Picture musician Paul Taylor onstage, and you'll probably imagine him behind a drum kit or plucking the strings of a bass, roles he's filled with groups as diverse as Gutbucket (the precursor to The North Mississippi Allstars), The Bloodthirsty Lovers, The Gamble Brothers, and Big Ass Truck.
But Taylor debuts as a solo artist with Open, which bridges the gap between Alex Chilton's '70s-era output and the pop territory Shelby Bryant mined for his 2001 masterpiece Cloud Wow Music.
It's a natural step for this homegrown talent, the son of a onetime Ardent Studios engineer and of the former secretary at Steve Cropper's TransMaximus recording studio.
"I cut two solo records that I didn't believe in," says Taylor, "before [former Memphian] Kirt Gunn approached me last year and asked if I wanted to record my demos for a crazy interactive Web site he was working on."
With Kevin Houston as engineer, the two collaborated on Open at the home studio inside the house that Taylor shares with girlfriend Amy LaVere.
"I am singularly obsessed with music, but I have a tendency to toy with it and become easily dissatisfied," Taylor says. "To my eternal detriment, I'm an agoraphobic freak. On this project, we had just five days to record. I was under pressure, but it was good.
"Of course, if it was up to me, I'd still be tweaking the record," he adds with a laugh.
Despite the rush, Open sounds unhurried and lush. Taylor's compositions are easygoing, organic ditties that employ strings, background vocalists, and full instrumentation. His guitar playing is a revelation, as is his weedy, earnest voice, which alternately channels Chilton ("Make You Feel Good" sounds like an upbeat outtake from Big Star's Third, right down to the lyrical pun on "What's Goin' Ahn"), Cory Branan, John Lennon, and Beck.
"Songwriting," says Taylor, "is close to my heart. I grew up on the Beatles, Big Star, Todd Rundgren, and Joni Mitchell. I could ultimately hide forever as a sideman and not push myself as a songwriter, but I think I have something to offer."
Taylor's record will be released on the local Makeshift label and will be available digitally via Ioda (Iodalliance.com), though Taylor greets the imminent availability of his work with a bit of fear.
"I feel apprehensive yet relieved that it's finally coming out," Taylor says. "It's almost like streaking. I'm wondering how I'm gonna support the album. Am I a player/producer who makes the rare solo record, or do I go out and tour? Maybe I'm putting the cart before the horse, maybe I'm being too presumptuous. It's good for me to just get the album off my back.
"It's hard to promote myself. I just don't want to push it," Taylor says. "I want to let people make up their own minds. There's a side to being an artist that's so unnerving to me. If all else fails, I can fall back on playing washtub bass on a street corner."
The chances of that happening are incredibly slim -- and besides, Taylor's stacking the odds by holding onto at least one of his band gigs, playing drums behind LaVere in her group Amy & the Tramps.
"Amy's career has totally taken off," he says. "It's been pretty awesome to get to ride her wave. I think that I can focus on Open as much as I need to and remain 100 percent committed to her music as well. It will be a little bit of a juggling act, but I don't see why I can't be part of both projects."
Of course, Taylor is too modest to mention that he produced LaVere's debut album, This World Is Not My Home, released earlier this year on local imprint Archer Records.
After some prodding, he antes up a list of recordings he's played on in the last 12 months. The roster is long: He cut his first soundtrack, for an independent film called Usually Around Noon, and contributed to recent projects by Brad Postlethwaite, Tim Regan, David Brookings, Jim Dickinson, William Lee Ellis, Shelby Bryant, Lynn Drury, Richard Sims, and more.
"My foot has been in every fire," Taylor explains. "I've known studio musicians my entire life. I've always asked, 'Can I get my foot in the door and get some session work?' Now I'm finally getting the chance to do it, which has been a total dream for me."
Paul Taylor plays a CD-release show for Open Thursday, July 6th, at the Hi-Tone Café, with the Pirates and Pat & Caleb Taylor. Doors open at 9 p.m., admission is $5.