Guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor expands her sound on ‘Nobody’s Fool’

The blues guitarist performs at the Royal Oak Music Theatre

click to enlarge Joanne Shaw Taylor. - Kit Wood
Kit Wood
Joanne Shaw Taylor.

Joanne Shaw Taylor is widely considered a blues artist, but she doesn’t consider any of her nine studio albums to be blues records and she doesn’t write what she sees as blues songs.

“I’ve always said I’m a blues guitarist, I’m a soul singer, and a pop-rock writer and it all just kind of jumbles together, because I’m hugely influenced by blues, but when I learned to sing, I was never going to sound like Freddie King or Howlin’ Wolf,” she says in a late-October phone interview. “All my influences were male, so I had to seek out other music forms with female voices. And then again, just as a music fan, I love good pop songs, whether that’s David Bowie or Bonnie Raitt or Fleetwood Mac or, I love Harry Styles new album. So it’s a bit of a jumble, but there’s certainly a blues influence in there.”

Taylor’s description of her music might be more accurate than ever with her new album, Nobody’s Fool.

Yes, there is a blues influence, especially on rockier tracks like “Just No Getting Over You (Dream Cruise),” “Then There’s You,” and the funky title track, as well as the soulful ballad “The Leaving Kind.” But on what may be Taylor’s most musically diverse album, there’s also a strong pop/rock thread running through the frisky “Bad Blood,” the sweet and light “Won’t Be Fooled Again,” even the driving “Figure It Out,” while “Runaway” has a jazzy folk feel and “Fade Away” is a piano-and-cello-laced ballad Shaw wrote about the loss of her mother, how her grief has evolved, and the perspective she’s gained in the near-decade since her passing.

Whatever styles she incorporates on Nobody’s Fool, the songwriting is consistently strong and the performances from Taylor and the musicians are inspired. And that’s been her goal every time she’s embarked on an album project.

“I’ve always promised the fans every album will be different. I don’t see the point in doing the same album again,” she says. “If you particularly love, I don’t know, ‘White Sugar,’ it’s great. It’s still there for you to listen to. But I’m going to make sure the next album sounds different, and one thing I can promise is I’ll always put out songs I believe in. They have to be the best songs I can do at this point. So I think you’ve just got to do that, really, and hope for the best as opposed to taking it really and just trying to figure what people (will) like.”

For Nobody’s Fool, Taylor teamed up with her long-time close friend, blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa, and his producing partner Josh Smith. The pair also produced The Blues Album, Taylor’s 2021 disc of cover songs by blues artists. That album also marked her first release on Keeping The Blues Alive Records, the label run by Bonamassa and his manager, Roy Weisman.

The recording of The Blues Album went smoothly. And as Taylor began to turn her attention to making a new album of original material, she was excited to team up again with Bonamassa and Smith, and feels their partnership grew over the course of making Nobody’s Fool at the legendary Sunset Sound studio in Los Angeles.

“I think it’s far more collaborative than any album I’ve ever done. I do see me, Joe and Josh as sort of a band, really,” Taylor says. “I provide the songs, but they’re very involved in the arrangement really, the direction that those songs go. I essentially give them a song on acoustic guitar and vocal, so they have a lot of say in it.”

Some of the 10 original songs on Nobody’s Fool took on whole new shapes with the input of Bonamassa and Smith. A prime example is “Runaway.”

“That’s one of my favorites, actually,” Taylor says. “I wrote it on acoustic and it was really Joe’s and Josh’s idea to kind of take it in more of a slightly Joni Mitchell (direction), I would say, which I really liked.”

Another song that evolved considerably is the one cover tune on Nobody’s Fool, a version of the Eurythmics’ hit, “Missionary Man,” which gets an effectively slower and grittier treatment.

“Again, that was Joe and Josh,” Taylor says. “I had it as a very sort of acoustic blues kind of format. They took it and played around with it and I came in and they kind of got that vibe going of, it’s almost a White Stripes form, that coolness to it, a little bit darker. And I was like ‘Actually, this really works. I really like what we’re doing with it.’ It was such a different take on it. And fortunately, Dave (Stewart) was in L.A. at the same time as me, so it felt right to finally do something with him (in the studio) after all of these years.”

Stewart, Annie Lennox’s musical partner in the Eurythmics, is the musician who discovered Taylor when she was 16. He immediately hired her for his touring band at the time and helped her get meetings with a number of record labels as she was getting her solo career off the ground. By that time she met Stewart, Taylor, who started out playing classical guitar at age 8, had already been gigging for a couple of years.

“I loved playing guitar, but just didn’t like the discipline of the classical world,” says Taylor, a native of Wednesbury, West Midlands, England. “So of course, when I discovered (bluesman) Albert Collins, who plays guitar in such a bizarre way — I don’t think anybody but Albert Collins has played it (that way) since — you know, I just realized this is a fantastic instrument and really there are no rules to it. Blues guitar is all about personality. Freddie King sounds like Freddie King and Albert Collins sounds like Albert Collins. So I just loved that idea that I could sound like Joanne Shaw Taylor.”

Taylor’s songwriting skills, her soulful and sassy voice, and her guitar chops have earned her a steadily growing audience. To promote Nobody’s Fool, she’ll have a five-piece band that includes a second guitarist and Hammond organ player, which will allow her to faithfully reproduce her songs in a live setting. 

She also thinks the Nobody’s Fool material is enriching her live shows.

“I think it definitely adds a new dynamic, but it’s not too far of a stretch,” Taylor, 37, says. “It’s still kind of rooted in blues, pop soul, which I think I’ve always sort of skirted around those three genres. So I think it will tie in nicely, but I think also it will give a bit of a lift in the set to kind of change tack a little bit.”

Joanne Shaw Taylor performs on Friday, Nov. 4 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre; 318 W. 4th St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980; Tickets start at $39.

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