‘Sway: The Best of Carla Olson & Mick Taylor’ Covers The Supreme Material Of Once Fruitful Partnership (ALBUM REVIEW)

Sway: The Best of Carla Olson & Mick Taylor not only validates the impressive pedigree of both these veteran musicians, it also reaffirms just how smoothly their complementary talents mesh in a variety of settings.

CD one is actually the duo’s live album, Too Hot For Snakes, consisting largely of the second set at the Roxy Theatre on March 4, 1990. Meanwhile, the second disc features a handful of live recordings from Slim’s in San Francisco the next year, in addition to studio tracks from a variety of collaborative sources. On the former, the founder of the Textones and the former John Mayall/Rolling Stones guitarist front a band that boasts Ian McLagan (Small Faces, Faces) and Barry Goldberg (the Electric Flag, the Rides) on keyboards, two more players, and composers with estimable resumes and a flair for earthy roots music

This connection led to a solo project of the latter’s, Stoned Again, which Olson actually produced and on which Taylor plays with a dirty eloquence during “Ventilator Blues” and “I Think I’m Going Mad” (a quality that no doubt helped convince Bob Dylan to hire him for the Infidels album plus touring that produced the Real Live LP a year later).  For her part on Sway, Olson sings with a throaty insouciance on cuts such as “Who Put the Sting on the Honeybee,” a style not altogether dissimilar from another self-motivated female rocker named Chrissie Hynde. Of course, Carla evinces more than a little of her own distinctive Lone Star State drawl. 

The musicianship and vocals, fortunately, outshine some less-than-stellar originals from bandmembers such as “Remember That Moon.” In contrast, Olson’s own compositions, alone (“See the Light”) or in collaboration (“Rubies & Diamonds”) ring with a down-to-earth truth. Hardly coincidental is the late-in-the-set placement of two Jagger/Richard tunes, this collection’s title number and “Silver Train” (from  Goat’s Head Soup). Still, an overriding continuity remains within this collection, mirrored by the skeletal but nonetheless clear audio quality of Mark Linnett’s West Hollywood recordings as mixed by Charles Rook (Johnny Lee Schell assumed those duties for the other live culls). 

Those attributes again outweigh the derivative nature of some of this material, including Taylor’s self-authored “Broken Hands”–otherwise distinguished by fiery slide playing–and “Hartley Quits” (from his days as a Bluesbreaker). Tom Junior Morgan’s sax solos reaffirm the wisdom of an enlarged lineup, within which John Juke Logan also plays a creditable harp: such variety as distinguishes “You Can’t Move In” is more than an acceptable substitute for the absence of extended improvisation by the whole ensemble. 

In fact, the emphasis on song structure combined with the lack of self-indulgence distinguishes the studio tracks of Sway‘s second half. Including excerpts from Olson’s solo works, Within An Ace from 1993 and The Ring of Truth eight years later, the consummate taste on display recalls the varied arrangements Olson favored in her work with a founding member of the Byrds, the late Gene Clark (especially on their own duo record, 1987’s So Rebellious a Lover). Within these tracks, Taylor supplies further articulation upon the well-wrought lyrics and passionate vocal delivery of Olson, the combination of which sounds wholly natural, an all the more impressive achievement in light of the not-so-obvious choices like the exquisite Stones’ ballad “Winter;” another cull from the iconic band’s aforementioned 1973 LP, this rendition is equal parts reverence and imagination.

With a handful of these tracks previously unreleased on last year’s similarly-titled vinyl LPs, and a package adorned with action shots and other evocative photos (not to mention some pithy notes from the woman herself), Sway: The Best of Carla Olson & Mick Taylor is now more than just a snapshot of a fruitful collaboration. It’s a detailed portrait of a mutually-inspiring, creative partnership.

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