In 1983 Dennis Taylor had 300 copies pressed of ‘Dayspring‘, a collection of ten solo fingerstyle originals. Local television gave him exposure and he looked set for greater things. His timing was perhaps unlucky. In 1984 Windham Hill released Michael Hedges ground breaking album ‘Aerial Boundaries‘ and the fingerstyle guitar world shifted. Without the overwhelming presence of the Hedges album I feel sure that Dennis Taylor’s work would be far better known and I confess that both player and album were unknown to me before undertaking this review.
Dennis Taylor’s music comes out of the Tacoma Label background, the influence of John Fahey and particularly Leo Kottke are apparent but this is far from the work of just another American Primitive disciple. Admittedly, ‘Going Nowhere Fast‘ is a fingerpicking tour de force which owes a great deal to Kottke’s ‘Vaseline Machine Gun‘. Maybe it was a deliberate tribute to Mr K. as it is the exception rather than the rule, so long as the similarities between ‘In the Silence‘ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat‘ are put to one side
The departure from the Tacoma school is well illustrated by ‘Dawning Point‘ in which a relatively simple theme is repeated, generally on the middle strings, set against rippling treble string rolls and by nicely placed arpeggio harmonics. More than any other, the piece seems to have no discernible, hummable tune, but still remains perhaps the most interesting track on the album. In the informative liner notes Taylor is quoted as trying to marry the bounce of the Tacoma style with music ‘rhythmically driven and more floating, with more space to immerse yourself in’. ‘Dawning Point‘ and also ‘Reflection of the Dayspring‘ are perhaps the best illustrations of where Taylor was heading. ..into the New Age and beyond.
Other tracks on the album illustrate Taylor’s wider musical interests, most notable ‘Spanish Dancer‘ which opens with echoes of ‘Malaguena‘ but then develops along the lines Taylor suggests above, only returning to the more obvious Spanish feel at the very end of the piece.
The closing track on the album, ‘From the East to the West‘, has suggestions of Arabic music at the beginning and appears to be an attempt to fuse eastern lines and intervals with those of the west as found in American folk music. The result is interesting, although in my opinion does not quite succeed as the west overwhelms the east. Curiously enough, on the archive footage of the TV performances of ‘Music from the Dayspring Album’ there is a longer 12 string track entitled ‘Iran‘ which develops the idea further but does not appear on the album.
Technically, the playing is beautiful with very precise fretting and a wonderfully controlled right hand. The picking not only has clarity but tonal range, even though it is evident from videos that his technique generally anchors the little finger on the soundboard. The guitar tone is classic American, as is the instrument – a twelve fret body join, slot headed Martin.
In short, ‘Dayspring’ is a fine album full of excellent playing and interesting compositions. It could, perhaps, have had an established position as a bridge between the work of John Fahey , Leo Kottke et al and the work of Will Ackerman, Alex De Grassi and others of the Windham Hill label. Grass-Tops Recording deserve credit for having resurrected an album of some significance in the general history of fingerstyle guitar and bringing it to a wider audience.
Review by: Nick Dellar