Sometimes a name just keeps flashing onto the radar, surfacing time after time until it’s impossible to ignore. That’s pretty much how I would describe New Jersey native Taylor Tote. A savvy songstress that packs a stylistic punch, Tote hits you with the right-left combo of a tactician on a musical mission. Her compositional directive is to the proverbial point and highly effective in centering her fans on what she has to say. The cumulative result of those qualities is a highly addictive sound that most songwriters twice her age chase for years to achieve.
What Taylor lacks in early timeframes (she’s graced us for a mere 19 years) is made up with a voracious and knowledgeable chemistry that blends soulful vocal performances with an extremely intelligent song construction.
Steeped in the resurgent method of smoky artists such as Adele, Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse, Tote has a surprisingly seasoned attack for someone so young in years. Her voice is both powerful and seductive. She rises and falls throughout the complete range of usable pitch, and her physiological process is both dynamic and transitionally golden. That accomplished delivery comes from an intensive workout through vocal coaches such as Jody Joseph Bongiovi. She also pulled no pentatonic punches with her six-string woodshedding, studying guitar with Jersey guru Huey Tatlow. During the summer of 2013, she studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. She is currently in her sophomore year at Brookdale Community College studying for a music degree.
An artist that got her public start in the Monmouth County band Aardvark Smile, Tote has wasted no time in her continuing musical education, seizing opportunities to improve and advance where others might tread water. The result of that effort led Tote and company to the eventual winning of the 2013 “Rock to the Top” NJ band competition at The Stone Pony, and to a nomination for the 2013 Asbury Music Award for “Top Young Band.”
Tote’s nominations include a 2012 NJ JAM Award for “Top 18 and Under Female Vocalist” and a 2013 Asbury Music Award (AMA) for “Top Female Vocalist.” Her song “Jane” (featured in this article) also received a nomination for the 2012 NJ JAM Awards for “Top 18 and Under New Song.”
Other accolades include a first place win in the New Jersey Talent Search for her performance in the rising radio hit, “Jane.” She took first place in March 2014 in the “Do the Shore” singer-songwriter competition down in Cape May, NJ last year. Moving forward, Tote also took the 2014 Asbury Music Award slot for “Top Female Vocalist,” “Top Female Solo/Acoustic Act,” and “Top Young Band.” And finally last but not least, one of her biggest honors was being asked to sing the national anthem last year at Madison Square Garden for the New York Liberty event.
But at the end of the day, Tote understands that while awards are nice, it’s the music that ultimately matters, and Tote demonstrates her passionate foray into the world of pop exploration with the release of her new eponymous EP, Taylor Tote.
Produced by shore impresario Steve Jankowski, Taylor Tote explores the emotional roller coaster of everyday life and love, and the effect it has on the creative mind of an artist on the rise. The EP also includes high-profile players such as sax kingpin Michael Ghegan, the luxurious vocal magic of Layonne Holmes, and the intricate powerhouse trumpet work of Jankowski.
It seems that every aspect of this young performer’s career has been examined and thought out with chess-like strategies for success. From her glossy, multi-page bio/promo booklet (the first I’ve seen that included sponsors), to her marketing and street team debutants (Tote and her team sold out The Two River Theater in Red Bank last February), Taylor Tote has a bombastic pit crew that works together to get their artist out on the rock and roll fast track. So it was with great interest that I began my process of musical review. While the disc is too short for my liking, I understand the methods and reasons for putting one’s “best foot forward” in the most focused of ways.
“Superman” launches Tote into the public eye with an upbeat combination of acoustic guitars and mandolin work courtesy of Gordon “Bunker” Strout. Buoyant and breezy, Tote flies above the homegrown mix, throwing out darkened melodic context of a damsel in distress. Tote searches for her savior, nailing her quest with a fantastic chorus while the rhythmic percussive power of players such as Dave Anderson, Jerome Jennings and Andy Flora push this dusky gem far into the disc spotlight. Faster than a speeding locomotive, “Superman” quickly leaps into radio-friendly airplay, and a place in your heart and on your CD player.
“Jane” churns and swirls out of the speakers, showcasing Tote’s expressive and sensuous Adele vibe. The band pumps with a glistening gritty 1970s soul attack as Taylor breathes short, passionate phrases into the musical soundscape. Funky, blue and in the pocket, “Jane” literally pops off the disc. Horns sound tasteful bursts of Jankowski arrangement between background vocalist magic that tightens up Tote choruses with ultra smooth gospel class. When Taylor rolls into the bridge, her setup work is impeccable. Building savvy levels of arabesque dynamic, by the time Michael Ghegan sidewinds into the middle-eight with Pete Christlieb (Steely Dan) jabs of sardonically-charged brass, the song is on fire.
“All You Left Behind” flourishes with acoustic guitar picking and dark cello lines as Tote begins to uncoil into her verse. This is a song with great crossover potential. I can see this running through multiple genres including Nashville’s new country. Tote surfaces as a singer in her own spectacular universe on “All You Left Behind.” Her vocals belay a young, inexperienced woman, replacing youth with the tone of years and rich journey. Her choruses are both beautiful and imploring, searching for salvation and scoring with a victory of self-awareness as both a writer and a singer.
The last song on this opulent disc is “Crazy.” “Crazy” hails from the heady days of 1980s rock and roll swagger. Recalling early vibes of bands like Quarterflash and singers such as Alannah Myles, Taylor Tote shimmers through big, wide-open choruses and the dirtiest blues-rock riffs this side of Joe Bonamassa. This is the song that Tote truly opens up on. Her vocals are raw and powerful, tearing off the layers of expected intimidation and turning her band loose in an explosion of compositional rock brilliance.
When you look at the short amount of time Taylor Tote has been on the scene, it’s hard to fathom her ninja-like grip on her musical identity. A grip so assured that you never think you’re listening to someone who still has years ahead of her as an artist, and as a vital songwriting contender. But she’s that good, and I can only wonder what she’ll become in the next few years.
And while I don’t have space to mention each and every player’s contributions here, kudos needs to go out to additional musicians Tom Briant, Johanna Orrico, Joe Miller, Beth Anne Clayton, “The New Retro Strings” with Claudia Chopek and Hilary Castle on violin, Denise Stillwell on viola, and Jennifer DeVore on cello. An amazing job from all involved.
Taylor Tote will be back on the scene at The Stone Pony on June 20 as part of the second annual “Mya’s Warrior Jam.” For more information on Taylor Tote and her continuing world of musical evolution, head over to taylortote.com.