Darryl Purpose, "Still the Birds" (Blue Rock)
Yes, Darryl Purpose sounds like James Taylor. And, yes, he has an amazing backstory — he's a blackjack expert banned from casinos on six continents who says he became a songwriter while on a work release program following his arrest on allegations of laundering drug money.
These songs are so good they eclipse all that. Purpose has a rare flair for writing memorable mellifluous melodies, and on "Still the Birds" he pairs them with marvelous lyrics by Paul Zollo, who has written a rhyming dictionary and shows it by pairing "Halloween" with "gabardine."
Purpose's folksy tunes enchant thanks to their surprising twists, such as the octave-and-a-half leap in the chorus of "When Buddha Smiled at the Elephant." Elsewhere he sings about gangs, devotion, Dylan Thomas, and wars today and two centuries ago. Keep this up, and someday folks will say James Taylor sounds like Darryl Purpose.