Album Review – Willy Tea Taylor’s “4 Strings”

If you’re a tragic, tragic audiophile like myself, then you understand just what a blessing it is when out of the blue you discover an artist that really speaks to you, and it opens a brand new vein of music for you to enjoy for years to come. This is the experience most people come away with when hearing Willy Tea Taylor for the first time.

Willy’s approach is very simple. Just him, his songs, and an ancient parlor-sized four string guitar with a hole in the sound board big enough for Arnold Schwarzenegger to drive his Hummer through. For those who like to rock out with your sock out like a Chilli Pepper, then yeah, this may not be your aesthetic. But for the rest of us searching for that chicken soup for the soul of the audio persuasion, stuff that napkin down the front of your shirt and get to slurping.

Willy Tea has two types of songs: good ones, and great ones. And the great ones are so great, it is hard to listen to them and then say that better songs have ever been written. And this isn’t just from the lyrics, but the way the lyrics mesh with the chords, and Willy’s soothing voice.

I think the greatest asset of Willy Tea Taylor’s music has nothing to do with the music, but with Willy Tea himself. The man has this remarkably calming presence that comes across in his recorded music just as much as it does live. It’s like a cool, easeful wisdom, or a warm, soothing place you may have experienced as a kid, like the arms of a favorite uncle. Willy Tea is the cure for high blood pressure, or a hurried state of mind. There is something very cherubic about him, almost caricaturist with the big beard, wide hat, and round features, that has the effect of disarming you, of slowing you down, of causing a reflective inspection of your priorities.

But in no way is Willy Tea preachy whatsoever, far from it. Some may see the beard, or that he’s from California and think this is the same preachy hippy-like singer/songwriter bit they’ve heard many times before, but Willy is surprisingly grounded, singing about baseball and chicken fried steak. There’s no judgement here. He even has a song about long-time Bay Area baseball pitcher Barry Zito, that on the surface is inaccessibly specific, but the deeper meaning is to be willing to let go, when it is time to let go.

As is illustrated perfectly on the cover of 4 Strings, Willy has a lot of Shel Silverstein in him. I could see kids being drawn to him instinctively, yet his fountain for adult entertainment is just as appealing. For the songs “Hummingbird” and “Life Is Beautiful,” Congress should seriously pass a law that every human on the world planet has to listen to them. These are songs you feel in your tear ducts, in the depths of your spine, in the hairs on the back of your neck, in the deepest recesses of your brain where only the most precious memories are kept.

The murder ballad “Molly Rose” takes Willy’s soothing presence and voice, and contrasts it against the words and story of a madman as he eeks out haunting words of death. “Bones” is a fun, foot-tapping tune with a more visceral approach played higher on the neck than the rest of the album. “Cattleman” and “Wrong Way to Run” bookend Willy’s real-life wandering spirit that is so fun to vicariously experience through his music.

Like so many albums that take the stripped down approach, there is just less to criticize, allowing the pureness of the music to flow. I cannot give you one reason not to like Willy Tea Taylor or 4 Strings, only reasons you’d be a fool for not loving it.

Two guns up!

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Willy Tea Taylor is also the co-frontman for The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, and is currently making a film called “Searching for Guy Clark’s Kitchen” with Tom VandenAvond.

Read the song review for “Life Is Beautiful”

Four Strings is available from Willy Tea on Bandcamp.

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon