Taylor Hungerford, also known by his alias, Tar & Flowers, is a singer/songwriter based in the San Fernando valley over in Los Angeles, CA. Drawing influence from all sorts of folk music ranging from roots rock to Americana and medieval European music, Tar & Flowers has put out two full-length albums so far-- those being Indian Summer (2018) and his latest release, Western Symphony (2021). I may not know a whole lot about this particular brand of Americana, but I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy the spaghetti western experience that this album provides.
When compared to Indian Summer, I noticed that the scale of Western Symphony is much more ambitious and grandiose. The guitars have more reverb, a wider variety of instruments can be heard, the lyrics appear to be more conceptual and the whole of the record is noticeably longer in duration. It all begins with “Overture,” an effective mood-setting piece. This leads into the bluesy, home-on-the-range number, “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are,” where ethereal vocals blend with all sorts of intriguing, possibly psych-influenced tones.
The most memorable song on this album is “Heaven When We’re Home.” Twangy, but also beautiful, its title suggests exactly what this song reminds me of: home. Plus, as with the previous cut, the vocals on “Heaven When We’re Home” take on that desert haze-esque quality, which I feel really adds to the mystique of the West. Well played, Hungerford.
A fiddle cries out in desperation on “Nothing to Say.” Hungerford’s voice reaches new heights here. “Outward Boundary” is next, and with this being both the album’s longest track and an instrumental passage, it takes its sweet time as if it’s a lazy river. The current of acoustic guitar plucking is strong, but it won’t sweep you away.
I did say that this album partly draws influence from medieval balladry, and that medieval style delivers in spades on “What Was Again Shall Be.” It is the second most remarkable track on Western Symphony, just behind “Heaven When We’re Home.” “Hello Bluebird” continues the medieval streak with some wistful fiddle, but it’s coupled with a thumping kick drum pattern that makes it sound more western. With that said, this song and the ones that follow it, come with a drawback. After hearing the second half several times, all of its tracks become quite tricky to tell apart. This includes songs like “Spinning in Gold” and “Southwestern Wind,” the latter of which is just like this album’s third track “Heaven When We’re Home.”
I’ll admit that this album lost me by its second half, but “Bailey Blue” is a short and sweet acoustic number, and the instrumental “Home" is an effective closer. While this album could have benefited from more songs that are like the first six, Western Symphony has a sort of adventurous spirit that will never be quashed. That alone is admirable, especially when Hungerford could have decided to stick to the main route but instead offers us a scenic detour. I enjoyed this album from Tar & Flowers, and I hope he puts out more projects in the future.