Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Otis Taylor's World Is Gone

Otis Taylor has received considerable acclaim for his various recordings over the years. Regularly his recordings are highly rated by DownBeat for example and he is a favorite of the DownBeat Critics’ Poll. His so-called ‘trance blues,’ employs simple repeated motifs over which he tells his stories (often in a topical vein) while he and his band members add musical embellishments. The music is generally evocative and haunting. 

His latest Telarc album is My World Is Gone, where he has a special guest, Native American guitarist Mato Nanji, along with Anne Harris on fiddle, Larry Thompson on drums, Shawn Starksi on bass, Brian Juan on keyboards and Ron Miles on cornet, on an album whose songs are centered on the travails Native American’s have suffered as their traditional world has vanished, probably never to return. Against the rhythmic core, Taylor sometimes on electric banjo, mandolin and guitar, Nanji on lead guitar, Harris and Miles add embellishments and solos that enhance the mood of the specific song. It is particularly a delight to listen to Ms. Harris wonderful playing. Those who have seen Taylor live with Harris in the band know the exuberance and excitement she visually contributes which can lead one to miss just how good a fiddler she is and how much her fiddle contributes aurally and not simply visually.

Otis Taylor at 2012 Pennsylvania Blues Festival
This is most directly addressed in the title selection and its a strength of Taylor and Nanji that this opening selection conveys the sorrow of old ways having passed and some of the consequences without the song becoming an overstated polemic. Harris’ fiddle enhancing the mournful tenor of Taylor’s vocal while Nanji adds tight guitar runs. A crisp walking groove permeates Lost My Horse, where a navaho loses his horse from having drank too much (I done lost my horse, I surely lose my mind) whereas Miles floating cornet adds to the atmosphere developed on Huckleberry Blues, where Taylor sings about being stalked by his female neighbor. Sand Creek Mourning is a stark number that recounts a US army massacre of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians with Nanji’s guitar and Miles cornet adding to the gloomy feel instilled by the ostinato played by Taylor on banjo and rhythm section. 

Blue Rain in Africa has the haunting line about seeing the white buffalo on the television while there must be blue rain in Africa because that is what he saw on television. Nanji’s tonal coloring here is quite impressive. “Never Been To The Reservation” has a lyric about the man living in luxury oblivious to the hardships as he contrasts babies sleeping on to the grown to the gentleman drinking champagne and eating caviar. Coming With Crosses, is a somber recollection of a young man recounting his mother’s murder by cross-burning riders of the night, with Harris’ fiddle embellishments over the banjo centered accompaniment.

My Home Is Gone is one of Taylor’s most moving recordings with deceptively simple, stark and understated performances of his songs that convey the tragic times Native Americans have endured better than simple polemic lyrics would. It is certain to gather more acclaim to Otis Taylor.

For those living in the Washington DC area, he appears at Blues Alley with special guest Mato Nanji on April 3. Its part of a short East Coast tour that includes Chicago, New York City, Kentucky and Savannah, Georgia. 

I received a review copy from a publicist.  Here is Otis performing Blue Rain in Africa.

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