No stranger to us here at Belles and Gals, last Friday saw Nashville’s Payton Taylor follow up her recent single “Rhinestone” with the release the most stunning tribute to the late John Prine in the form of her acoustic version of John’s classic write “Angel From Montgomery”.
The song holds a very special place in Payton’s heart, because as well as being one of her all-time favourites “Angel” played a massive part in helping launch her career when she chose to sing it at her American Idol audition, the show which of course brought her talents to the attention of many thousands of people. The audition was an unexpected turn of events for Payton, who was there to accompany her siste , and when she was invited by judge Lionel Ritchie to perform herself this song was the one which immediately sprang to mind.
Soon after the audition aired she was in the studio for a different project and asked if she could just put an acoustic and vocal down on the song. Payton says “Of course, when we lost John – like the rest of the music community – I was grieving, but having that session helped me keep my connection with him. After realising what it meant for me, I knew sharing it was the right thing to do” …” John Prine is a legend. one of the greatest to ever do what we do in this business. If I can have a fraction of the influence on someone else the way he has on this community, I will consider it a success”.
It is a song which really helps demonstrate Payton’s emotional delivery, she lives and breathes every beautifully crafted line, and this stripped back version also showcases her vocal range and capabilities perfectly.
I asked Payton to tell me a bit more about this release …..one which actually almost didn’t happen as you’ll find out!
1. LH I gather this song has always been one of your favourites of all time……what is it in particular that drew you to it and resonated with you so much?
PT I remember hearing the song for the first time listening to the Bonnie Raitt “Streetlights” album on vinyl. After the first few cracks and pop of the needle, I remember the opening lines of “I am an old woman, named after my mother…”. Those lines grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go for the next 4 minutes of the song. I couldn’t stop picturing in my head the little vignettes of this woman’s life that John had painted with his words.
2. LH Your version, which is being released in John’s memory, was recorded just after you sang it as your impromptu audition for American Idol I understand…..what do you remember about that audition which of course must have been a major turning point in your career?
PT I honestly remember being shocked that I was asked to sing. A lot of people ask me, “Payton be honest, was it staged?”. If it was, I would tell you- but it wasn’t. My only reaction while being put on the spot like that was to think of a song quickly. Instantly, I said, “I’ll sing a little John Prine.” When everything was so wild and uncertain, returning to that song was like returning to my roots. It’s funny because I remember singing that song in my bedroom, pretending I was singing it to a room full of people, and at that moment, I was singing it in a room full of people pretending I was back in my bedroom. Life is funny that way!
3.LH Where and how did you record it?
PT I recorded the guitar vocal the next time I got back in the studio after the idol audition aired (which again, we had no idea was it airing at all.. after we turned down the tickets earlier in the year, no one said that our audition was going to air). Everything felt like it was happening at the speed of light. Suddenly, a video of me singing “Angel From Montgomery” was on Good Morning America and Billboard. I wanted to step away for a moment and just record the song, just me and my guitar, to remember the moment and song like a time capsule.
4.LH And after John Prine’s recent and tragic passing I gather you were looking for the recording with the idea of releasing it in his memory…. but apparently it looked as though it had got lost over the years, is that correct?
PT Yes! Everyone in the studio that day and I all have so many external hard drives of songs and recording sessions. I had been looking for it for a while, but after hearing of John’s passing, I was on a mission to find it. I was so happy when the engineer messaged me, saying that he had the session. It felt like a little miracle.
5. LH So have you reworked it at all for this release or is it in its original recorded format?
PT I left the track, just my guitar and voice. I didn’t want to fill the track up with extra production. I wanted this track to be a “thank you” to John for the song that changed my life. I wanted to do the song justice- I wanted the story to take center stage. If I hadn’t heard that song when I was just flipping through records as a kid, who knows? My life could look very different.
6.LH How has John’s work influenced you as a writer?
PT Just by listening to John’s work over the years, I feel like he and I are kindred spirits. When his debut album released, critics were amazed that at 24 years old, he could write from such a wise place. In fact, Kris Kristofferson in his liner notes commented ‘he writes like he’s two hundred and twenty,’ and Bob Dylan later described his work as ‘midwestern mind trips to the nth degree.’ I have always had others say “Payton, you are such an old soul!” At first, I always felt like such an odd bird and ugly duckling for it. However, after hearing John’s songs from all kinds of perspectives- young, old, woman, man, I finally felt understood. Now, I wear it as a badge of honor. There is something special about having the ability to write from the depths of a soul like that. Perhaps, my soul is 220 years old as well.
Payton’s version of ” Angel From Montgomery” is available to stream/download now wherever you usually access your music.
Visit paytontalor.com for more information about this talented artist.
Interview conducted by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)