Sitting next to Angel Taylor, her charisma is as palpable as her music itself. Talking with her about the passionate swirl of her debut release, Love Travels, the 20 year-old singer-songwriter is quick to share stories about her inspirations, but those stories fast become secondary to the true magic of her talent as a songwriter: The 12 tracks on Love Travels are more than just personal missives that Angel Taylor has set to music, they are living and breathing experiences that we have all shared. The names may change, but the stories remain the same.
"Anyone who has ever wanted to be loved very deeply by someone, but hasn't, will totally be able to grab hold of these songs," says Taylor. "That's what this album is about - wanting it so bad, not having it, and wondering why... It's a lot of questions."
And while Taylor doesn't pretend to have any answers, there's no escaping how good it feels to get engulfed by her insecurities, romanced by her vulnerability, and swooned by her tender lyrics and swaying melodies. Feeling self-conscious about listening to love songs written by a girl barely removed from her teens? Try and remember when love hurt the most, that high school spark that never flickered into a flame, or the flame that fanned out as quickly as it flared, making everything around you ache and throb. In a lot of ways, the love Angel Taylor is writing about is the most pure, untainted by a lifetime of experiences that too often devour the idealism of the helpless romantic buried in us all.
"I don't think it's got anything to do with age or experience, because I think your heart speaks much faster than you might imagine. I mean, I don't even know that I can say I've fallen in love, but it's still not surprising for me to speak or sing about love like I do, because I've felt it... I've felt how I think it's supposed to feel, and whether that was really love or not, I've still meant it with all my heart."
Her heart resonates on Love Travels, where she peels apart the fairy tale of falling in love and climbs inside, wondering why it can't be her and rationalizing when it might be. "Chai Tea Latte" opens the album like the songbird's mating call, comparing a multi-cultural love to her favorite Starbucks drink and romanticizing the perfect date that never was in a gently stirred ballad. Like John Mayer - her favorite musician, and now labelmate on Columbia Records - Taylor's lyrics pack a wisdom that defies her years, finding the simplest, most accessible way to describe life's most confusing emotions.
"Maple Tree" is Angel at her most vulnerable, a lush canopy of music cloaking her bared soul, her vocals enunciating tremors through the chorus: "If you love me, for the beauty of my personality, then I'll stay here forever, don't you see; If you need me with a hunger, with a hope and with a dream, then I'll stay here underneath this maple tree..." Packing a melodic sensibility that is undeniable and engaging, "Like You Do" and "Make Me Believe" follow down more traditional pop avenues, propelled by buoyant strides and an artful, invigorated bounce. At opposite ends of Taylor's musical spectrum, "Spinning Wheel" - the track that birthed the album title - squares off against a confusing flurry of emotions amidst one of the album's more upbeat and peppier tempos, and a piano ballad offers the jarring landscape for the personal insecurities of "Too Good For Words." Co-written with her sister Ebony, "Epiphany" is a jazzy interlude, and "It's Easy" features the songwriter in all her understated, stripped-down glory, noting that "to love me is easy, like scooping mint ice cream." But the album's crowning glory just may be "Lightning Strikes," starting heavy on the piano and trembling like an ensuing storm, Taylor's epic vocals waiting for love to hit.
"I've always felt like love is like lightning, in that it's big and loud, and something crazy happens when it hits," she explains. "It's almost scary, but it's thrilling at the same time."
Just as spectacular as the music, is the young woman who crafts it. The Southern California native never wanted a recording contract, but fate intervened, making Angel Taylor one of music's emerging voices for those of us who seeking substance amidst the overblown style of today's pop culture. Looking for nothing more than a way to record a few of her songs for family and friends as a Christmas gift, an unknowing email to producer Mikal Blue [Colbie Caillat, Brendan James] resulted in an invitation to his Revolver Studios for an impromptu audition. "I played two songs, 'Chai' and 'It's Easy,' and he said he wanted to work with me - I told him all I wanted to do was get my music on a CD, and asked him how long that was going to take, and he said, 'Oh no, I want to really work with you...'"
And in a manner of months, the soft-spoken and big-hearted Angel Taylor took her first plane trip (to visit record labels in New York), got her first cell phone, and after signing with Aware/Columbia Records, was able to move herself, her mother and two of her sisters into their first house. Not bad for a girl who never had any musical schooling, and only starting writing poetry because of her sister. "Ebony started writing poetry when she was 14, I was 13, and I started writing cheeseball stuff like, 'you're awesome, I think you're opossum.' It didn't really get real until a few years later, but I never took a lesson - songs happened by me banging on a piano, playing it by ear, and trying to fit my poetry in. I didn't want to be a musician, I just wanted a fun hobby..."
A passionate blend of youthful innocence, soulful essence and a spiritual center, Angel Taylor is every bit as wholesome and pure as her Love Travels debut, her longing for love and lust for life colored by dashes of hope. Don't count on that changing anytime soon.