There’s a lot of metaphor and story packed into singer-songwriter Taylor Berrett’s debut album, Great Falls, and it starts with the album name itself. A Virginia native, Berrett holds a special place in his heart for the waterfalls and rocky ridges of Fairfax County’s Great Falls Park. However, it’s the deeper imagery behind those two words that really sold him: “I love the juxtaposition of the word great, which is generally positive, with falls, which is generally negative… not to mention the reference to Humpty Dumpty!”
Great Falls, released today via Warner Bros. Records, offers a fresh perspective on the joys and sorrows of the human condition. Berrett, a natural-born storyteller, mixes catchy, melody-driven acoustic music together with colorfully picturesque and timeless language to form songs that linger as much in the ear as they do in the heart.
Listen: “Those Days” – Taylor Berrett
Berrett’s greatest asset is his relatability: He doesn’t strive to be prophetic or bombastic, instead preferring to speak, like the bards Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon before him, from a place of experience, observation and desire. The vast metaphor of “The Village, The Wolf and The Boy” – based on Aesop’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” – speaks wonders to Berrett’s songwriting craft:
“It’s funny, I find that I’m always trying – not in a work sense, but just, me personally – to compare things to other things. For some reason, that helps me to relax and understand the world around me. If I can relate to something, I can figure it out… I was having a hard time with anxiety because it was affecting my decision-making. At one point, the Boy Who Cried Wolf story just came into my head, in the context where in an anxiety spiral, you are all three things in the story itself. You’re the boy, telling yourself all these things making you anxious are your reality. Eventually you don’t believe those things (like the villagers in the story), and finally, when you’re not believing, a wolf does come along, and you don’t trust it anymore.”
Listen: “The Village, The Wolf and The Boy” – Taylor Berrett
Over lightly fingered chord progressions, Berrett sings, “I want to see the world and find out what the truth is.” This song, like many on the album, starts softly and continuously builds in tension. However, unlike the climactically resolving “Hypnotize Me” or “Broken,” “The Village, The Wolf and The Boy” builds to a peak without finding full resolution. “I want to be careful to not be overwhelmingly positive or negative because I don’t think that’s true to life,” says Berrett. “I don’t think that’s how a person feels at any point in time, so I always end up spoiling my happy songs with a little sadness, and brightening my sad songs with a little happiness.”
Realism is not often a songwriter’s best friend, but Taylor Berrett embraces the world around him. “The end of [‘The Village, The Wolf and The Boy’] includes a little promise that things are going to get better. The point is that this is a real struggle – even if you feel alone, you’re not alone in feeling alone.” Echoing wisdom well beyond his twenty-two years, Berrett uses his gift to write music from points of view other than his own – a skill often learned later in a songwriter’s career.
The cherry on top is the diverse wealth of musical styles, genres and influences present on Great Falls. Berrett cements his first step into the world of acoustic singer-songwriters – ranging from Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson to Vance Joy – by offering everything from the jangling pop of “Hypnotize Me” to the beat-driven R&B in “Those Days,” the piano-driven ballads of “Broken” and “Whole Heart,” and the steady folk and country in “When I Find You” and “Best Kind of Heartbreak“.
Sometimes the influence seems obscure – a quality which lends Berrett’s music its uniqueness. For instance, “Best Kind of Heartbreak” develops from a folk/pop influenced song into a U2-like anthem. Similarly, album ender “The Horizon,” which features a heavy R&B influence, eventually builds up to something resembling a Meatloaf rock ballad, and explodes with the gusto of an Imagine Dragons single.
Watch: “The Heat” – Taylor Berrett
Great Falls features emotional depth, musical variety, and genuinely creative exploration into the possibilities of the singer-songwriter’s world. It may not be proceeded by as major a hit as “Riptide” was for Vance Joy’s debut, but as far as albums go, it should be treated with similar respect as was given to Dream Your Life Away.
Taylor Berrett is just getting started, and we cannot wait to see where he will go and what we will do! His diverse Great Falls entrance leaves him with a dozen different possible paths: Will he single out a musical identity and develop linearly, or will he continue to expand his horizons and incorporate new influences and more musical styles into the limitless pool that has come to characterize the singer-songwriter genre?
“One thing that I find myself writing about a lot is finding a way to be comfortable being on the way somewhere – whether that’s on the way on a personal struggle or journey, as a nation, or as a species on the planet… Finding a balance between becoming complacent with who you are, and being comfortable with the fact that you’re not perfect – [that] you’re on your way somewhere, [and] you’re not there yet. I think a lot of folks feel that way a little bit – about the country, the way things are going on in the world… You’re kind of in progress to something else all the time, and that’s okay.” – Taylor Berrett