For Toronto singer-songwriter Julian Taylor, his latest solo album, "The Ridge", is a breakthrough, garnering acclaim across Canada and as far away as Australia. Glide Magazine recently called it, "one of the strongest Americana recordings we've heard to date". But releasing an Americana album wasn't really what Julian had planned.
"Every time that I set out to make a record, I try to establish a theme, some kind of thread that flows through from the beginning to the end", he says. "I don't think that I ever consciously walked into a studio to make an album based on styles of music. I'm a songwriter at heart and try to allow the songs to dictate where they feel they need to go. I'd like to think that, after ten records, I have gained some kind of perspective and developed some good instincts. On this record, I chose songs that fit one another and felt at home sitting next to each other."
Julian's career as an artist got its start in 1994 when his band, "The Weeds", competed in a Battle Of The Bands contest at the El Mocambo in Toronto. As a member of "Staggered Crossing", Julian was part of 5 albums which were released through Warner Music Canada and independently before the band folded in 2007. Since then he has fronted his own group and performed as a solo artist. "The Ridge" is Julian's first "solo" album with songs whose origins span a few years time.
"Most of the songs were written for this project but there were a few that had been around for awhile", he says. "The title track was written specifically for this record for sure. Songs like "Love Enough"and "Be With You" were around but not finished. I wrote "Ballad of a Young Troubadour" when I was a participant in the Acoustic Guitar Project. "It's Not Enough" was previously recorded on another record that I released over a decade ago."
The title song, "The Ridge", casts a nostalgic eye to a special time in Julian's life.
"I used to spend every summer with my grandparents in Maple Ridge, B.C.", he relates. "When I close my eyes and meditate or dream about a place that makes me happy, I always end up there. I had so many adventures with them. They were really down to earth people, hard working people, kind and funny. That taught me a lot. All of my family members have taught me a lot. I guess that when I was young (it was) the mysticism of being out west and living in such a magical place. I'd get up in the morning and head to the barn with my grandmother to see the horses and help her clean their beds. Something so simple stuck with me all my life."
"Love Enough" features guitar work by Derek Downham which evokes the sound you might hear on an old Marty Robbins or Willie Nelson song.
"Derek and I have been friends ever since his band, "Grindig" and my band, "Staggered Crossing" toured together in 2011. He sparkled on that track! Everyone truly shines on the entire album if you ask me. I'm proud to have been in their company. On the record, a tip of the hat is in order for the ladies in Dala, Miranda Mulholland, Burke Carroll, Kevin Fox, Noah Mintz, Saam Hashemi, and especially my cousins, Barry and Gene Diabo."
The COVID-19 pandemic has made an already difficult music environment even harder to cope with. Julian had had great support from various arts organizations to help him weather the storm.
"At first it was really difficult but I don't feel that way anymore", he says. "I've been very lucky and have been offered online virtual shows during this time, so I am so grateful. Americana Highways, AmericanaFest, Music Together, Mariposa Folk Festival and the National Arts Centre are a few that invited me to perform from my very own living room. It is the closest distance from the venue, the stage, the dressing room and the hotel I've ever been."
The current Black Lives Matter discussions and the focus on overall racial injustice have been hampered by the pandemic and the resulting restrictions on large gatherings. Julian is of mixed Black Canadian and Mohawk descent so the issue strikes right to the core of who he is.
"I wanted to join the protests in person but opted not to. I have aging parents and a young daughter. At the time I decided that I would use whatever voice I had, to share and express my opinions through social media and the radio airwaves, as well as speaking to friends, of course. Some friends weren't and still aren't sure how to bridge this conversation, and that's fine. I've grown up with prejudice in my life and my family has. I have so many stories that I could tell but to be honest, it's a tad exhausting. One little simple thing that I feel able to share is one story that might help people distinguish the difference between white privilege and what it means to have it. I was speaking to an old friend and asked them if their dad had ever been pulled over by the police because of the car his dad was driving. It happened to my dad a lot and still happens to him, and to me as well. But it was hard to see. They'd pull him over and he'd ask if he'd done anything wrong. They'd (say), 'No sir, but is this your car that you're driving?'. Pretty demoralizing if you ask me."
You can find out more about Julian Taylor and "The Ridge" at www.juliantaylormusic.ca.
You can also listen to "The Cruise with Julian Taylor" weekday afternoons on 106.5 ELMNT FM.