Music men

Isaac Taylor and Willy Mason will play at Club Passim in Cambridge.

0
Isaac Taylor singing "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" at the memorial service for Jonathan Harris last February. —Gabrielle Mannino

Islanders will want to make the trek to Club Passim, the legendary folk music venue and music school in Cambridge, next weekend. Native Island musicians Willy Mason and Isaac Taylor will perform in a fundraiser concert celebrating 35 years of MVY Radio on Sunday, May 6, at 7 pm. Last summer Club Passim came to the Vineyard for a similar fundraiser, with Martin Sexton performing at the Old Whaling Church; Taylor opened the show.

Passim was the place to go to hear musicians Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Shawn Colvin, and Suzanne Vega and the like back in the day.

“More recently Lake Street Dive and Josh Ritter have come up through the ranks,” said Jim Wooster, executive director of Club Passim. “Lori McKenna plays a number of shows every year. The fun thing about Passim is that we’re really the first rung on the ladder for artists who have decided they want to do this for a career.”

Willy and Isaac are familiar with career building; Isaac’s first album, titled “Peace in the Valley,” debuts April 27. It contains mostly original tunes, along with two covers: Woody Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin’” and Bob Dylan’s “The Death of Emmett Till.”

It took a while to get the record completed, Taylor said, because he worked around the schedule of his old high school friends, musicians Andrew and Brad Barr. They recorded part of the album in Providence, R.I., at the Columbus Theatre, and the rest in Montreal.

“I was less than confident in sharing my music and ideas, but it began to take shape in a way I could only imagine. This record came together unpressured and organic. It grew like a tree would grow,” said Isaac, a landscaper by trade.

Willy Mason is back home after touring the U.K,. and plays with the Edbury All-Stars on Thursday nights at the Ritz.

 The album will be available in 12-inch vinyl, CD, and digital download, Taylor said. “I feel like I don’t know whether it will sink or swim,” he said. “I do feel like there are people out there to whom this record will be of value.”

He said he thinks his dad, Hugh, likes it. “I know that he’s listened to some of it, and he asked me recently for a copy. I feel like I think he would be proud of me … I think he is proud of me,” he said. “He’s relatively critical — not in a negative way — he’s a critical thinker.”

Taylor has musicians on both sides of his family — Isaac is a nephew of James, Kate, and Livingston Taylor. On his mother’s side, the descendants have roots that go as deep as the first white settlers on the Island. “My mother was a Smith, and her mother was a Flanders, and her mother was a Mayhew,” Taylor said. His mother’s side has a family songbook they bring out at gatherings. On his father’s side, he said, it’s more of a professional thing. And, he said, his wife Noli’s family songbook is much like his mother’s. “They all get together, and there’s music through the house — tubas, tambourines, it’s a lot of fun.”

Growing up in the Taylor family, Isaac said he didn’t feel pressure to play, and he didn’t take music up until he was a teenager.

“Being part of the Taylor family, there was a perceived expectation by other musicians that would probably assume I was capable of performing things that I just had not the capacity or talent or understanding to do,” Isaac explained. “I’ve been hindered by people’s expectations, and it’s taken me a long time.” Music for him now is a part of his understanding of harmony — not just voices that blend well, but living a harmonious life. His two young children, Emmett and Tillie, aren’t into playing instruments yet, but do enjoy cranking up the radio and having family dance time, he said.

“Growing up here was a mostly a blessing,” Taylor said. “It’s a great place to be a kid, and a great place to raise a kid.”

Willy Mason grew up on the Island as well, starting his first band after he saw the Grapefruits play at the old Wintertide coffeehouse in the mid-’90s.

“I was 11,” he wrote in an email. “We lasted about a week, but learned how to play a little, wrote some songs, and rehearsed twice. Haven’t really stopped since then.”

The two Island musicians hope to share the stage for a bit while they’re at Passim, and they’ve both been there before in one capacity or another.

“I’m hoping to do some playing with Isaac at the show. We’ve gotten to play together on a couple occasions, and it’s always fun, and I learn a lot from Isaac,” Mason wrote. “He really pushes the envelope of what a voice can summon.”

Fresh from a sold-out tour of the U.K. and Ireland with Nina Violet and two English musicians, Marcus Hamblett and Emma Gatrill, Mason is back to playing with the Edbury All-Stars on Thursday nights at the Ritz.

“I have mixed feelings about the season picking up, because it gets so packed in there it’s hard to dance sometimes,” Mason joked. “But I love playing with that group — we’ve had some special nights in there.”

Even though he’s toured Europe many times, Mason said his favorite most recent live performance was here at the Oak Bluffs library in March, when he played with a band from Maine called Rose Hips and Ships.

“I taught them a new song of mine called ‘Help the River Flow,’ and they backed me up on it. It was a blast,” Mason said. “They have a sax player named Daniel Lockhead who just rips it up, and gets sounds out of the thing I’ve never heard before.”

Sometimes songs he thinks work well aren’t those that rate as high with the audience. Someday, Mason wrote, he’d like to feel like he has the right song for any occasion.

WMVY Radio plays a lot of the music you would hear at Passim, including Taylor and Mason.

Jess Phaneuf, music director at the radio station, has worked at Passim in the past, and said the two nonprofits have a natural fit, and so do the two performers.  

“Willy Mason is one of those artists who is a hidden gem in the U.S. He’s seen a lot of success in the U.K.; we’re lucky to have him live here,” Phaneuf said. “His latest release, ‘Carry On,’ is so strong, it blows me away. In the same vein, there’s Isaac, one of those guys concentrating on family and living an Island existence, and now he’s recorded and released his first album.”

Jim Wooster said it’s more difficult in other parts of the country to get on the radio, unless you’re a significant major-label performer. MVY is able to play the artists they want to play, which means a lot to young performers.

“We want to shine a light on the people playing music out there,” Wooster said, “and to introduce Willy and Isaac to our community.”

If you can’t make the trip to Passim on May 6, you can listen to Isaac Taylor and Willy Mason on Youtube or on their websites, grandmasbasement.org and isaactaylormusic.com.