Album review: Giving It Away by Claire Anne Taylor

The Breakdown

Claire Anne Taylor has, in the face of much adversity, produced not only her finest album to date, but has created her own musical balm in Giving It Away.
Cheatin' Hearts Records 9.2

If there is one name that is synonymous with independent folk and folk-rock in Tasmania today, it is Claire Anne Taylor.

The girl with the fiery red hair and the smoky, gravel-tinged voice has announced her third long-player in the form of her latest offering, Giving It Away. Following on from her 2016 debut, Elemental and 2019’s critically acclaimed All The Words, Giving It Away sees Taylor assemble a crack Tasmanian backing band to help her fully realise the potential her song-writing presents. She is joined by Jethro Pickett on guitars, Louis Gill on bass, Randal Muir on keys and Beau Thomas on drums.

Backed by Arts Tasmania, the album is testament to the resilience of this (originally) North-West Tasmanian woman who has ridden the emotional roller-coaster over the past few years. She saw the joy of the birth of her son, Van, before enduring the rigours that the pandemic wrought on the music community. She was then blind-sided when her infant son was diagnosed with the rare neurological disorder, Angelman Syndrome. All of this combined to create one of the darkest periods in her life, with the diagnosis leading her to contemplating giving her life’s joy, making music, away.

However, rather than running away from her lifelong love (and career), she decided to let the music become her therapy, and with the loving support of her husband, her family and the music community, she faced the demons that this news brought, head on.

The album begins with the sublime Swallowing Stones, a testament to how carefree life can be taken away so quickly and how painful it can seem (‘How do we pick the pieces up and carry on? when sometimes life feels like swallowing stones‘).

Much of the album deals with the subject of death and loss, and how we, as people deal with it. As Claire Anne Taylor herself says “Death is a prominent theme throughout the album, whether it is the death of a loved one, the death of a life you might have imagined for yourself, the death of a dream, or the death of a love shared with someone.” Songs that explore the innocence and uncertainty of children when dealing with loss (Just A Kid), the experiences of ageing (Dance With Death and For Old Times Sake) and the loss of significant others (Stuck Around and Before) are all touched upon.

It is when the album hits the back-to-back tracks, If You Should See Sunshine and Lay You Down In The Cold Hard Ground that the anger and self-doubt that accompanies the wild emotional ride that comes with grief and loss is highlighted. It is here that the band move into overdrive and show a harder edge than elsewhere on the record. If You Should See Sunshine is an adrenalin-induced, heart-pounding rocker while Lay You Down In The Cold Hard Ground evokes the feeling of being shackled, and sentenced to hard labour on the chain-gang whilst paying for some self-imagined crime (‘I’m gonna pay my debt back, I’m gonna pay my dues’).

The upbeat Keep On Truckin’ follows and is the song of resolve, with the realization that despite all that is thrown at you, you just have to keep going.

As powerful as her vocal often is, there can also be a fragility to her voice, giving glimpses to the vulnerabilities in her life. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the title track Giving It Away, a revelatory song which sees the music stripped back to just her and the piano and the baring of her soul. It is also repeated on the album’s closing track, The River Song (a sublime lap steel performance from Jethro Pickett making this hauntingly beautiful whilst perfectly complimenting the emotion so evident in her voice).

Giving It Away was recorded by Chris Townend (Silverchair, Tim Finn, Portishead) at MONA’s now-famous Frying Pan Studio, and is available for purchase at all good music outlets, or via her website.

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