Trains, Rivers & Trails

Monica Taylor

Horton Records, 2022

REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


Monica Taylor, nicknamed The Cimarron Songbird, is from Perkins, Oklahoma, on the prairie more or less between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and her singing and music reflects that landscape and culture. A long-time member of Oklahoma’s Red Dirt Music scene, her ninth record Trains, Rivers & Trails, on the non-profit, Oklahoma-centric Horton Records, lives up to its title. These are songs that are evocative of travel, and the music itself is fluid, with sprightly picking, flowing dobro, soaring fiddle, and locomotive drumming all contributing to that sense of movement. Lead off track “The Sound Of A Train” tells you immediately what’s to come with Taylor’s high, lonesome voice singing of the passage of both miles and years. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Of course, with passage often comes sorrow, and there is world-weariness around the edges of many of these songs, often conveyed by Taylor shifting to her higher register or adding a bit more of her natural twang. That melancholy is more explicit in “Salty Tears,” a sadly beautiful song which deals with the ongoing impacts of the involuntary removal of Native Americans to what was once known simply as Indian Territory and is now called Oklahoma. The trails in this song were brutal, and the lyrics recall the forced march of Taylor’s own Cherokee ancestors, some of whom perished on the trip.


The majority of songs are written or co-written by Taylor, but there are some nice covers, including a version The Byrds’ “The Ballad of Easy Rider.” In fact, my favorite song on the album may be the lovely take on “Minor Key,” a Woody Guthrie lyric put to music by Wilco and Billy Bragg for their Mermaid Avenue album. Taylor’s version also features bandmates John Fulbright and Jared Tyler-Gut on vocals and reminds me quite of bit of the duets Dave Alvin has sung over the years, particularly when playing with the Guilty Women.


Of course, it’s no surprise that Taylor would do a Guthrie song, as she’s both an Oklahoman and a regular at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, held at his birthplace of Okemah, Oklahoma, each year. But it’s easy to imagine Ms. Taylor and her band being equally at home at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, perhaps playing the Rooster Stage on a fine, sunny, early October weekend in Golden Gate Park. If you appreciate many of the artists that have played HSB, including singers as diverse as Iris Dement, Emmylou Harris, and Allison Moorer, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this album. It’s clear and pure and speaks of knowing your home and then leaving it, only to always eventually undertake the oft-complicated journey back.

Rating: B+

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