Monday, April 19, 2010

Otis Taylor's Gripping Clovis People

A new recording by Otis Taylor has become an event. He has produced some of the most original and intriguing of new artists associated with the blues with unusual musical settings and deep lyrical themes. He is one of the few blues artists to have DownBeat award 5 stars this century, and other publications have similarly given his music great acclaim. His music has been labelled trance blues, but it has precedent in the similar blues of John Lee Hooker (thinking about his slow dirges from early in his career as well as the swirling similar style of Robert Pete Williams. There are other examples in modern jazz as well as contemporary composed music (think of Steven Reich) that makes use of repetition musical elements and a droning sound.

Taylor’s most recent release is “Clovis People Vol. 3” (Telarc) and continues in the genre-busting vein of his earlier recordings. The title of the disc refers to the civilization known as the Clovis people, who walked the earth briefly about 13,000 years ago and then mysteriously disappeared. There have been only four or five sites of them found by anthropologists and one was recently located a 100 yards or so from Taylor’s home. "That's amazing to me," says Taylor. "There have only been four or five sites like this found all over the country. That means these people probably walked on my property. I went back to my musical past with these songs. That’s why I called it Volume 3. There really is no Volume 1 or 2. My music only goes back about ten 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."

For this volume he is joined by guitarist Gary Moore, who has been on previous recordings, pedal steel guitarist of the Campbell Brothers, cornetist Ron Miles and Taylor’s daughter, Cassie Taylor while he himself employs a variety of instruments and textures. The musicians are like paints, embellishing on the underlying groove with a burst of electric guitar or smear from a cornet enhancing the mood. Taylor’s vocals carry the same emotional weight as a field holler, as on the opening “Rain So Hard,” as he she describes his woman walking out after discovering his lies as it rained and snowed so hard while it sounds like a sitar being plucked as Miles adds a repeated trumpet riff to add to his repeated single note picking. “Little Willie,” opens with keen crying pedal steel as Taylor relates the story of Little Willie going to school and the “bad boys came and took his life away” leaving his mother to cry with the simple, emphatic accompaniment to Taylor’s haunting vocals . In contrast “Lee and Arnaz,” has a bit of a folk feel with the accompaniment (fiddle contrasting with Moore’s electric guitar commentary), with a message that there is no color there is no difference. The remaining of the album illustrates these same qualities. The music is mesmerizing, the songs powerful and the vocals by Taylor intimate, yet haunting. The result is another collection of thoroughly original and compelling performances from Otis Taylor.

For FTC purposes, I received my review copy from the publicist for the recording company.

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