|Unlike 90 percent of those players who call themselves bluesmen, Otis taylor
shoots for originality over the conventional. Most often this takes the form of a slow, deep, repetitious, bass-heavy
groove and lyrics that are not so much stories - with a beginning, a middle, and an end - as emotional vignettes
that hammer home an historical injustice or a human tragedy.
White African finds this unfairly obscure bluesman and his band refining their unique sound. There is no better-played example than the gut-wrenching "3 Days and 3 Nights," about a man whose baby girl is dying. Taylor's acoustic guitar and Kenny Passarelli's bass lay down a simple, solid structure over which the gorgeous but spooky vocals of Taylor's daughter Cassie, and a disturbing dub of a baby crying, crate an ethereal, compelling musical stew. Somewhere buried in the soup may even be remnants of guitarist Eddie turner's muted slide - it's hard to tell. "I ain't slept for three days and three nights," Taylor grimaces, going from whisper to howl and back again several times within the course of the song. And we believe him.
Songs like "3 Days" and the equally robust "My Soul's in Louisiana" - the story of a man unfairly shot for a crime he denies committing - represent the best of the Otis Taylor sound. it helps that Taylor has gotten noticeably more proficient as a player, that he seems equally at home on guitar, mandolin, banjo, and harp. And, as always, Taylor's soulful, dramatic croon fills up as much space as all the instruments combined. In truth, there isn't anywhere near a weak performance on this disc. But Taylor's somewhat one-dimensional approach can be both a blessing and a curse. You'll notice that, good as they are, there's an annoying rhythmic similarity to many of these numbers. So it's a welcome respite when upbeat cuts such as "Round And Round," in which Taylor trades off energetic vocal and harp lines, break the string of slower, deeper numbers. It's be nice to hear more of that.
But what's most frustrating about this otherwise strong disc is that Eddie Turner's guitar leads (we're talking Eddie, not Otis) - which can be downright incendiary - serve more as atmospheric dressing, and the talented guitarist never really cuts loose. On "Resurrection Blues," for instance, turner lays down an echo-y slide that settles for merely satisfying when he is more than capable of being transcendental. He is, after all, one of the better players to tap into the ghost of Hendrix.
Flaws aside, Taylor's priorities - which mainly involve snaking his way to the emotional root of each song - are refreshingly on target. And White African is, in many ways, as good as the blues gets.