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Taylor Steele And The Love Preachers Embody Southern Illinois

Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers play Jazz UpFront Thursday night
Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers play Jazz UpFront Thursday night

Taylor Steele says a spicy sound may soon mix with the Illinois prairie sound her Effingham-based band is known for.

Steele tells WGLT a recent trip to New Orleans has her thinking how that city's music could mix with the Love Preachers.

“I really love Cajun music and our drummer Kyle Keynen went to school in New York for Afro-Cuban and Cajun percussion. I could see it dipping into our influences,” said Steele via Skype from her home in Effingham.

It would be interesting to hear how they would incorprate that spice into their already full plate of folk, blues, rock, and country that currently comprise the gumbo of Taylor Steele and Love Preachers.

Jeremiah is the lead track to the bands 2019 debut titled “Searching.” It’s an apt distillation of all the music Steele said infuses the band. It begins musically with a folk/Appalachian sound that evolves into a southern rock groove that hints at the Allman Brothers or Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

“I was probably 13 when I wrote that song,” said the now 20-something Steele. “That’s when I first started listening to Gillian Welch. I’ve always loved old folk music anyway and have gravitated toward roots and traditional music,” said Steele.

Jeremiah was an angel He led me with his fingertips He led me to the ocean Where I nearly wept He said I was a stranger My face showed no emotion Then he led me to a river The faces, he did not show them “Jeremiah” by Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers

Who is Jeremiah?

“He doesn’t exist,” laughed Steele. “He’s a spirit, someone I think is being led down to a river or ocean. It’s about dying really, and what you might experience in a mystical way.”

The Love Preachers embody the sound of central and southern Illinois. The relaxed mix lumped as Americana breathes easily like the wide open spaces you’d see traveling I-70 from Effingham through Greenville where she lived with her father during her high school years to her native Collinsville where she lived with her mother.

“I love that. We’ve been described as capturing the sound of the Midwest one other time and it has kind of amazed me that first time. Hearing it again allows me to be introspective and get a different perspective on my own music,” said Steele.

Southern Illinois has a strong music history, which Steele said includes Effingham, a city of 12,000 at the junction of Interstates 70 and 57. Her music sojourns to Effingham began in high school, when she would make that 50-minute drive up I-70 from Greenville every Wednesday for an open mic. That’s where she met Bill Passalacqua, who puts on the annual June Moccasin Creek Festival there when she was 18.

“I was able to start being an artist at that festival and in Effingham. That’s where I found this community and music scene and listeners, people who come and volunteer at the festival. I became best friends with artists and we’d all support each other,” said Steele.

Love Preachers bassist Garrett Burris runs another great Effingham festival. Steele characterizes the Summer Sundown Music Festival that runs mid-September as a sister fest to Moccasin and one that caters to more of a local and regional band base.

“It’s really supposed to highlight how much talent is in central and southern Illinois,” said Steele.

“Birch” from “Searching” show a more soulful side of Steele and the band. It’s a mash of country and Memphis soul.

We should take all that we had and shoot it into space So that the human race can see what we have done Birch was a place where the night sky could make you fall in love “Birch” from Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers

“That song didn’t become soulful until I brought it to the band,” said Steele. “I wrote it on guitar and thought of it as this pretty folk/country waltz. Then we brought it to the band, and having keys on it and arranging it more … it’s become this really powerful song”

It’s also one of the songs she believes is an example of how she eventually found her voice.

“In the two years we have been a band, I’ve become a better singer and kind of think of myself as a soul singer now,” said Steele.

“Lost Girl Blues” is more vulnerable. You can hear the echoes in this slow-mid tempo country blues song of what it may have been like for Steele to grow up with divorced parents living in separate southern Illinois towns.

When I was a girl, I couldn’t say no And I had to find my way out of the snow C When I was a girl, I had a storm over my head I couldn’t seem to ever let my feelings show And I loved too much and too hard all at once And I hurt to see anyone go, anyone go Why did I waste all of my time tellin lies Why did I hurt you, so many times I wanna talk to myself and I wanna I wish I hadn’t been so blind “Lost Girl Blues” by Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers

“I wrote this about the same time I wrote ‘Was I Wrong,'" she said, referring to another track on ‘Searching.’ "At the time I was living in Greenville still. It’s a good example of me expressing the thoughts I haven’t been able to say out-loud or put into words. It was like me scooping out being true and honest with myself and putting it into a song so I could come to terms, you know.”

Musically she hears “Lost Girl Blues” as something that might have been lumped with mid-1960s folk-rock back in the day.

“Sometimes I think of a woman dancing around with flowers in a meadow,” she laughed at the imagery. “Getting in touch with her womanhood or getting in touch with herself.”

Taylor Steele and the Love Preachers open for Neal Francis on Thursday night at Jazz UpFront in Bloomington.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.