Fantasizing About Being Black By Otis Taylor

August 14, 2017

It is always with a sense of anticipation that I wait for each new release by Otis Taylor. It is not just that he is one of the best bluesmen working today, but that each album has a theme and individual presence all its own. 2013’s My World Is Gone incorporated Native American rhythm’s into a blues framework as he explored the plight of America’s original people. 2015’s Hey Joe Opus/Red Meat found him fusing a west coast psychedelic sound with his well-honed blues. Now he has changed direction again.

Fantasizing About Being Black is an 11 chapter history lesson of the Afro-American experience. The message is start and direct, while the music ranges from primitive to sophisticated. He particularly uses violinist Anne Harris to soften the harshness of his approach. Through it all he remains true to a blues framework and format.

Each song message set the stage for the one to follow until they meld into a cohesive whole. “Banjo Bam Bam” is a primitive story of slavery. “D To E Blues” is an ode to a father-son relationship; Chicago blues style. “Jump Out Of Line” is a look back at the Civil Rights Movement. “Jump To Mexico” explores the difficulties of interracial relationships. “Roll On Down The Hill” is an inspirational call to resist.

Fantasizing About Being Black may not be an easy listen but it is heartfelt and passionate. It is also an important contribution to Afro-American history from a musical perspective and that fact makes all the difference.


My World Is Gone by Otis Taylor

February 19, 2013

This is the fourth Otis Taylor album I have reviewed in the past several years. Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs (2009), Clovis People Vol. 3 (2010), and Contraband (2012) were all distinctive, as they explored, both musically and lyrically the man’s visions of the world. His stories tend to focus more on the dark side of life, as he explores racism, inner struggles, and heritage. Taylor’s style can best be defined as a cross between roots music and the blues. He has returned with his latest release, My World Is Gone.

The focus of this songwriter’s newest album is the former and present trials and tribulations of Native American culture. His blunt tales and searing music explore the disappearing world of the Native American way of life.

Taylor has a booming baritone voice and is adept on the mandolin, slide guitar, and banjo. His main sidekick on the album is guitarist and vocalist Mato Nanji of the band Indigenous. As a Native American blues player, he provides the foundation and legitimacy for the album. Also on hand are fiddle player Anne Harris (whose plaintive sound is essential to the atmosphere of the music), drummer Larry Thompson, bassist Todd Edmunds, guitarist Shawn Starski, keyboardist Brian Juan, and cornet player Ron Miles.

The title track opens the album and establishes the tone of what will follow. Taylor and Nanji share the vocals on this melancholy tale of temptation and loss. “Lost My Horse” finds Taylor and Nanji trading guitar and mandolin licks. “Never Been to the Reservation” is a bleak tale of life. It is a track where Taylor cuts loose on his guitar and shows why he is one of the better blues musicians working today. “Sit Across Your Table” is about as close to rock and roll as Taylor gets, as Starski’s guitar work and solo bring a different perspective to his sound.

Once in a while his songs offer hope, and so it is with “Jae Jae Waltz,” which is about a search for love.

My World Is Gone continues Taylor’s approach of examining different aspects of the world around him and creating incisive lyrics and music to present his views. It may not always be a comfortable ride but it is an important one and worth taking.

Article first published as Music Review: Otis Taylor – My World Is Gone on Blogcritics.


Contraband by Otis Taylor

December 22, 2011

When things weren’t going well for Otis Taylor during the mid-1970s, he retired from the music business and became an antiques dealer for 18 years. The antiques business’ loss was music’s gain as he has been a prolific artist since his 1995 return. Contraband is his 12th studio album since his comeback.

Taylor is basically a blues artist at heart, although he will travel beyond the blues on occasion. He also is a talented guitarist and banjo player whose skills have been honed by years in the studio and on the road. Add in his gruff and gritty vocals, his syncopated rhythms, and incisive lyrics, and you have the basics of his music.

His approach to his albums has been eclectic at times, but always interesting. His last album, Clovis People Volume 3, traveled in an odd thematic direction; while his guitar work and the individual songs were always good in and of themselves, the album’s cohesiveness was not always apparent. Those issues are not a problem with his new release.

The title song of his new album, “Contraband Blues,” is a guitar-based tune about Civil War slaves who were freed by the Union Army, but who were not really free. This track of people being treated as contraband is the album’s emotional centerpiece from which all the other tracks flow outward.

“Blind Piano Teacher” tells the story of a young black piano teacher who lives with an older white man. The six-and-a-half-minute “Open These Bars” is a rambling exploration through the Jim Crow years of the South. “Never Been To Africa” tells the bleak story of a black soldier who fought all over the world during World War I but had never seen Africa. “Look To The Side” travels in a different direction as it is mainly an acoustic love song, which makes use of his unique electric banjo. “I Can See You Lying” is the type of dark and twisted love song that he has been so good at creating down through the years.

He gathers around him his usual expert collection of supporting musicians: Ron Miles on cornet, pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell, djembe player Fara Tolno, fiddler Anne Harris, bassists Cassie Taylor (his daughter) and Todd Edmunds, guitarist Jon Paul Johnson, keyboardist Brian Juan, and drummer Larry Thompson. All move in and out of his original 14 compositions.

Otis Taylor has been making up for lost time during the last couple of decades. Contraband continues his tradition of creating material addressing passion, life, racism, and redemption. His latest group of songs is well worth exploring, especially if you appreciate some honest American blues.

Article first published as Music Review: Otis Taylor – Contraband on Blogcritics.


Clovis People Vol. 3 by Otis Taylor

April 29, 2010

Same people say they play the blues, some people pretend to play the blues, others fuse the blues with different musical styles and traditions.

Otis Taylor really plays the blues.

2009 found him releasing Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs,which explored the complexities of love. He has now returned with Clovis People Vol. 3, which is a very back to basics and stripped down album. He has created a sparse sound with a hypnotic style.

First, if you enjoy this album please note there are no volumes one and two despite the title. Second, The Clovis People no longer exist and their name was chosen long after they had passed away. Near Taylor’s home in Colorado archeologists discovered tools and pottery which belonged to an ancient people who inhabited the area 13,000 years ago. They were named Clovis because of the unique shaping of their tools and are considered to be among the oldest inhabitants of North America.

He gathered an eclectic group of musical supporters for the album. Foremost is rock/blues guitarist Gary Moore, with whom he has toured on three separate occasions. Moore does not dominate the songs but subtly fills in the blanks when needed. Pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell is on board as is his daughter Cassie Taylor who plays bass. Perhaps the most interesting musician is cornet player Ron Miles whose sound melds with the primitive rhythms of Taylor’s guitar.

“Rain So Hard” is the lead track and establishes the style and sound for what will follow. Pedal steel and cornet provide a haunting back drop for his guitar as his gruff voice explores his lyrics of betrayal. “Little Willy” continues his dark messages as it tells the story of a school shooting.

He lightens up a bit with “Lee and Arnez” which tells the story of the couple who lived next door to his parents when he was young.

By the time he reaches “It’s Done Happened Again” he has established the rhythms which draw the listener into his stories. It is raw blues at its best. “Babies Don’t Lie” continues this trend with a repetitive chord and lyric which force you to pay attention.

Otis Taylor continues to be one of the more under rated blues musicians working today. His songwriting ability and his guitar expertise are some of the best in the business from a blues perspective. Clovis People Vol. 3 is Otis Taylor doing the only thing he knows how.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org


Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs by Otis Taylor

May 31, 2009

A lot of people play the blues but Otis Taylor lives the blues. Just past sixty, he is carrying on the legacy and artistry of traditional American blues. He has a laid back vocal style which belies his gritty, realistic, and sometime brutal songs of life.

Taylor has had two careers. He began as a bluegrass banjo picker before switching to the guitar and the blues in the late sixties. He played in a number of bands and as a solo artist until 1978 when he left the music scene and became among other things, an antique dealer. He re-emerged as a blues artist of note in 1995 and his output has been prolific as he has now released his tenth studio album in fourteen years.

Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs contains soothing music and mostly painful lyrics. It is an odd but effective combination and ads up to some of the best blues music being produced today.

Taylor has a wonderful way of creating textures that give his material depth. “Looking For Some Heat” is one of his love songs that does not end well. His vocal is understated and acoustic guitar playing stellar. He then weaves a piano and cornet throughout the song which makes the sound unique.

Several years ago he formed a musical relationship with guitarist Gary Moore who appears on three of the thirteen tracks. “Sunday Mornin’” features a lead vocal by bass player Cassie Taylor. Otis lays down the rhythm while Moore provides a counterpoint with his electric, acoustic guitar. He plays with restraint and provides about as perfect a performance as you will ever hear. “Lost My Guitar” is a lament about the death of a child in a car accident. Gary Moore pulls out his electric guitar and twists the strings to create a sound that compliments the lyrics. “If You Hope” is a fusion of styles as Moore and Taylor blend together and integrate jazz, rock, and blues structures.

Otis Taylor returns to his roots with “I’m Not Mysterious.” The song is about the friendship of two eight years olds of different races and the tensions that it creates. There is some strong guitar playing by Taylor as he demonstrates just how good he can be when he wants too. It makes me wish he would step forward and show off a bit more.

Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs is an excellent blues album. Its music is both subtle and challenging. Otis Taylor has produced what is essentially an album of very different love songs and I recommend it as a definite buy.