It’s always darkest just before the dawn. But sometimes, the dawn doesn’t just happen. Sometimes you need to create the light out of the darkness.
That’s what Taylor Barton has done with her latest album House of Light, which arose from — as much of the world’s art does — a place of pain and frustration.
The album is dedicated to “The Big D” — “my father,” said Barton. “He’s still alive but I thought by the time the album came up, he might have left us. He had a stroke in June, but he’s still here. He’s 94 and he’s doing great,” she continued.
But it was her mother, Mita, who inspired many of the songs on House of Light. “I wrote this record over five years, starting when I first found out my mother was sick,” Barton said. “She died nine months after that, and I was just not prepared. People tell you all the time, when your mother goes, your world is so rocked. And it was. We had a really complicated relationship. So, I was trying to deal with all these feelings I didn’t even know I had,” she acknowledged, pointing to the photo of a confident and beautiful woman which hangs on the wall of her study in Amagansett. “That’s my mother; she climbed Mount Everest. She was brilliant, a Rhodes scholar. She was so elegant; I was her prodigal daughter who was not going to go along with the status quo in Maryland.”
Barton continued that after her mother’s death, “I found out she was extremely proud of me, but I never would have known that; she kept all of us at bay. So, I started writing about that. I was in so much pain for so long, I thought I was never going to get better. I needed some kind of sanctuary that I find in music.”
Out of that sorrow came House of Light, which features Grammy winner Sarah Jarosz and Jenni Muldaur. One track, “Chaos,” had been downloaded over 30,000 times on Spotify by Thanksgiving (the album dropped in October).
The songs, which have an Emmy Lou Harris gentility to them, have an equine theme throughout, with horses frequently being mentioned — a hat tip to Barton’s Maryland upbringing. They focus on everything from fillies being put out to pasture in “Steeplechase” (If only I knew I’d run my last race/I’d rush right back for one steeplechase) to the #MeToo movement in “For Those Among Us” (I stand for silence, I stand for youth/For those among us who hold the truth/I stand for those who had no choice/For those among us, who have no voice). “Where Did You Go” tackles the heart-wrenching suicide of her daughter’s orphaned cribmate. Barton’s own feelings of longing and the need for security come across in the title track. “We all feel that,” she said. “We all need a place where we can feel safe. But I don’t come out swinging, either in real life or in my music. I’ve never won a fight when I’m in the ring,” she said with a smile.
Vanity Fair called her voice “beautiful and seductive.” Rolling Stone called her “beguiling.”
Even though she has recorded 10 collections of her own songs now, Barton also finds time to produce concerts and series for her husband, the guitarist and “Saturday Night Live” bandleader G.E. Smith, who plays on the album. Managing, she acknowledged, is a horse of a different color.
“Managing G.E.’s career is a very different animal than playing with G.E., because I have to engage daily with agents, promoters, and other managers,” Barton pointed out. “As Hunter S. Thompson said, ‘The music business is a long, shallow, plastic money trench peopled by liars, pimps and thieves. There is also a down side.’ Fortunately, with G.E., they like him, so it makes my work easy,” she said.
Last summer’s “Guitar Masters” series at Guild Hall, produced by Barton, featured hot tickets like Richard and Teddy Thompson, the Avett Brothers, David Broza, and Sophie B. Hawkins, among others. The series was sold out, and she is already planning events for the upcoming summer season.
Of her own house of light in Amagansett, Barton says, “There is always someone playing music, creating music, commenting on music, or listening to music. It is the heart and soul of the Smith inner sanctum.” Barton and Smith recently celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary, and spent it playing on stage at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. They will be there again on New Year’s Eve, as they have been in the past. “Fred Cash and Abe Vogel come out, I do a couple of Loretta Lynn songs, and G.E. does his thing,” she said. “It’s always a good time.”
For more information, visit www.taylorbarton.com.