Four albums into her solo career, Maria Taylor remains tough to pigeonhole. Sometimes she’s soft and folky; sometimes she’s rougher and rootsy; sometimes she’s dreamy, electronic, and experimental. Her songs are craftily constructed, with lyrics equally committed to clarity and poetry, and the production on her records—even her latest, Overlook, which she self-produced for the first time—are full of little sonic surprises that bolster her sometimes-fragile melodies. She knows what she’s doing, in other words, and over the course of the first four songs on Overlook, she sounds like she could do just about anything. On the sputtering opener, “Masterplan,” she combines stop-start percussion with spooky, Stevie Nicks-ish atmospherics, emphasizing the song’s depiction of purposeful aimlessness. She works a xylophone interlude into the lightly funky, Suzanne Vega-like “Matador,” an evocation of life in Alabama into the breathy, self-critical “Happenstance,” and sterling lead guitar into the loping “Like It Does,” in which she reminds listeners “you can’t blame the mind for the dreaming.” But even in Overlook’s strong front four, some of Taylor’s weakness are in play: an aloofness in her vocals, for one, and a sense of eclecticism for its own sake. And when the material gets weaker in Overlook’s second half, even Taylor’s professionalism can’t overcome the nagging sense of absence. Taylor is gifted, and capable of moments of arresting near-brilliance. But though she’s been a professional musician for nearly 15 years, she still hasn’t really announced who she is.
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