Taylor has mused that what he does is very much “the Toronto sound”—not that of Drake’s OVO crew in the 2010s, but one that dates back to the vibrant Yorkville scene that gave birth to the rock/R&B/soul/country hybrid of The Band, where David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears cut his teeth, where Steppenwolf started out as Sparrow, where Bruce Cockburn later sung with reggae star Leroy Sibbles.
JTB is not an oldies act—Taylor prefers the cheeky term “premium vintage,” which could apply to other late bloomers like Nathaniel Rateliff or younger “old souls” like Michael Kiwanuka. JTB has found an enthusiastic and youthful audience as a frequent opening act for arena pop stars Marianas Trench, but fit just as easily on a bill with Leon Bridges or Los Lobos or Blue Rodeo. That’s why they’re festival favourites from coast to coast, from the Skookum Festival in Vancouver to the Ottawa Blues Festival to Festival d’Été in Quebec City.
It’s a versatility born in the band’s beginnings, playing covers in ski chalets and Great Lakes beach towns across Ontario, on a circuit that once prepped all future rock stars for success, but that only the most dedicated now dare to endure. It’s a true test of any musician’s commitment to craft. Taylor, who was by then already a major label veteran building his career back up from the bottom, passed that test at the top of the class. (Taylor estimates more than 70 Toronto musicians have subbed in the JTB at some point or another; drummer Jeremy Elliott says that they’ve joked about having a BBQ for former members, at which “if you rolled a grenade through the front door, you’d take out every rhythm section in Toronto.”)
“Authenticity is important to us,” says Taylor. “It’s almost lucky that we haven’t broken big, in a way. We’re successful enough that we can earn a living—sometimes. We’re not pigeonholed anywhere. To be able to write things you really want to, rather than having to worry about any sort of commercial success, is great. Our only motivation is to go into the studio, be authentic, write the best song I can possibly write, and translate that onto tape.”
On JTB’s first two albums, 2014’s Tech Noir and 2016’s Desert Star, Taylor jumped effortlessly between modern pop and rock styles, as well as some nods to folk-rock, in addition to plenty of material that played to the strengths of his live band. Desert Star, a 22-song opus, was deliberately eclectic. Avalanche, on the other hand, aims for consistency: while Taylor’s pop skills are still in full force, there’s a consistent focus on groove on the 2019 album. Which is not a surprise: “Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit, and Kingston, Jamaica. That’s what I love to listen to,” says Taylor.
If Taylor has his way, some day a younger artist will add Toronto to that list of great musical cities—and Taylor’s work will be a big part of the reason why.
2013 Hey Hey Two Two (covers EP)
2014: Tech Noir
2016 Desert Star (double album)
2017 Live at Lee’s Palace