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Love Against Death (Sean Taylor) BY TONY HILLIER 

YOUNG English troubadour Sean Taylor has fire in his belly and passion in his soul: a throwback to days of yore when protest singers alternated between poetry and polemic.

His politically and socially motivated songs carry the stamp of Billy Bragg and Ewan MacColl. The tenor of Love Against Death, a stripped-back acoustic album recorded in Austin, Texas, is set in a blues-clad opening clarion call, Stand Up, directed at greedy bankers and glib politicians.

In Western Intervention, acerbic lines flow even thicker and faster: “The West will sell you weapons, the West will shoot you down/ You can sing a song for freedom, sing it in the ground.” Coal Not Dole burns with similar intensity as Taylor revisits the bitter British miners’ dispute of the mid-1980s, adding a pointed query after each verse: “Which side were you on?”

Balancing the agitprop are warmer, dreamier musings in songs such as Absinthe Moon: “We bathe ourselves in absinthe before the moon/ Under starlight’s answer to the lovers’ tune.”

Elsewhere this gifted guitarist, pianist and blues harpist, who begins an Australian tour with an appearance at Port Fairy Folk Festival next week, genuflects to beat generation gurus Neal Cassady (Cassady) and Allen Ginsberg (Les Fleurs du Mal). Vocally, the latter nods to JJ Cale’s smoky tone. In Heaven, Taylor’s more mellifluous singing evokes memories of John Martyn’s masterwork, Solid Air.

The intricacy of the acoustic guitar work in Irish folk standard Raglan Road is similarly Martyn-esque. Ballad of a Happy Man is invested with driving cajun rhythm. The fiddle accompaniment in Hymn, a duet with Eliza Gilkyson, is more suitably subdued.

RATING: 3.5 stars

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