Julian Taylor


The journey of life puts us all on our own respective pathways to find out who we are and how we can strive to overcome any of the inner doubts and struggles we all experience. Since the outset of his career, acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Julian Taylor has been on his own never-ending quest to answer such big questions in his music — and his latest album, Pathways, candidly captures how he approaches handling his own litany of ever-lingering burdens.

“When you feel heavy, you’ve got to get things off your chest,” believes Taylor, “and Pathways reflects the way I was feeling while I was writing it and making it. What any of us are going through at any particular time acts as a stamp, or an imprint, of what we’re battling and trying to heal within ourselves. I’ve been going through it myself — I’m still going through it — and I’m trying to work through a lot of the pain I’ve caused myself and others.”

Taylor’s relentless inner search has resulted in the aforementioned Pathways, which was co-produced by Taylor and Colin Linden (Emmylou Harris, Bruce Cockburn, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings), mixed by Colin Linden, and mastered by Greg Calbi. Pathways — which is set for release on CD, vinyl, and via most major digital platforms on September 27, 2024, from Howling Turtle, Inc. — was recorded in two key locations: Jukasa Studios at the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, and Linden’s own Pinhead Recorders in Nashville.

The eight concise tracks that comprise Pathways find Taylor looking even further inward than ever before to corral a succinct song cycle that attempts to come to grips with the throes of strife that wrack us all, yet somehow find a way to power through it all. Indeed, songs like the self-aware expedition “See This Thing Through,” the gnarly dividing-line narrative of “Sixth Line Road,” and the poignant letting-go album closer “Into the Waves” all point to the struggles of the tortured soul within, and how best to deal with them.

At one point, Taylor cognizantly wonders, “Do we even know what we’re doing to ourselves and how our actions affect everyone else?” — and he spends the balance of Pathways searching for the answers. “I think that particular line describes most of the record, for sure,” he agrees. “The weight that we have on our shoulders, and all that goes with it — it’s a definite thing humans go through. I certainly go through it, and I wanted to write about it because I thought it would help people.”

As the songwriting process continued to unfold, the ostensible title track, “Pathways” — an acoustic travelogue co-written with Robert Priest and Rosanne that features the sweet harmonies of on-the-rise Americana/folk vocalist, Allison Russell — soon enough emerged as the overall theme and name for the collection. “I did not know that was going to be the title of the album,” Taylor admits, “but it did feel similar to how ‘Seeds’ was a positive thread throughout Beyond the Reservoir [his heartfelt 2022 solo album] and a lot of the darkness that was going on there. Here, I wanted to go with a positive message, even though some of the subject matter is truly dark.”

Rather than chronicling every last thought he had about all the weighty subjects on Pathways, Taylor instead found himself dialing back on how he described them — to the ultimate betterment of each song and its relative credulity. “It’s an interesting thing,” he muses, “because I love writing a lot of words and putting them into songs. I could have dug deeper into the subject matter, but during the recording process, it was decided I’d try to say all those deep things in a simpler way so that we could get right to the heart of the matter.” Taylor explains how that important choice came about by adding, “It was one of the first times in a long time someone kept telling me, ‘Hey man, just simplify things for yourself. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. Just simplify things.’”

That “simplify, simplify, simplify” Pathways mantra came courtesy co-producer Colin Linden. Though Taylor had long-admired Linden’s own work over the years, the two artists had yet to work together, until now — and Linden made an immediate impact on the recording proceedings. “Musically, this particular record is less busy,” Taylor confirms. “It’s a very stark statement about going through our own personal struggles, and Colin helped me take this record to a different space. It’s a bluesier record than the previous ones, and that’s certainly part of his pedigree. That’s what makes Pathways a real collaborative effort.”

Letting go of the control wheel is never easy, but Taylor was up to the challenge.

“Since I’ve been co-producing most of my records for the last 15 or so years, a lot of the directions came from my own thought process and my ideas, trying to find what it is in my head that I hear and get everybody else on that same page,” he explains. “This time, somebody else —Colin — heard those things in his head and then he was trying to get them out of me, which is a different approach. I think the best way to describe it is that it had been a very long time since I relinquished the idea of what I heard in my head to someone else.”

Collaboration to this degree does entail a certain level of give and take, however.

“There were certain moments where we’d push and pull a little bit either way, like a teeter-totter,” Taylor confirms. “It was about trying to think differently, but when it comes to lyrics and storytelling, and ideologies and allegories — that’s my vibe, and those elements don’t ever get taken out of the music. It was very important for me as an artist to maintain that level of truth with what I’m speaking about — and Colin and I were always trying to find that exact right balance together.”

The proof of that mutually achieved balancing act is readily evident in the album opener and one of the album’s first singles, “Weighing Down,” a track that seeks to lighten one’s load with uplifting encouragement. “I thought it was going to be more of a rocker,” Taylor admits. “I didn’t realize it was going to be pulled back in the way it was, but it’s still one of those chilling, powerful tracks that gets the hairs on your arms to stand up. What it also does is start the process of taking Pathways into a direction where we go, ‘Man, all of us are our own worst enemies. All of us are so hard on ourselves.’ That kind of pressure, and the way it affects our health, both mentally and physically — that’s the weighing down of the world we put on our own shoulders because of things we think we’ve done wrong. What I’m saying here is, ‘I’ve got to relieve myself from all of this hurt — and so do you.’”

Another major takeaway upon listening to the core direction Pathways takes is — with a humble, grateful nod to Genesis — you’ve got to get in to get out. “It’s an inner reflection kind of record,” Taylor agrees. “It’s about trying to find inner peace, and recognizing the struggles we go through within ourselves. I know everybody in this world is dealing with that — I certainly am. Maybe next time I’ll put my sights on the exterior things that are happening in the world, but this is one of the times where I really wanted to deal with what was going on inside myself.”

Looking inside also means learning how to let go in order to move forward. “I know I can’t change the past, but I do continue to dwell on it sometimes,” Taylor observes. “Even though I don’t know what the future holds, as long as I’m here — and as long as there are other people I love who love me, and care about what I’m doing — I’m going to keep on keeping on, just like Bob Dylan said. I don’t know the direction of everything, because that’s not the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to keep going — and to keep going in an honest way, and in the best direction we possibly can. And me, well, I’m still going.”

Ultimately, Pathways lays down the long, winding trail that leads its listeners toward finding their own personal zen amidst much internal discord. In Taylor’s view, three words sum Pathways up perfectly. “It’s about righteousness, acceptance, and enlightenment,” he concludes. “On this record, I’m sharing in the struggles we all face, and I’m trying to make it better through these songs.” That assessment is the crux of what Pathways has to offer to everyone fortunate enough to cue it up. It’s another benchmark album by the always searching, always striving career songwriter Julian Taylor, an artist who continues to connect with his audience by creating new yet artfully familiar Pathways we can all take together — and hopefully come out the other side, all the better for having taken the journey.




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