Crossing over 

Dynamic duo of pop-rockers get all jazzed up in latest adventure

The next time you're in a grocery store and the raven-haired customer next to you belts out a brassy showtune or a timeless jazz standard, chances are it's Smyrna native Kayla Taylor.

"It just happens," says the effusive vocalist. "Music's in me and it has to come out."

Taylor, along with musical partner Steve Moore, perform as The Adventures of Kayla & Steve, a versatile duo likely to swing from a poppy original to a sensual jazz classic to a Tori Amos cover in the course of one of their frequent area shows.

They met a decade ago through a Musicians Wanted classified ad in Creative Loafing, but Taylor and Moore's current road to adventure began three years ago after the duo picked up the final mix of the second album by their former band, One Without.

Formed in the mid-'90s by Moore and Taylor, along with Cris McAvoy and Mike Windham, One Without had planned to release the album as their last hurrah. "We just thought it was awful," Taylor remembers. "We kept driving as we listened to it and decided we were really through with it all."

The two musicians wound up at a show by their friend Damien Cartier, who asked them on stage to sing. "At first we said no, we're not doing that anymore, because we resigned from the music scene 15 minutes earlier in Steve's car," Taylor laughs. But Cartier persisted and the duo performed Toni Amos' "Cornflake Girl." The positive audience reaction was overwhelmingly encouraging to the depressed musicians.

"When One Without broke up, it was like a marriage had ended," Taylor explains. "I crawled inside a dark hole of depression." At the urging of their friend John Hopkins, of the band Brighter Shade, the duo reluctantly agreed to return to the studio. "We would record a little on weekends," recalls Taylor. "We decided to not take ourselves so seriously this time, and finally enjoy music again and have fun."

Taylor says the road to recovery and inner happiness wasn't always smooth, but she got by with a little help from her friends. "The people around me forced me to pull myself up by my bootstraps and move forward and stop staying in the past," she continues. "It wasn't AIDS and it wasn't cancer. [The hurt of the breakup] was going to pass and the sun was still coming up every single day. It was time to move forward."

The result of Taylor and Moore's healing efforts is the 11-track disc Cross the Bridge, released late last year. "Our first real show was just after Sept. 11, and along with a lot of people, we realized that we better enjoy what we do and not be so miserable."

The disc represents the wide range of music the duo has always embraced. Melodic and jazzy, the collection pulses with the earthy sensuality of Tori Amos or Cassandra Wilson, but without those artists' overt grandstanding. As a nod to the evening that sealed their new direction, a version of "Cornflake Girl" is included.

The laid-back offering sways with a propulsive and prismatic rock mindset. It's the same variety of musical textures that originally afforded One Without the luxury of playing a staggering variety of venues, including Marietta's headbanging Outer Edge and the in-town hipster haunts of Dottie's and The Point.

"We're still easing back into the scene," Taylor admits. But the often-theatrical artists already play a wide range of stages, including clubs, coffeehouses and bookstore gigsl such as their upcoming Snellville Borders' show May 25.

"The last time we played there," says Taylor, "It was packed and we sold a lot of CDs. The reaction was fantastic and it was a whack on the side of the head, really. That night, I realized once again why we continue to do this. The audience was happy -- and we were happy -- with what we were doing."

The Adventures of Kayla & Steve performs Sat., May 25, at Borders Books and Music, 1929 Scenic Highway, Snellville. 8 p.m. Free. 770-982-0454. www.smartykatrecords.com.

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