Ben Taylor, 36, spent much of his childhood trying to hold his own. Growing up, it's hard enough trying to get your voice heard in a household of adults. Now imagine your parents are James Taylor and Carly Simon, two of the most articulate singer-songwriters of their generation, each with enough of a grasp of language to turn their personal, inner reflections into near-universal truths.
Ben focused on his own gift of gab. He worked on getting points the clearest way possible, sometimes at the expense of listening to others. "I think that a lot of time, when eloquence runs in your family as it does in mine, you just get raised to use your words to control the conversation," Taylor said.
Taylor performs two shows this week — one at Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne, with Roses and the Revolutions opening, on Thursday, December 19, and the next night up in Norfolk at Infinity Hall, with Kerri Powers — at opposite ends of the state. His most recent album, "Listening," came out late last year; its title track deals with learning how to hear others, and talking yourself in circles. "I walk so far but I get near," Taylor sings, over gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios and some atmospheric strings, "so much talking the point disappears / so it's only when listening it comes through clear."
"That's something I'm still learning," Taylor said.
The concept of listening applies to one's musical life as well: how much music by other people should you listen to when you're writing your own? "I think that very rarely are musicians trying to take things from the music they listen to, but sometimes," Taylor said. "Often it's just a matter of listening to enough music and keeping your internal jukebox filled with enough material that it keeps you inspired, consciously or otherwise."
At parties, Taylor DJs. He plays cover songs at his shows. Sometimes he just picks up the guitar and plays until he's written a new song of his own. "If you aren't careful to take in new music, then you end up writing the same thing over and over again," he said.
"Listening" gathers songs Taylor wrote over half a decade or longer. Whenever possible, he likes to road-test material before trying it out in the studio. "It's clear when a song is in its infancy," Taylor said. "But sometimes I write a song and think, 'God, I've always known that song.' You write a song and you think it seems really familiar… That's usually when you know it's good." That description fits several songs on "Listening," "more of them than not," Taylor said. "You hear the song, you're messing with it, and it works itself in a way that makes you say, 'That's right.'''
Taylor's music wouldn't sound of place on a playlist with Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson or another mellow smooth-voiced singer's music. His videos — like one for "Worlds are Made of Paper," which follows Taylor around his daily tasks while a young, half-naked couple rolls around together in near-copulation ecstasy — are funny and entertaining. (Of the songs on "Listening," "Worlds," with its "Shower the People"-inspired vocal harmonies, sounds the most like the elder Taylor.) And although four years passed between the release of "Listening" and "The Legend of Kung Folk [Part 1]," its predecessor, Taylor's pace has quickened; a new album, "Clouds in the Dirt," has already been recorded, he said, and will probably be released in the first half of 2014.
"To be honest, ["Clouds" is] the album that I've always wanted to make," Taylor said. "I've spent five albums trying to make the album I always wanted, and I've finally gotten it right." It's not how he usually feels at this point in the album cycle.
"It's just really, really good songwriting and none of the songs are distracted by the production," Taylor said. "It's cohesive the way the best albums are. It's succinct. Not a song is wasted. It's extraordinarily honest to who I am."
Ben Taylor plays two upcoming shows. The first is Dec. 19 at 7:45 p.m. at StageOne, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield, 203-259-1036. Tickets are $25. The second is Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. at Infinity Hall, 20 Greenwoods Road West, Norfolk, 860-542-5531. Tickets $34 and $49.