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Current Issue: Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Featured Music: Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Prolific Poetry

James Michael Taylor
mixes up a gumbo of sounds, album by album.


Most songwriters get inspired and write a tune. James Michael Taylor writes an album. (Photo by Jeff Prince)
Texas Water
Sat at Up A Creek Coffee Co., in Whitehouse, Texas, and on May 12, at Central Market, 4651 W Fwy, FW. Sound clips are available at http://www.txh2o.com/jmt/albums.htm.

A dark winter of “discompoopulation” seeped into James Michael Taylor’s head several years ago, rendering him near paralyzed for a few months. “All I did was sleep and cry,” Taylor said. It didn’t take long to figure out the source of his depression. “I needed to be out playing and singing,” he said. During the 1970s and early 1980s he performed as part of the country-folk trio Texas Water in the Fort Worth Stockyards. After the live music scene dried up during the mid-1980s, the band was put on the shelf, and the gently intense, lovably eccentric Taylor pretty much quit the music business for a dozen years to focus on acting gigs in theater and movies. To shake his new millennium funk, he started performing again, mostly at open mic nights. His burden eased instantly. “I’m glad it was so simple,” said his longtime wife and bandmate Peggy Mitchell. “Some people don’t know how to see their way out of the funk.”
Taylor has always been driven to record music, but a return to local stages intensified that focus. His studio output borders on prodigious — all of it done in his own home. Commercial studios are expensive and sterile to Taylor’s taste, and, besides, he’s a DIY kind of guy, a union stagehand and rigger who climbs high in the rafters and hangs trusses and speakers at convention centers and concert halls — an actor, poet, and broom-straw philosopher who also knows the business end of a hammer or welding torch. His East Fort Worth home contains a basement stocked with recording equipment and a vast array of instruments. For years he used a dusty 8-track reel-to-reel recording system, which was limited and comparatively cumbersome. So he joined the millions of musicians using music software on home computers to make quality c.d.’s in their own homes.
In 2000, Taylor recorded a collection of original tunes inspired by reading The Stone Raft by Jose Saramago. On the resulting album, entitled Que Paso, the cover photo shows him with an owl sitting on his shoulder — the wild owl had injured itself after flying into a window at Taylor’s house and was being nursed back to health. After that he upgraded his software and recorded 2001’s Solitary Walk about his time spent in the Pyrenees Mountains of southwest Europe. He burned his own c.d.’s, printed his liner notes, shrink-wrapped them, and handed them out to anyone willing to listen. Next came How I Got From Woodlake California To Fort Worth Texas In 25 Songs, an “autobiography in music.” He began hitting his stride as a producer with The Winnowing, about Native Americans. His growing expertise on the computer made each album more creative and polished than the last; collectively, the recordings allowed him to enter into what he calls “the conversation” — reflections on the culture, war, dogmas, and ironies that compose the constant buzz of ideas in the modern world. He envisioned a large collection of albums tackling different topics and offering his unique perspective. A virtual one-man band, he played most of the instruments and sang various harmony lines. With experience he grew more adventurous. By the time the remarkable Counter-Clockwise was finished this year, he was stacking as many as 50 tracks on each song, overdubbing instruments, sound effects, bits of conversations, movie dialogue, anything that helped him share the sounds and thoughts that ricocheted in his head. “Without cut and paste, that album wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. “When I was able to cut and paste, that’s when I was able to do more than just make demos.” The 61-year-old Taylor expects to continue participating in “the conversation” at a clip of several albums a year for the foreseeable future. That seems like a lot, but he’s a prolific writer. Most songwriters, when moved or inspired, write a song about it. Taylor writes an album.
“He’ll jump out of bed at five in the morning and go record,” Peggy said. Based on Taylor’s growing embrace of his muse and an accelerating expertise in computer recording, the best is probably yet to come.

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