Life With a Slow Ear
[Rating: 3 stars]
When Robert Johnson sang about encountering the devil, he sounded haunted to the bone, like a man who knew he wasn’t in control of his fate, and somebody or something else was. When Taylor Hollingsworth sings about powerlessness and deal-making with Beelzebub—as he does during album opener “I Didn’t Know It Was the Devil”—he sounds wry and only slightly bummed-out, like he’s got no reason to expect anything better in life.
This is partly because Hollingsworth tells his story so matter-of-factly, and partly because of his delivery; he keeps his voice pinched tight and summons none of the life-and-death urgency that bluesmen usually do. He takes a similar approach to the country-folk story-song “Westphalia” and the talking rock and roll number “Damn Boy,” but his sharp wit gives both a highly memorable bite.
Hollingsworth has dabbled in rock of cosmic country and aggressive garage varieties with Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley Band and on his own albums. His guitar work on Life With a Slow Ear is as incisive as any he’s done, but, shed of all the electric muscle, it’s more of a postmodern country blues album. Postmodern because—beyond sounding unalarmed by the devil—he ponders the moral and metaphysical during lyric-dense songs like “96 Crayons” and “When I Was a Boy” and finds nothing to struggle against.