British-born Joanne Shaw Taylor combined intense guitar chops and a voice aged beyond her youth to impress critics and win fans on both sides of the Atlantic on her 2009 debut White Sugar and she now returns with the sophomore effort Diamonds In The Dirt.
Sophomore records are notoriously difficult for artists extending all the way back to the beginning of recorded music. We’ve all heard the cliché about a lifetime to write the first record and 18 months to write its successor. Some artists have tripped up overthinking things and trying to evolve too much too soon while others stayed too close to the formula of their first album. If Taylor has fallen into any kind of sophomore slump, hers would be the case of the latter as she is once again teamed with producer Jim Gaines as well as bassist Dave Smith and drummer Steve Potts.
There is a fine line between playing to one’s own strengths and repeating oneself but what blunts periodically dampens the impact of Diamonds isn’t any similarities it shares with its predecessor but that it so often shares these similarities across these 10 songs. As with many other artists who fashion sounds from limited palettes, this one is appealing and often adorns some very good songs but fatigue sets in over the 45 minutes and that is unfortunate because there is real spark and life at work here.
Taylor has a fantastic, earthy voice and a slashing, smoldering guitar attack and the results can be thrilling and often are. “Jump That Train” is an example where these elements come together well. Her rhythm guitar chugs beneath her smoky voice before yielding to a bridge to the first of two guitar solos. The first solo leaves some blood and mess while the second is more precise. The title track stands out by being one of the more different sounding songs on the record. It’s not quite a ballad but rocks less without sacrificing intensity, relying more on vocals than fretwork. On “Lord Have Mercy,” it’s the lead guitar that powers the song.
Take any three or four songs and you hear she has the goods. It’s when you get to that fifth or sixth song what was powerful becomes routine or at least expected. Diamonds In The Dirt is a very good, enjoyable, solid record. I choose to believe she has more to offer as a player than a guitar attack that often echoes the ghost of the great Stevie Ray Vaughan and his respective influences. Taylor is a force to be reckoned with as a singer and player. The progression from White Sugar to Diamonds isn’t dramatic but a foundation has been built. She’s two solid albums in to a career filled with potential to blossom into something truly special.