Tai Shan by Amy Catherine


Tai Shan's new album 'Traveling Show' released on the 3rd April

It’s said that getting out of your own head allows you to look at the world from a different perspective. There’s a way to lock into the endless wonder of human existence through songs that take the wide view, tell stories that lift us up and remind us of how rich life can be. On her new album Traveling Show, Tai Shan turns the stories she’s heard into music and lyrics you can live with, like a trusted companion who knows just when to talk and when to listen. Fusing soul, jazz, and pop, she creates an intimate space for reflection. Traveling Show is soulful, surprising, and uplifting even when Shan writes about the difficulties and disappointments that everyone undergoes that, by contrast, shine a light on what makes us happy.

A major element of Traveling Show, which Shan started recording in Seattle before making the move to Nashville in 2018, is soul. Shan makes the kind of emotional connections that role models like Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye explored. With hints of jazz in her nuanced singing and songwriting – Shan is a serious practitioner of the slightly unexpected chord change, the beguiling harmonic shift – taking the concept of the singer-songwriter to new levels on Traveling Show. She is indeed a serious student of American songwriting, and she’s used her vast knowledge to teach the art of matching words to music to multitudes of students who have learned from her example. Traveling Show is a masterclass in the art of deceptive simplicity. It is, after all, about the stories, and the emotions within them.
The impetus for Tai Shan’s new music comes from the traveling she and her husband Austin Garrison – who contributes background vocals, beatbox, and trumpet to the album – did in 2017 and 2018 while touring. In fact, the 13-foot trailer that’s pictured on the album’s cover is the same one they drove across the crisscrossing roads of the United States, Mexico and Canada during those two years. The songs on Traveling Show are about, among other things, the tension between change and stability, simultaneously striving and being at rest.

You definitely catch some of Shan’s inspirations coming through on the new LP. There’s Ani DiFranco, Alanis Morissette, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Sondheim, and Tom Waits. You can hear how Shan has absorbed Joni’s bracing chord changes and Sondheim’s flow on the album’s exquisite “Trouble Sleeping,” a piano-driven song that sounds like a great lost outtake from the soundtrack to an animated Disney film that was never made. Meanwhile, “You Look Like Love” shows off Shan’s soul-tinged vocal chops, and the song evokes legendary ‘60s singers like Aretha and Lorraine Ellison.

Traveling Show finds Shan creating new space in classic forms, which you can hear on “Lay It Down,” a song that uses those unexpected chord changes and jazzy harmonics to lay out a typically complex human dilemma. “Lay It Down” is comparable to the very high-end pop of ‘60s and ‘70s icon Laura Nyro, writer of hits for The Fifth Dimension and Three Dog Night. In some ways, it’s a soul song, but Shan guides it through a series of amazing changes, culminating in a climactic Beatles-esque coda. It’s about finding a respite from dark days, and the power of love and understanding to get you to that place of light. Like another Traveling Show song, “8:45” – itself written for one of Shan’s students who survived a serious car accident and gained perspective from the experience – ”Lay It Down” is both tough and compassionate.

Shan was born in Santa Rosa, California, and moved to Seattle in 2005 to attend Cornish College of the Arts. She graduated from Cornish with a degree in classical and Jazz composition and got deep into jazz composition and improvisation – both musical and lyrical. She was in charge of teaching the city’s Museum of Pop Culture’s summer-camp programming for songwriters, and she taught songwriting and guitar to young students. She says she learned a lot from that experience, and from writing songs based on literary works with the organization Bushwick Book Club, which broadened her perspective: “As a songwriter, I always think, ‘What is the story that’s not been told?’ I think it’s really important to tell other characters’ stories.”

Now based in Nashville, Tai and Austin have embraced the Music City, soaking up the scene and consistently playing shows around town. Shan remains alert to the stories we tell and says her Nashville experiences are influencing her songwriting. On Traveling Show, Tai has taken her stories and turned them into songs – and music – that encourages us to tell our own, and look for the good in all people.

You can find more information about Tai Shan at...

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