West Taylor returns to his roots with ‘Available Parts’

The musician will celebrate the release of his pastoral new album in concert at Rumba Cafe on Friday, May 10.
West Taylor
West TaylorChad Cochran

Early in the writing process, the songs on West Taylor’s new album, Available Parts (Space Canoe Records), tended toward the louder end of the spectrum, driven by urgent drums and an electric guitar he said he turned up to keep pace. But Taylor soon realized this wasn’t the direction he wanted the songs to take, so he invited in producer Jesse Henry of the Spikedrivers, picked up an acoustic guitar, and adopted a slower, more conversational tone better in line with the sounds he kept hearing in his head.

“I was raised outside of Mount Sterling, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and I wanted to make a more intentional record that captured what that sounded like to me, to grow up on tractors and surrounded by horses and cornfields,” said Taylor, who will celebrate the release of his pastoral new album in concert at Rumba Cafe on Friday, May 10. “And Jesse, he calls it something really cool. He calls it ‘Yankee country.’ And that’s sort of what I was aspiring to. … It’s not music that was made in the city. It’s made from people playing music together, either in church or at the bar or on the porch with your brothers.”

Taylor has experience in all three realms, having received his earliest introduction to music via the Southern Baptist Church. Of particular note were the monthly bluegrass services, which in recent years even included an appearance from Ricky Skaggs, whose aunt was a longtime member of the congregation. As these services took root, Taylor’s older brother eventually started to take banjo lessons from one of the musicians in the church band, which led the elder to rope his siblings into forming a more roots-oriented family band. From the jump, the three leaned into covers that tended to be steeped in the multi-part harmonies familiar to these bluegrass services. 

“That was part of what pulled me in. All three of you could sing at the same time and you were all playing instruments,” said Taylor, who joined his brothers in covering hymns such as “Victory in Jesus” and “How Great Thou Art,” a favorite of their grandfather. “And it becomes such a living organism. You all have your parts, and you all have your space in the sound, and it becomes almost like a freight train moving along.”

By tamping down the volume on Available Parts, West created a more intimate sonic environment that better suits the songs, a number of which are centered on relationships both romantic and platonic. Throughout, West delves into a once-promising romance turned to rust (“Cumberland River”), the rebuilding of self required in this wake (“Available Parts”), and the newly entrenched reality that committed love requires daily work (“Unrefined Ore”).

This romantic pull, Taylor said, was informed in part by a long-held interest in the ways people draw together and pull apart – an attraction heightened to a degree by pandemic experiences and the reality that these connections were severed for many for months and even years. Additionally, just prior to the pandemic, Taylor made a deep connection with a woman who was going to school in New York. When Covid hit, she moved back and completed her degree online; the two are now engaged.

That same sense of promise amid hard times carries through Available Parts. And even in those moments when the musician stares down heartbreak, he does so a warm, inviting musical tone, his songs kissed with sunlight despite the encroaching dark.

“And that’s something someone like Merle Haggard always used to do, where he’d write a song about breaking up but there was always some hope in it,” Taylor said. “It was never like, ‘There’s nothing left for me,’ And it was never a digging-your-own-hole-type of song. There was always something in it like, ‘Well, at least I have my coffee, and that’s something I enjoy.’ And, to my mind at least, that’s what a lot of country music is. There’s this working man thing where there’s always a reason to clock out after your shift, whether it’s to get back home, or to go to the bar or the church. There was always something waiting for you there at the end of the day.”

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