REVIEW OF FANTASIZING ABOUT BEING BLACK
“Raw blues, creatively delivered”
We’ve been here before. Several times in fact. But Taylor’s highly personalized trance blues never fails to fascinate. This time around he delivers seven new songs along with four reinterpretations of earlier material such as Twelve String Mile and Walk On Water, the latter edging ever forward on what could be described as a flamenco shuffle, while Taylor growls his compelling, minimalist lyric. Elsewhere, Jump To Mexico has Jerry Douglas providing slide guitar in best Paris, Texas mode, Tripping On This is pure heavyweight John Lee Hooker, while D To E Blues features Taylor’s fiddle expertise. Add the piquancy of cornetist Ron Miles and the inventiveness of child guitar prodigy Brandon Niederauer, who make telling contributions throughout the album, and it’s obvious that the Chicago-born, multi-instrumentalist bluesman is about to add yet another Blues Music Award nomination to his already impressive tally. – By Fred Dellar
REVIEW OF FANTASIZING ABOUT BEING BLACK
“Raw and unflinching”
Intended as a history of African-American life, from slavery onwards, the 15th album from “trance blues” maestro Otis Taylor proves a raw experience. Banjo Bam Bam, for example, is the voice of a shackled slave who is slowly losing his mind, Jump Out of Line an edgy, uptempo piece about civil rights marchers’ fear of being attacked. Elsewhere come troubled stories of mixed-race relationships and children given up for adoption. It’s unflinching stuff, though Taylor rings the changes musically. His customary guitar and banjo drones are here, along with fiddle and cornet, but there’s also John Lee Hooker-style raunch, slide guitar from Jerry Douglas and the psychedelic flourishes of teenage axe tyro Brandon Niederauer. A triumph. – By Neil Spencer
Sing Out! Magazine
OTIS TAYLOR – Clovis People, Vol. 3 – Telarc 31849–
Otis Taylor never misses an opportunity to surprise. Sometimes dismissed as a progenitor of trance blues, such pigeonholing falls well short of the mark. Creatively, Taylor rarely sees his shadow; the curves thrown on his 11th release help him maintain his otherworldly competitive edge. The parallel between the Clovis – an extinct civilization whose remains were found near Taylor’s Colorado home – and modern man is thinly veiled as Taylor retains the role of clairvoyant, predicting our demise through our own self-destructive tendencies. Rage. Anger. Menace.
Frustration. Heartache. Strife. Taylor serves them up as casually as if he’s making an omelette, juxtaposing his stark, abusive themes against ingredients like banjo, cello, violin, organ, theremin and percussive effects as he layers his darkly bewitching, near-spoken croon over each creation. Detours into jazz, blues and world music further complicate the recipe, yet the addition of Gary Moore on guitar (yes … that Gary Moore) and cornet player Ron Miles seem the key ingredients, keeping things surreal before cutting the listener to the quick. Many of these songs have appeared previously, yet they are re-imagined here as Taylor conjures fresh spells in dusty, ill-lit rooms. The drone of cello, a dash of horn and Taylor’s National Steel guitar serve as backdrop to White African’s “Rain So Hard.”
The heartbreak of a mother wronged in “Little Willie” is propelled forward by taut percussion as Moore’s twisted guitar lines add to the anguish. “Ain’t No Cowgirl” updates another White African original with a strong, slow build, while Truth is Fiction’s “Babies Don’t Lie” is reborn as banjo joins to guitar, repeating itself on a bed of strings before dissipating. All that’s predictable about Otis Taylor is that you can never know what he’ll do next – which may well be the secret of his success. May he never cheer up. — ET
Blues singer/guitarist/banjoist Otis Taylor is drawing from history’s deep well for his new disc, Clovis People (Telarc), which will be released on May 11. The disc’s title refers to ancient society whose 13,000-year-old remains were found near his home in Boulder, Colo.
“That’s amazing to me,” Taylor said. “There have only been four or five sites like this found all over the country. That means these people probably walked on my property. My music only goes back about 10 years, but there’s something about reaching back to an earlier time and revisiting the stories of the past from a new perspective that I find compelling.”
Other musicians on the disc include guitarist Gary Moore, cornetist Ron Miles, pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell and Taylor’s bassist daughter Cassie Taylor.
While the disc’s title refers to a long-ago epoch, the songs on Clovis People deal with more contemporary issues, including “Think I Won’t,” which is about a mother’s confrontation with a local drug dealer.
“There are some bad-ass moms out there,” Taylor said. “Sometimes people don’t realize how tough black women can be. It’s a matriarchal culture, and there are some moms who’ll kick your ass in a half-second if you threaten their children.”
REVIEW OF PENTATONIC WARS AND LOVE SONGS
LIVING BLUES MAGAZINE
OTIS TAYLOR – Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs – Telarc – CD-83690
This time out, Otis Taylor seems less interested in creating hallucinatory aural landscapes than evoking emotional intensity through the pristine interplay between acoustic instruments and undistorted voices. But the overall effect is the same: a fully realized, vividly drawn world of the imagination that dares us to enter and then transforms us while we’re there. Taylor’s lyrics perfectly complement his sound. Much has been made of the unrelenting darkness of his vision, and in fact there are few lyricists in any contemporary genre as fearless as he is in mining the human condition for tragedy and despair. But hope, not nihilism, is his ultimate message even his most miserable, downtrodden heroes and heroines are redeemed in the end, if only by their own suffering.
This time out he presents us with a set of ostensible love songs and, of course, since it’s an Otis Taylor set, his lovers are wracked with emotional and erotic hungers so intense that they approach existential catastrophe. In Taylor’s world, everyday disappointments are merely allegories for deeper and darker truths. The narrator of Lost My Guitar mourns for his instrument, but he’s actually anguished over the death of his young child; in Mama’s Best Friend, a woman leaves her husband for a female lover, and her children have to confront not only the loss of their mother but also the prejudices of a homophobic society; the tormented wretch of Dagger By My Side kills his mistress and then goes to sit by a Styx-like river to agonize over his deed, his loss, and his soul. The protagonist of If You Hope is the ghost of a dead man who still longs for his lover and waits for her to die so she can join him in the afterlife. After all, hope springs eternal and thus does Otis Taylor shine a light through the darkness, reminding us yet again of the redemptive power of the blues. – By David Whiteis