songs are just as—and even more—captivating: Bold seems to be the right word to describe it.
Why isn’t this being played on every freeform radio station?
Highly recommended. Best songs: “Spirit,” “Darkness,” “Water,” and “How Many Times.”