James Michael Taylor | Slaughter Mountain

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Slaughter Mountain

by James Michael Taylor

"John Steinbeck in song form." Ken Gaines, Anderson Fair, Houston
Genre: Folk: Modern Folk
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Big Fat Horse
James Michael Taylor
2:55 $0.99
2. Hoedown
James Michael Taylor
3:02 $0.99
3. Prologue
James Michael Taylor
1:33 $0.99
4. California Christmas Memories
James Michael Taylor
3:08 $0.99
5. Diamonds and Water
James Michael Taylor
0:43 $0.99
6. Frustrated Artist
James Michael Taylor
2:19 $0.99
7. Coal Fever
James Michael Taylor
2:38 $0.99
8. Lisa Makes Appointments
Jamnes Michale Taylor
2:27 $0.99
9. Hickory Stix
James Michael Taylor
3:19 $0.99
10. Sunlight On Spider Webs
James Michael Taylor
0:55 $0.99
11. Help
James Michael Taylor
4:02 $0.99
12. Oh, Jimmy!
James MIchael Taylor
3:41 $0.99
13. Slaughter Mountain
James Michael Taylor
3:50 $0.99
14. I'm Still Here
James Michael Taylor
2:43 $0.99
15. Lullaby
James Michael Taylor
3:07 $0.99
16. Epilog
James Michael Taylor
1:53 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
SLAUGHTER MOUNTAIN is not a name on a sign at the edge of any town or at the base of any mountain that I can show you on a map. But I can show you the creek into which my mother said she emptied her tubercular mother's spit bucket and I can show you the sealed entrance to the mine where my grandfather, Fred Teeters, breathed the dust that destroyed his lungs. I can show you the mislabeled grave stones that mark their resting place. I can show you the cave my mother played in with her friends. The cave is now a national monument. I can show you the factory that makes the hickory handles. I can show you the river where someone's little brother was swept away that day and I can show you a picture in a yearbook of a girl named Marie Angel. I can show you sunlight on spider webs and I can show you a bale of cotton. The same five hundred pound bale of cotton that scabbed human hands picked for three dollars. I can show you the grave of those who demanded one dollar for each hundred pounds. I can show you the berries on the fence at the end of the trail and I can show you the same sun that sat on that mountain. jmt

"...biting but thoughtful lyrics..." Jeff Prince, Fort Worth Weekly



to write a review

Anthony Mariani

Fort Worth’s James Michael Taylor tells it on Slaughter Mountain.
Coal Fever

In James Michael Taylor’s new album, Slaughter Mountain, the singer-songwriter persuades us to walk a country mile — and then some — in his scuffed work boots; through coal mines, rivers, and cotton fields; alongside ghosts, crippled miners, and living saints; and in the shadow of Slaughter Mountain itself, a cursed heap you won’t find on any map but that looms over every fruited plain and amber wave of grain. The blue collar, as we see, is a kind of noose. The people who wear it like to think they’ve chosen the humble, simple, virtuous life, but we all know differently.

The cover of Slaughter Mountain is a black-and-white photograph of two men in coveralls and lamp-lit hard hats, seated in a cross-legged position. They appear to hover slightly above train tracks. Each man has one hand on a pail, the other on the other man’s shoulder. One of the men, according to the liner notes, is Taylor’s grandfather, Fred Teeters, a coal miner in Oram, Tenn., where the photo was taken in 1925. A closer look reveals that the men aren’t floating but sitting on rail saddles, tiny, torturous conveyances used to ferry workers in and out of the mines. Like Teeters and the other man in the picture, passengers held on to each other for balance.

People born in hell share the common enemy of despair. Instinctively they know to stick together. Their peculiar dignity forms the thick of Slaughter Mountain. Taylor, who has lived and performed in Fort Worth for about 30 years, was raised poor farther West. Not 1925 Orme-poor, but poor enough to be tattooed by family doctrine. “It wasn’t how many quail you killed, it was all about the bang,” Taylor sings on “California Christmas Memories,” one of several biographical songs on the album. “And once the presents opened, and living room’s all clean / The wrapping’s what it’s all about in that desert Christmas scene.” After unwrapping a can of pork and beans, the singer exclaims, “Holy cow!” When “John” opens a gift containing an old bow tie, Dad tries to stifle a snigger.

Slaughter Mountain inverts last year’s overly produced Counter Clockwise, a record credited to Jasper James and the Cowtown Boners. Reeking of piss and vinegar, and digitized to death, Counter Clockwise leaves no stone un-thrown. Stupid teenagers, ugly Americans, oppressive authority figures, politicos, corrupt states of mind — Taylor neutralizes them all. Slaughter Mountain is markedly less rabid, and better. Taylor wisely replaces his sermons with campfire reverie and trades in the plastic beats for the pounding of his own heart. The intimate music assumes the solidity of space. The listener’s left in a pickle, not knowing whether to wrestle free or surrender.

The album’s first two, weird tracks, “Big Fat Horse” and “Hoedown,” sound friendly and familiar, but, in lockstep with the rest of the album, they’re extremely toxic. Unlike folk music giants Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and descendants Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, Taylor embraces novelty. To him, it’s a great way to make the shit easier to swallow. “Hoedown” openly harks to Appalachian tradition and Aaron Copland ... as interpreted by Kenny Rogers in a rhinestone jumpsuit. However, the “hoedown” here is the placement of the common farming tool to the row:

Pick one bale, and I make three dollars/Oh, oh, bless my soul/Bolls cut my fingers, and it makes me holler/You got a june bug on your collar/I look at all the hungry people/I’m so hungry it makes me swaller/Hang it on the fence, it’ll dry by evenin’/Gotta get to town now/
Bathin’ in the creek, and I think I’m freezin’

“Big Fat Horse” churns to the methodical rhythm of a single, dissonant note banged on acoustic guitar. Taylor’s fresh voice, multi-tracked to approximate a small chorus, circles the song’s steady pulse. As sung in eerie unison, the melody achieves the incantatory momentum of a tribal chant. The suggestion of transcendence, though, is undercut by the sheer, wanton intensity of earthly desire.

The album doesn’t truly start until the third track. More of a minor epiphany than a proper tune, “Prologue” still establishes the mood, somewhere between bemusement and regret. Over a gently picked progression, Taylor speaks in relaxed, even tones, his voice crackling and distant, as if he’s calling himself from the past on a pay phone. Taylor admits he remains fascinated by Tennessee, “a strange place that got lost somewhere” over time, the home of his mother and grandfather, and where family members fought, divorced, and became alcoholics. Pairing background music with speech also lends “Prologue” an intoxicating cinematic power. We can easily envision Taylor’s eyes dancing skittishly around the camera as he talks, with the faraway, twinkling score unfolding behind him.

Not that Taylor would entertain the thought, but with a fresh coat of paint, a few Slaughter Mountain tracks could cross over, into triple-A, mainstream country, or rock, especially “Coal Fever.” A fiery, tremulous allegory, the song distills Steve Earle down to just a gritty timbre and an addict’s defiance. As an acoustic guitar plinks and plunks, Taylor frantically spits: “I never told my mama I got the disease / I hid the black scars on my elbows and knees / You try to grab a boxcar when she’s starting to roll / And you miss the first step, you get a fist full of coal.” The fun part is the forward tumble of his mouth trying to catch up to the rhythm.

On the family-friendly side, “Lisa Makes Appointments” is a bona fide weeper. Taylor’s paean to a woman with a harrowing past who nevertheless lets friends cry on her shoulder would have been treacle in lesser hands. Instead, it’s a study in restraint. He manages to generate sympathy for Lisa by stressing understatement, by deferring to the words and music rather than gussying them up and ramming them into our ears.

As a man with an almost fetishistic preoccupation with destruction, Taylor indeed locates room on Slaughter Mountain for gospel. “I’m Still Here” is based on one of several recent cave-ins in the news. Like Springsteen’s bluesy “Into the Fire,” a 9/11 lament delivered from the point of view of a New York City firefighter on his way “up the stairs,” “I’m Still Here” also conjures a cruel place, where praying — for survival and, barring that, forgiveness — consumes every breath. The trapped miner’s dying wish is to be taken home. In both songs, struggling upward is a metaphor for ascending into heaven.

The album ends like it began. The title track lays a soft, uncluttered acoustic pattern over Taylor’s reminiscences. The speaker encounters the Great Beyond at the foot of towering earth, where he “[comes] to the end of that old dirt road ... and the trail wanders down to the water’s edge / And the footprints of my old friends.”

Slaughter Mountain has its fissures and crags. Maybe to stress the seriousness of “Hickory Sticks,” a haunting ballad co-written by Lisa Aschmann, Taylor sings through his nose, a gratuitous homage to (or imitation of?) Dylan. A shame, ’cause old Bob might wish he’d written this song. Billy Mac and Don McRay are two young men who work in a factory that produces the lacquered handles for jugs and whatnot. The boys get high off the polish. “They don’t smoke tobacco / They don’t need no whiskey fix,” a cranky Taylor whines. “At night deep in their pillows, they dream about hickory sticks.” Thankfully, when the singer yodels solemnly during the chorus, he uses his own set of pipes, no one else’s.

Taylor sometimes invites preciousness. By brusquely rubbing soot on his rosy cheeks, the songwriter unknowingly commits one of folksong’s cardinal sins: glorifying poverty and despair. In his defense, it is an occupational hazard in an art form about, well, occupational hazards. On Slaughter Mountain, James Michael Taylor gives in to the cute turn of phrase here and there. But when he does, it still verges on tastefulness. It’s not anything that his monumental opus can’t weather.

Robin Cracknell

Occasionally brilliant, sprawling, self-indulgent mess of a record.
Equal parts traditional folk, gospel and spoken word, ‘Slaughter Mountain’ is an eccentric family album of Christmas mornings, disease, funerals and highschool yearbooks that unfolds like a twisted altcountry musical. Self-indulgent, archly theatrical, overly sentimental and gimmicky in the extreme (it opens and closes with the sound of tractor engine) it is also ambitious and original so, if you can stomach the schlockier archly theatrical moments (of which there are many) you might notice the finer, sensitive moments like the cracked vocals in ‘Hickory Stix’, the Kottke-ish instrumental ‘Sunlight on Spider Webs’ and the heart-tugging doo-wop of ‘Oh Jimmy’. Despite the home-made cover of a pair of coal miners and the blue-collar grit of the lyrics, Taylor recorded all of this on his computer with drum samples so, again, it is an album of peculiar contradictions. Not many albums draw as much from Queen as they do Woody Guthrie but part of Taylor’s appeal is his eclecticism and his originality and, on those points alone, this man deserves an audience. Whether that audience will be slumped on a barstool or queuing up outside Carnegie Hall is yet to be seen.

natalie flowers

This masterpiece involves more than meets the eye; you can actually SEE the truth when you listen to it, like a mountain, like a wounded animal, like light penetrating the surface of the stream.
This artist is not ashamed to give us the voices and sounds that he hears in his head, which can be quite an adventure when you consider that most independent recordings are sheared, mastered, and created to be industry safe and sterile.
This sound, however, is fertile and amazing, and I find myself as I hear it wanting to cry and laugh all at once, from joy, sorrow, and wonder.
If you can't afford a therapist and you want to experience what it feels like to hear a TRUE ARTIST feeling their own feelings, listen to this CD. Listen to it over and over and sing along until your own songs are obliterated in the landscape of this songwriter's chronicles.
He should be playing all over the place, in places where people don't smoke all over him.
I especially like "Diamonds". I know those people.
This CD blows my mind.
It's the kind of work that makes you wonder why you ever thought you could produce music in the first place, and after hearing this music, you want to get busy putting your life in the order in which it was intended: to NEVER NEVER be afraid to speak your mind, and to NEVER BE AFRAID!

BeJae Fleming

Slaughter Mountain: a tribute to rural working-class lives.
Slaughter Mountain is James Michael Taylor’s moody, folk/ trad-country tribute to rural working-class lives. Taylor molds the high-mileage engines and barking dogs of day-to-day hard times into a collection of songs rich with simple melodies that perfectly fit his rugged, well-worn voice. Accompanied by straightforward, convincingly executed acoustic guitar and banjo playing, lush, multilayered harmony vocals fill out this complex landscape inhabited by characters that are strapped, but determined; struggling, but resolute.

My favorite song on the CD (at this moment, anyway) is Help. This is the kind of unstrained and wide open storytelling I love. Details of a past near-drowning pull against a present Great Plains drought as the endless tug-of-war between not enough and too much, between confusion and commitment, between comfort and tragedy unfolds.

Though the subject matter is often weighty in this collection of songs, the approach is sometimes quite playful as in Hoedown, a jaunty tune that makes the heinous work of picking cotton seem, if not fun, then at least danceable.

California Christmas Memories is another example of making the best of lack. Gifts of worn out clothes and pork ‘n’ beans are good-naturedly explained by, “The wrapping’s what it’s all about …”

James Michael Taylor’s work as an actor and his theatrical background show through in several recitation and talking blues-style cuts as well as in his story- and character-driven approach to songwriting on this project.

Taylor is a prolific songwriter with an impressive catalog of songs about work and the working class. I echo a line from Hoedown when I say of this collection, “You really know how to pick em.”

Ron Harmon

I can get a visual image of this stuff.
I find James a very intriguing person. There is something very visual about this for me. Like an artist painting a picture, there is that sonic quality that eludes descibing the essence of, it's just there. I found the sound quality of the recording very satisfying to the production itself. If the true judge of a song is its ability to stick in your head, there are a couple of songs that hit paydirt. I have had the CD for a couple of weeks now so I could wear the new off of it before I commented. This one will be in my regular rotation for a time, I'm sure, which is something I rarely end up doing with the local talent CD's I come across. If you like folk, this is the real deal. Kudos James!

Bruno Michel

SLAUGHTER MOUNTAIN by James Michael Taylor is different.
Compared to most of the CDs that find their way to my desk, Slaughter Mountain by James Michael Taylor is different. You definitely need to listen a few times to the song material contained in here in order to grasp the deepness of the lyrics, which Taylor comprises his songs of.

Some of the titles tell stories around Slaughter Mountain, an old abandoned mine where Taylor's grandpa ruined his lungs and saw many of his friends die. It's no dancehall music. It rather makes you sit down and listen very closely to the stories he has to tell.

I'M STILL HERE is a silent cry for help from a miner who is still awaiting his rescue after an explosion, knowing that he might never be saved: I'M STILL HERE, Still Here But I Won't Be Long. Or listen to LISA MAKES APPOINYMENTS, the story of a woman who has an open ear for all the problems of her friends, even though she has experienced herself many bad things - which she still has not processed completely for herself. Also a song to reflect about is HELP. Dozens of people sit, drink and laugh while another one is almost drowning in the river.

I'd like to call Taylor's songs stories from everyday life. In today's hectic times it's more than worthwhile to sit back and listen very carefully to what these songs have to tell you.

fran snyder

one of the most interesting CDs I've ever heard
16 tracks that will keep you engaged, even at 4am, after driving through the flatest parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, nearing the tail end of a 7 hour drive. This record embraces lo-fi, produced in such a way that the warts make the picture. Clean up this record and all will be lost. A loss indeed.

... and "Help" is nothing short of brilliant.

Fran Snyder - concertsinyourhome.com

Steven D. Sevek

Reminds Me of Kris Kristofferson
My favorite song of all time is Kris Kristofferson's Sunday Morning Coming Down. The vocals on Slaughter Mountain remind me very much of Kris Kristofferson as well as the song-writing. Well-done! I've added this disc to my wish list and expect to purchase it soon.