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Joanne Shaw Taylor 'Heavy Soul' album review: JST drops her defences once again and produces some of the best work.

After releasing  'Nobody's Fool' in 2022 Joanne Shaw Taylor continues her change in style, this has been a constant theme for her as a musician over the last few albums. She's always mixed soul, blues and rock, but her music has become less raw and more controlled and dare I say mature and sophisticated over the years. For 'Heavy Soul'  she enlists Kevin Shirley as producer, which only enhances this evolution in her musical style. JST drops her defences once again with this album and continues to produce some of the best work to date.

Fans who saw her on tour earlier this year will already be familiar with some of the album's tracks. The excellent 'Sweet Little Lies' has the gutsy blues riff at the heart of the track. The song sets the tone for the album, and easily slots into the radio-friendly listening vibe that Shaw Taylor has crafted over the last couple of albums: it's a sound that easily appeals to her traditional crowd and those who need to be eased into the genre.

There's no question that she's matured as a songwriter throughout her career, and as with her previous album, she's become a little bit less guarded and vulnerable in her performances and songwriting. Van Morrisons 'Someone Like You' Joan Armatrading's 'All The Way From America' and Kenneth Gamble's and Leon Huff's 'Drowning in a Sea of Love' slot into the track list effortlessly alongside her self-penned tracks, almost so well that You have to stop and remember that these are cover versions. 

The title song returns to her roots and contains some of her best guitar work (as does the febrile 'Devil in Me'). The track has a deep blues groove with a grounded rhythm that underscores JST's soulful vocals alongside her traditionally gritty guitar playing. The album's closer 'Change of Heart', co-written with Beth Nielsen Chapman sees JST stepping further into emotional territory: it's upbeat and offers a soulful vocal alongside some heartfelt playing. It's a fine way to round up a superb album.

Some of these songs may be inspired by real life, others pure fiction, but just like the rawness of emotion on Bonnie Raitt's 'Nick of Time' album, the best moments in 'Heavy Soul' are when JST lets her guard down and gets right in the middle of the song. Perhaps it is maturity, or maybe she trusts herself and her audience a little bit more, but these are moments when we can get inside her music. 

It's perhaps still too poppy for some, but 'Heavy Soul' continues a voyage of creative and personal discovery for Joanne Shaw Taylor, and makes a very thrilling listen. 


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