Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, ON
May 22, 2011
Review by: Chad Hutchings
Photos by: Julie Lavelle
Maria Taylor found her way back to Toronto last week and, despite her slot as opening act for Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, she brought a show that had the audience wishing she would never step off the stage.
Fans of the Saddle Creek sweetheart won't be surprised that her opening set warrants an entire review. Maria Taylor's solo work has proven that she's a great talent in her own right (to say nothing of her pairing in Azure Ray and her collaborations with the likes of Bright Eyes); her warm folk stylings and her soaring, unstrained voice guarantees that she won't stand second string to anyone, and Sunday's set was a solid forty-five minute testament to this fact.
As Taylor eased us into the night with "Cartoons and Forever Plans", I couldn't help but laugh at the line "...did you know I'm not as fragile as I thought", as she stood in front of us looking like the definitive petite southern belle, with her flowing tassled hair, summery country dress, and big cowboy boots. Looks are often deceiving in this industry, though, and the line rang true. While her tunes were well fitted to her look (delivered with a much more folky sound this night than in her recordings), her voice boomed effortlessly, as steady and strong as a brick wall.
Maria's visit was a family affair, of sorts. Her brother (Macey Taylor) brought his skills to the show with his work on bass and banjo, and her stunning sister (Kate Taylor) enchanted the audience from way back behind the drum kit. Rounding out the group, the trio of siblings was made a quartet by Browan Lollar and his guitar, who would later step back into the spotlight with The 400 Unit, but now lent his hand to a team offering up a set of gorgeous folk songs that were surprisingly elegant in their simplicity.
This simple elegance came across not only in the delivery of the music, but in Maria's lyrical stylings, which are direct and expositional, heavy with a sincerity that's well-matched by her presentation of the work. Her comfort on-stage is unmatched. She spoke and joked without pretense, telling stories that had us feeling like we were chatting with a cute friend at a party (and had me, at one point, itching to rush to a liquor store when she grieved over her lost bottle of birthday wine - "I'm really sad, because wine is the most important thing in my life.")
While her slower, folky tunes like "Clean Getaway" were performed beyond adroitly, her more upbeat work is where she was shining the most brightly. Her live rendition of the fan-favourite "Xanax" was a ball of fire, rousing and emotional and sounding like it'd just been penned in some raw emotional rush. Of course, with the artist's perpetually unfeigned way, it would've been a task to find a song that wasn't sung with the same emotions that fueled its writing. Taylor laid all of herself out on-stage for Toronto, winning new lovers from Jason Isbell's following, and making every moment worth the visit for the many fans that came out just to see her short set.
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
While the man with the pen wasn't able to catch Jason Isbell and his band step onto the stage, our photographer had the chance to snap a few prime photos from the performance.