Where Art Thou Undercover Black Man?

Lewis Taylor: call home. The man who snared the moniker undercover black man, in reality, a white, Jewish Brit, reputedly retired from the music business several years ago. Though recognized by the critical community in England and elsewhere, and lionized by a select group of famous and influential British artists, it’s another case of criminally under-noticed and commercially uncompensated genius. And in this case that cliché is more than highly justified.

According to rumor, he may or may not be an English plumber now. Any truth to that is belied however by the existence of a demo tape privy to a selection of listeners, of a Lewis Taylor homage to the legendary Captain Beefheart masterpiece TROUT MASK REPLICA. Apparently abandoned before it could be completed, it reveals that contrary to the assorted scuttlebutt claiming Lewis was snaking toilet pipes or writing comedy, two not dissimilar callings by the way, his intention to at the very least make music, and quite possibly record and perform it for public consumption remains extant.

And there’s a reason I really care: the music Lewis produces is of a consistently extraordinary quality. There’s certainly nothing difficult or abstruse about it. It’s melodically deadly, soulfully buttery, harmonically soaring, deeply funky and often plain gorgeous. Impossible to pigeonhole and striding genres, it’s at various times, and depending upon the album, described as psychedelic soul, a reinvented classic soul and rock hybrid, soul-inflected power pop or blue-eyed soul.

Taylor is noted for preternaturally capturing the sound and tropes of earlier decades and apparent genres, and in fact he does, uncannily so. But there’s nothing particularly difficult about simply replicating the mannerisms of any genre, nor any pleasure in hearing it. But what’s unique about Lewis is that his music not only calls a genre to mind in a dead-on and astonishing fashion, but it then quickly makes the listener forget it entirely, because the particular song is so damn good. Not only do these songs stand on their own merits, they are often far superior to most anything from any era or genre to which superficially they may appear connected. They woo and seduce. They are simply quintessential Lewis, and only that.

Lewis certainly had due cause for despair and bitterness given the horrid imbalance between his gifts and the scale of his notoriety. So I am hoping that reports of his self-inflicted career death are premature.

Naturally the appreciation of music is as subjective as anything in the world could possibly be, and perhaps the reeling off of superlatives does the disservice of raising impossible expectations. But I kind of doubt it. If you’re predisposed to like the music you likely will, despite expectations roused by hype. Or you simply won’t. But at the least you should hear about it.

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