The striking thing initially about Joanne Shaw Taylor's debut record, White Sugar, is a voice that has the soul and wisdom that only experience can provide. Decades of experience.
With an introduction like that, it's not surprising that she's only 23, but even though she lacks the requisite years, she has a startling maturity. Despite the quadruple-novelty appeal of being a (1) young, (2) British, (3) white, and (4) female blues guitarist and singer, Taylor has taken her time getting to this point.
On her first tour of the United States, Taylor will play June 18 at Creekside Bar & Grill (in a fundraiser for the Mississippi Valley Blues Society) -- one of just a handful of American dates. Yet she was discovered by the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart when she was 16 and toured in his supergroup D.U.P.
She said she had the option of recording an album as a teenager but decided against it. "I wanted to wait until a time where I could write songs that I was going to be pleased with, and also my vocals were at a different level. ... So I kind of made the decision to sort of go away and keep touring ... and just get as much experience under my belt as was possible."
The results on White Sugar are unequivocally excellent for a debut. Her guitar-playing is fiery, and she can both shred and play deep, slow blues. On "Just Another Word" and "Kiss the Ground Goodbye," she shows a light pop touch with the instrument. And "Who Do You Want Me to Be?" could come from Hendrix's late funky period, catchy and with a guitar that's always purposefully busy.
She began playing guitar at 14 after seeing a Stevie Ray Vaughan video and taught herself from there. Her maturity includes paying respect to her elders: "B.B. King taught himself," she said in an interview last week. "So I figured if he can do that, then it's the best advice I can give any other musician. Just learn by ear and figure out your own personality and technique ... ." She's also humble, saying that she expects she'll spend the rest of her life searching for her musical voice.
While she was surrounded by guitars and guitar-based music as a child, it was only two years between taking up the instrument and being found by Stewart. "It was just an obsession for me," she said of the guitar. "From the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, I was playing. And if I wasn't playing, I was listening to music. You live music at that kind of pace, you pick it up a little quicker than maybe you should."
While her six-string skills frequently scorch, the world has plenty of guitar heroes. "I never wanted to be a singer," Taylor said, but it's her voice that's most alluring -- dark and resonant. Yet she always underplays it slightly. One can imagine her capable of the throaty hoarseness of Melissa Ethridge, but Taylor captures a different sort of power by holding her voice in check.
She said she's happy to be in the United States and that she hopes to "soak up some different influences" while she's here this summer and during a planned fall tour.
She said she's also glad to be "starting over in a new country" with the benefit of "10 years of experience under my belt."
Of course, even in the States she'll have to contend with being a novelty because of her sex, age, race, and home country. And Taylor understands this: "I've definitely got a lot to prove," she said.
Joanne Shaw Taylor will perform on Thursday, June 18, at Creekside Bar & Grill (3303 Brady Street in Davenport). The show starts at 7 p.m., and cover is $6 for members of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society and $8 for nonmembers.
For more information on Taylor, visit JoanneShawTaylor.com or MySpace.com/joanneshawtaylor.