“Everybody knows we’re going down / When we walk around / Everybody knows we’re going down / When we’re out on the town.”
With opening lyrics like these, it is quickly apparent that listeners are in for an emotional ride. Welcome to “Everybody Knows,” the eighth and most poignant, sometimes wrenching, album by Taylor Barton, who lives in Amagansett. A mostly acoustic, gentle, and contemplative collection, “Everybody Knows” depicts Ms. Barton’s reaction to, and journey to overcome, a period of great upheaval in her life.
Though its official release date is Oct. 1, the CD will be available when Ms. Barton and her husband, the guitarist G.E. Smith, perform at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Wednesday. Also imminent is the online release of a bonus track, “Wind.”
“Everybody Knows” is about “huge losses in my life,” Ms. Barton said. These included the sudden death of her sister, Blair, in 2011, as well as that of a close friend, the singer Rebecca Dorsey, and of Mr. Smith’s closest friend, the musician T-Bone Wolk.
“When those things happen, you’re never prepared for it,” Ms. Barton said. “I was crushed, and G.E. was on the road with Roger Waters for two years. There was no getting around grief. I mean, by the time my best friend died, I was like, ‘That’s it. God, you have my full attention. I completely surrender.’ ”
“All my intimate relations were cut off at the same time,” she recalled. “I have great, amazing friends around me. I have this amazing community. It wasn’t like I was without support, but I just found it the most ‘alone’ place I’d ever been. I don’t say this in a self-pitying way — there was no other choice than to go through this, and for me, the best way to go through it was with the music.”
“I took apart my world, and I came back through these songs,” Ms. Barton said. “I found my strength there.”
An attempt to explain the inexplicable to her daughter, Ms. Barton said, led to the title track. “My little girl said, ‘What happens when you die?’ and I really didn’t have an answer.” Her sister’s passing also laid bare decades-old family dynamics, which she set about deconstructing, as on “You Wanted Me,” featuring a fragile, wistful slide guitar. “My father had a lot of affairs when we were young,” she said. “ ‘You Wanted Me’ is the story of the girl who got involved. I took the persona of each person involved in an affair: the wife that was cheated on, the man having a midlife crisis, the girl who got involved.”
“The Dawning,” the track that addresses her sister’s death most directly, is one of the album’s most anguished: “I can’t think a thought without you / I can’t speak a word of truth,” she sings over a sparse accompaniment of acoustic guitar and Wurlitzer electric piano. “I’m caught in the chaos of clinging to you / Or letting you go, it’s the right thing to do.”
On another track, “Blindsided,” Scoville Hall, the Amagansett Presbyterian Church’s building on Meeting House Lane that burned in October 2011, serves as a metaphor for Ms. Barton’s emotional state. “The site of that really resonated with me, this beautiful, old, gorgeous hall,” she said. “To see it destroyed was somewhat like how I felt.”
In attempting to process these shattering losses, Ms. Barton traveled to India, where she wrote “Wind.” “That was really freeing,” she said. “I have a sitar player on it, who studied with the late Ravi Shankar. He’s going play at the [Stephen Talkhouse] gig.” India, she said, “healed me. I came back free of sadness. That’s one of the things that have come into focus for me: I am doing what I need to do. I’d always wanted to go to India, but didn’t think it was going to happen. And then it did.”
“Train is Coming,” the last song Ms. Barton wrote for the album, was an epiphany, she said. “The first song faces death right on: ‘We’re going down.’ And then ‘Train Is Coming’ was, ‘We’re all going, we’re going to be okay,’ ” she said. “It kind of came out of a dream of my sister, and I was finally released from this loss cycle.”
“Everybody Knows” was made with the producer Tony Shanahan, who assembled musicians including Erik Della Penna, Graham Hawthorne, Chris Palmaro, and Ereni Sevasti. Mr. Smith also performed, but sparingly. On previous recordings, Ms. Barton said, “G.E. was always involved in the production. This was the first time I did it by myself. I was really proud of that. I always felt that part of me couldn’t stand up, because G.E. is so amazing, but this really allowed me to step forward and be fully present in the music and really show myself that I was doing this alone. And I was, basically — I was so alone. Not to say he isn’t always there, but this was a very solitary process.”
It is often observed — and history demonstrates it — that great art arises from struggle, hardship, suffering. Ms. Barton is modest about her own art, but acknowledged a kind of breakthrough with “Everybody Knows.” Now, she said, she has attained a level to which she had always aspired, “to stand in front of people and be able to make the connection with them just by way of being open.”
She admits to some reticence on previous recordings. “Whether it was the incredible brilliance of my husband, I couldn’t step up to the plate, whereas with this one there was no block. I just thought, ‘If this is it, this is what I need to say.’ That’s how I was living, every day: Wow, this could be it. My sister, suddenly gone, no warning.”
“Everybody Knows,” she said, “was the conversation I was having with myself. There is no formula for this stuff. You just let it take you, and you follow it.”