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Melvern Taylor

Handsome Bastard – 2000 (Indigo Hamlet)

Reviewed by Michael Berick

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CDs by Melvern Taylor

By entitling his debut disc, "Handsome Bastard," you could get the impression that Melvern Taylor is something of a smartass. But like many cynical types, if Taylor's surface is scratched, underneath you'll find a wounded romantic.

With a low-key grace, the Massachusetts-based singer/songwriter composes tunes that look at the two sides of love. Songs like "Juliet" (with its touching line: "It's easy to get swept away in the undertow of you"), "My Darling Marie" and "Mary Magdeline" reveal the man hopeful in love. The coin's flipside - the love-hurt man - surfaces on numbers like "Graceland" and "The Sad And Ugly Truth." While spare, largely acoustic arrangements predominate, songs such as "Third Verse" and the ragtime-flavored "Jonatha" (that wistfully comments: "Bourbon and cigarettes never tasted so sweet as they do right now on your lip") display Taylor's ability to turn out memorable pop-hooked tunes.

The smooth-singing Taylor, whose vocals can recall Jeff Buckley merged with Paul Kelly, makes some slight missteps with a couple sarcastically-edged tunes late in the disc, but, overall, he turns in a very sure-footed effort on this highly satisfying debut. (Indigo Hamlet, Box 7430, Lowell, MA 01853))