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Maria Taylor: Azure Stray

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: July 27, 2005

Maria Taylor
w/ Statistics, Taylor Hollingsworth
July 29, 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground,
13th & Martha

Before the release of her solo album, 11:11, Maria Taylor's future seemed forever merged with Orenda Fink's, the other half of folk-rock duo Azure Ray.

After all, the life-long friends had been playing together for 13 years, over which time they created a body of quiet, moody and sensual music that's become a staple on college campuses as well as the occasional TV show on The WB.

So why after all that time are the two parting ways? "We decided that we've been working together for so long, that like anything, you know when you need to take a break," Taylor said from Buffalo, N.Y., where she and her band were enjoying a day off to check out Niagara Falls. "We needed to try something different. We felt like we were hitting a dead end."




So instead they made a u-turn with two very different solo recordings. Taylor's was the first, released in May on their label, Saddle Creek Records. Baring the superstitious name 11:11, the CD's music throbs and pounds and breathes with a beauty that pops more than whimpers. While bestowed with the usual Azure Ray glow that naturally radiates from the duo's strong melodies and rich harmonies, Taylor's songs aren't afraid to quietly rock, like on the throbbing, trip-hoppy opener "Leap Year," the droning, ethereal "Xanax" and the floating, romantic "Birmingham 1982" that comes complete with a gorgeous spy-guitar solo.

Though she had plenty of help from the usual cast of Saddle Creek regulars including Conor Oberst, Andy LeMaster, Gretta Cohn and Mike Mogis, Taylor handled guitar, piano and drums on most of the tracks herself, and said that the sessions were more demanding than past Azure Ray sessions.

"The way Orenda and I do it, when my songs are in the studio she'll take a break, and vice versa," Taylor said. "This time I was in there the whole time playing most of the instruments and singing all the backups."

Helping out on bass was little brother Macey Taylor, who along with little sister, Kate, plays in Taylor's touring band (along with Statistics frontman Denver Dalley). Having her siblings along on the road has helped Taylor deal with the vulnerability that comes from being without Fink on stage.







"We needed to try something different. We felt like we were hitting a dead end."











"It's been incredible to find out that we have the same sense of humor. It's cool to know that we came from the same two people."



"In some respects, it's more relaxing," Taylor said. "These songs are not as heavy (as Azure Ray songs), and I get to rock out and play electric guitar so I'm not as nervous. Playing music with my brother and sister was always in the back of my mind, but I wasn't sure if we would bicker or argue. They're younger than me, and I moved out when I was 18 so we really didn't know each other. It's been incredible to find out that we have the same sense of humor. It's cool to know that we came from the same two people."

Not to be out-done, Fink's CD, Invisible Ones, will be released on Saddle Creek Records Aug. 23 and also takes a different path than Azure Ray. So have Taylor and Fink heard each others' CDs? "We didn't listen to the demos," Taylor said. "We got together right after they were recorded and mastered and gave each other a day to listen to them, then told each other our favorite songs. We love each other's music; I knew I would like it. It's different. Some songs are more influenced by her traveling, which is really interesting and something I could never contribute to."

In addition to being the first "real" Omaha show for Maria Taylor as a solo artist (she doesn't count a last-minute gig at The Goofy Foot earlier this year), the July 29 Sokol Underground show also is the last gig of this tour. Afterward, she plans on taking a month and a half off before heading to Europe for five weeks of dates. "And after that, I don't know," she said. "Maybe there'll be a bigger tour out there that I could open for. If I'm lucky I'll start writing again. I don't write when I'm on tour."

And what about the future of Azure Ray? "Who knows," she said. "We may do another album in the future or maybe we'll continue doing our own thing. We'll take it day to day. I could see it happening again in the future, but I could also see it not happening."

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Published in The Omaha Reader July 27, 2005. Copyright 2005 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.