Listening, the fourth full-length studio album from singer/songwriter/actor Ben Taylor, the son of Rock & Roll Hall of Famer James Taylor and multiple Grammy Award-winner Carly Simon, is also his first for a record label. Written and recorded over a four-year span, the 11 tracks run the gamut from quiet, introspective folk ("Listening") and shimmery, gospel-infused Americana ("Next Time Around") to soulful, late-night blues rock ("Oh Brother") and breezy, west coast country-pop ("Giulia"). Held together by Taylor's deep, expressive voice and deceptively simple guitar playing, Listening feels less like an amalgamation of styles and more like a guided tour through the genres that have inspired the self-described "kung folk" artist (he has extensive training in multiple martial arts) over the years. Polished but retaining the weathered edges of someone who has spent their career employing a fairly strict, D.I.Y. set of studio ethics, the album plays by its own set of rules within an already established game -- the tuneful title cut is clearly the work of the son of James Taylor, while the sleek, trip-hoppy "America" reflects a more urban, less urbane perspective of the world. That said, incorporating reggae ("You Could Be Mine") and hip-hop ("Dirty") into an already busy cocktail can be a bit jarring, even for fans of the increasingly cosmopolitan world of commercial folk-pop (Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson), but Taylor's laid-back delivery, everyman lyrics, and familiar melodies lend each stylistic digression an air of unpretentiousness that eventually wins the listener over. ~ James Christopher Monger
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