Album review

Julian Taylor – Beyond the Reservoir

Julian Taylor released Beyond the Reservoir through his label Howling Turtle on Oct. 14, 2022.

“Moonlight” is a sweeping opener in the style of Leonard Cohen, referencing Canadian places in baritone while telling a story that’s all Julian’s. It sets up a reflective project, ready to grapple with the past in search of identity as it lists what “makes us who we are”. The storytelling continues into “Murder 13” with specific places name-checked and details included, though like the lyric says, “it could’ve been anywhere.”

“Murder 13” and a track like “Wide Awake” are chill and remind me of songs by the middle-namers: Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Jesse Daniel Smith, Charles Wesley Godwin et al. – it might as well be Julian Dean Taylor on the bill. But “Wide Awake” also has a jangle to it as the arrangement grows.

“I Am a Tree” appropriately sounds fresh out of the woods in a pleasantly Nick Drake Bryter Layter-style arrangement. The violin playing, burrowed tastefully into the mix across most of the record, gets more love here.

The highlight, “Opening the Sky,” is wonderful from its first ringing capoed chords, and from there Julian sings in a reverberant high register, bringing joy. I can see this being an extraordinary number for Julian’s live act in 2023, when he tours the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium (Just make sure to remember: we’re here when Julian is still under-the-radar enough that his Wikipedia page has been washed and replaced with a promotional press release, but no-one’s noticed for months. That can’t last much longer.)

Now in his early forties, Julian has been on a quarter-century hero’s journey: burning out from a major-label band, laying down workmanlike solo years, and building up independently to the heights of his prior album, The Ridge. Thanks to the inclusion of one track from the Juno-nominated, Polaris-longlisted album on at least one big editorial playlist, it’s been funny to watch media folkies take a break from lapping up criticism of Spotify and proudly cite the artist’s stream counts. Can you have it both ways?

Beyond the Reservoir is 17 minutes longer than The Ridge, but that’s because Julian – having first struck gold with a tightly-crafted mood – added in enough uplifting sounds this time to leave you optimistic, full of anthemic messages that he wants to leave for his daughter. Speaking to a lot of hurt and tersely cancelling Woody Guthrie on “Stolen Lands” while also doing that is a great achievement.

Recommended for anyone who loved The Ridge, this release is that rare follow-up that doesn’t disappoint one bit.

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