“If you asked me point blank who I thought was the best songwriter of our generation regardless of genre, scene, commercial or critical success, I would tell you without hesitation that it is Willy ‘Tea’ Taylor from the interior valley cattle town of Oakdale, CA. His ability to enrich the perspective of life and all of its many wonders is unparalleled.”
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This was the bold assessment of Saving Country Music some 10 years ago regarding the powers of singer, songwriter, and wiffle ball player Willy Tea Taylor, who at the time was a relative unknown, but already forging a strong cult following. In the 10 years since, that cult following has only grown, and not from the benefit of big labels, the media, or a purposeful push by Willy Tea to promote himself.
As brilliant as he is unassuming, it’s been the sheer strength of Willy Tea Taylor’s songs that have propelled him forward. His ability to captivate an audience without any accompaniment has also made his songs especially lethal live and via the video medium. It still remains a heavy lift to convert average Joe’s to Willy devotees due to the often weighty nature of the subject matter. But his new album The Great Western Hangover very well may help with that, and mightily.
The music of Willy Tea Taylor emerged when he started taking old vintage 4-string tenor guitars from the 1920s, and played them to his homespun songs. It was simple and unpretentious, but in the minds of his audience, the experience was outright symphonic from the brilliant landscapes and moments he was able to evoke. Willy’s 2011 album 4 Strings is a testament to this songwriting, and the sheer gravity of moments he can channel through words.
A exploration Willy Tea’s music is not complete without also experiencing the work of his band The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit with fellow songwriter Chris Doud. The band’s 2012 album No Excuses veers into the realm of a masterpiece, with Willy’s contributions like “The Very Best,” “Everywhere Now,” and “One Yard” remaining vital to Willy’s catalog, and the catalog of anyone who values songs.
It’s easy to go long about where Willy Tea has been previously because there is so much to discover there, and it’s been so grossly overlooked by the powers that be in music. But The Great Western Hangover is all about where Willy Tea is going. Having relocated to Nashville after moving away from his hometown of Oakdale, CA some years ago, he’s now fallen in with the right crowd in Music City, and perhaps the magic of Willy Tea Taylor will finally find the full audience it deserves.
A strongly collaborative album, The Great Western Hangover is not sparse and understated like some of Willy’s previous work. It’s purposefully full and electric. Tom Petty is cited as a similarity and influence for the album, but you also hear a lot of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse in songs like “Devil’s Taxidermy” and “Dangerously Beautiful.”
Always up for making friends through music, Willy assembled what he calls his “Fellership” to flesh out his songs. This includes Taylor Kingman and Tyler Thompson from TK & The Holy Know-Nothings, Dylan Nicholson and Eric Patterson of The Turkey Buzzards, as well as Kris Stuart from Root Jack. There are also guest appearances by Jeffrey Martin, The Rainbow Girls, Jay Cobb Anderson, and Saving Country Music Song of the Year nominee Anna Tivel.
The songs “National Treasure” and “Dangerously Beautiful” illustrate how Willy Tea Taylor can make anyone and everyone feel better about themselves without being trite. “Devil’s Taxidermy” is perhaps the most powerful moment of the album, where Willy testifies to the taxes and consequences that addiction levies in a way that makes you heed the moral. “Bakersfield” is a beautiful epic of a story and a great country song, told from the perspective of Willy Tea’s grandmother.
But what might make The Great Western Hangover an important moment in the career arc of Willie Tea Taylor is the way these songs cast a wide net of appeal as music first, and then seal the deal with their words next. “’69 Malibu” sounds like something John Cougar Mellencamp would have recorded in 1981 as opposed to a singer/songwriter effort that requires an open heart and attentive audience to be received.
The Great Western Hangover is Willy Tea Taylor’s alt-country album, and hopefully, his breakout from a cult following to more widespread critical acclaim, and a bridge back to his back catalog for those that discover him through it.
Willy Tea Taylor’s music is about healing. It’s about refusing to pass judgement, and willing to give forgiveness and understanding to all. It’s medicine as music.
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Purchase The Great Western Hangover on Bandcamp