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Otis Taylor - Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs

Telarc Blues Records

I am going to outright suggest that this CD is worthy of purchase. However, if you don’t have love for the harmonic ambiguity of “Bitches Brew,” Dr.John’s “Walk on Gilded Splinters” without the gris gris, and cannot imagine Richie Havens doing Van Morrison’s “TB Sheets,” you won’t enjoy this effort.

Overall this recording brought to mind a morose Danny O’Keefe, a non-tradition-bound Charles Bevel, and John Lee Hooker of 1954.

The first track, “Looking for Some Heat,” is a very fine composition. It has an incredible coloration from pianist Jason Moran. The rhythmic suspension and the choice of notes is very Paul Bley—that’s a huge compliment. The cornet enters too early but this song is fantastic so that’s forgiven. I was immediately struck with the atmosphere of John Cale’s “Paris 1919,” the hunger of Lowell George, and honest declaration like Warren Zevon. Welcome to the greater marketplace, Otis Taylor.

“Sunday Morning” demonstrates that bass player/daughter Cassie Taylor is a good vocalist. She also sings the tune “Mama’s Best Friend.”

The next nine songs are not true compositions at all. They are verbal riffing over a groove. Some of the grooves are complex, some very simple.

Track #3 is called “Silver Dollar On My Head” It seems to refer to a ritual of which I am unfamiliar. Maybe it’s a family tradition. In any case, it’s all groove and ambiance.

The next track, “Lost My Guitar,” has a note attached below the credits about the inspiration for the song. If the note is accurate, then the song is not effective to its purpose. Again, groove and ambiance a-plenty.

On “I’m Not Mysterious.” the complications of race and culture combined with childhood innocence is a powerful subject.

Then a bold suggestion of masculinity without braggadocio. Okay. “Country Boy, Girl” features a haunting riff from the banjo while the piano matches it with frenetic pseudo-unison. Atmosphere, don’t try to make sense of the lyric. Once again, all groove and ambiance, “Talking About It Blues” lyrics don’t deliver what the marginalia note promises.

In “Walk on Water” Otis recalls some sermon from his youth. When the piano enters it blurs the tonal nature of the song with an ostinato note not of the chord. I like the tension this causes, but some folks would doubtless say “Why is that guy doing that monotonous thing?”

“Mama’s Best Friend” is supposed to startle the listener. The old lesbian Blues tune “Women Loving Women” and Ben Harper’s “Mama’s Got a Girlfriend” address the subject nicely. It’s in a syncopated 8/8 rhythm.

The enticing song “Dagger By My Side” is impressionist. Taylor and his acoustic guitar present a 1972 rock demo that no one would do in 1972. I like the song, the riff, even the vagueness of the lyric. But where’s the band when they are needed?

The final slice is titled “If You Hope.” It’s a song that, though minimal in content, sounds like Jaques Brel delivered by Barry White. Pretty far from Mississippi or Chicago. The CD would have benefited greatly from a little attention to detail, especially some introductions rather than “come in when you feel the groove” casual starts. 

Reviewer John Harrelson has been playing Blues since 1965 and worked in virtually every genre of music; Folk, Country, Jazz, R&B and Rock. He holds a Ph.D in Historical Musicology from Claremont Graduate University and a B.A. in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology.

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