|Otis Taylor likes to work with old things. From his previous profession as an
antiques dealer to his groundbreaking blues work over the past few years, Taylor spends time burnishing the artifacts
of generations ago and unleashing them on the contemporary marketplace. Those who experienced the foreboding intensity
of Taylor's multiple W.C. Handy Award-nominated 2001 release, White
African, won't be surprised that he has followed that career landmark
with an album just as impassioned. On his third disc in three years, Taylor revisits the gloomy, literary well
that molds his distinctive style. He reaches even deeper into the darkness, taking us to a place some may not feel
comfortable visiting, even for 40 minutes. But for those whose appreciation of the blues runs to the ominous, edgy
territory of John Lee Hooker, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and John Hammond (especially last year's Tom Waits covers
album), this will reverberate with frightening power. Entirely drumless (but not totally unplugged), Taylor shifts
from acoustic to electric banjo, guitar, and harmonica, accompanied by producer Kenny Passarelli's bass and occasional
keyboards, Eddie Turner's spiky lead guitar, and daughter Cassie Taylor's otherworldly backing vocals, generating
gripping songs that throb with subtle, menacing textures.
Tracks such as "Hands on Your Stomach" and "Changing Rules," where a single riff is constantly repeated, recalling the stark Afro-blues of Ali Farka Toure, explore terrifying territory as Taylor's overdubbed echoed howls and Turner's psychedelic Ry Cooder-style guitar lines seem animalistic as they slither between the verses. Lyrically, Taylor fixates on bleak topics (death, slavery, and evil women are recurring themes), but the compelling music and his gruff vocals create an air of hope, even when recounting stories of desperation and despair. At his most forlorn, as on the self-accompanied, Hooker-ish "Seven Hours of Light," Taylor creates a lonely, bleak, dreamy landscape where suicide seems like the only option, singing as if from personal experience.
Suffice it to say, this is chilling, mesmerizing, atmospheric music not meant for easy listening or your next barbeque. Taylor's instrumental dexterity only serves the songs, which are untraditional in the strict blues sense. Although he hovers in stormy thunderclouds, the album concludes with the optimism of "Just Live Your Life," where Otis Taylor encourages others to do what he did: find what you love, do it your own way, and stay true to your ideals. The positive closing message reflects softer, encouraging light on the portentous shadows of his gripping blues.
"...for those whose appreciation of the blues runs to the ominous, edgy
territory of John Lee Hooker, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and John Hammond
(especially last year's Tom Waits covers album), this will reverberate with