“When I moved back here to Virginia, it felt like coming full circle, since my family’s from Virginia,” says songwriter Dulcie Taylor, who relocated to McLean from Los Angeles five years ago. So Dulcie, you were born here in the area? ” Oh, no, no,” she corrects, almost like an elementary school teacher. “I’m talking 1783, you know.” Taylor, who was born and raised in South Carolina, talks about her ancestors as if they’re still alive. Her ability to turn “then” into “now” gives her story-songs, whether set a hundred years ago or last week a sense of immediacy and timelessness.
As a teenager, Taylor would rewrite the lyrics to songs on the radio, and says that making the jump to writing her own songs was an easy one. “I was always writing poetry, and there was always music around my house and in my head, so it was just a matter of putting them together,” she says in a rich southern accent and a voice you could accurately describe as musical. “I grew up surrounded by music, and just loved it. It was my favorite part of church.” She also had an aunt who taught piano, another aunt who sang on a local radio show, and at age 6 got a ukulele that she played endlessly for years. When she was 10, her beloved ukulele was wrecked when a friend of her older sister drunkenly sat on it. “That just destroyed me,” remembers Taylor. “But it worked out because my mother said, ‘We’ll just get you something a little bigger.’ And that Christmas she bought me a guitar.”
Taylor got herself a book of folk songs and set to it. “Isn’t that the same thing everybody did?” she asks. “And then there was that moment, that first time you learn to make a G chord and you go ‘yee ha!’ I was hooked.” Taylor began playing gigs as a teenager around town, but headed west before graduating from college, knowing only that she needed to get out of South Carolina. “I was ready to try something very different,” Taylor says, “and let me tell you L.A. is very different from South Carolina.”
In California, Taylor forsook performing solo, choosing instead to play in bands, meeting many of the people who would later record on her excellent second CD, “Diamond & Glass,” released this summer on the California-based label Black Iris Records. It wasn’t until recently that she’s gone back to performing under her name, either solo or with a small group (which usually includes guitarist John Landau and bassist Henry Cross, though sometimes Nick Smiley joins on bass).
While it would be easy to lump Taylor into the ever-growing pile of self-indulgent folkie singer-songwriters, her sharp compositions are more jazzy pop, like Kenny Rankin or recent Shawn Colvin or not-so-recent Rickie Lee Jones. And underneath some of the tunes runs a subtle spiritual vein. “I was raised in the Bible Belt, raised Baptist, so I don’t think I’ll ever lose that moral compass that was instilled in me at a young age,” says Taylor. “But I don’t think God intended me to get up every Sunday, go somewhere and get irritated.”
She also admits that her songs might be infused with a certain joie de vivre, a spirit that crept in after surviving a carjacking in Los Angeles. “It was at 12 noon in front of a crowded grocery store,” she says matter-of-factly. “When I saw the gun, I thought they wanted my purse — there were no words exchanged — and so I handed him my purse. I realized then that his hands were full and I ran.” Besides leading her to always wear shoes she could run in, the incident made Taylor value her time on Earth a little more. “Sure you plan and you think ahead,” Taylor says, “but basically all you have is what you’ve got this very moment. I’m not saying I always live with that in mind, but I’m saying we should all try.”
Dulcie Taylor’s Time Pieces, appeared in the print edition of the Washington Post, September 13, 2002, Page WE11.