The Freelance Mentalists.
Sunday, March 21, 2004
 
Otis Taylor-Truth is Not Fiction (Telarc 2003)

Otis Taylor needs a publicist. Maybe if this African-American Colorado musician called his music post-blues or crunk or something he'd get some of that token hipster Americana attention that gospel box has gotten from folks generally more into Timbaland or Stereolab. But alas, blues is considered a dead genre not worth digging up for another George Romero inspired remake, and Taylor's not dead. He's not even an aging former chain gang drunk from Mississippi signed to Fat Possum. He is worthy of your time though.
Actually he and his band are who you should be spending your listening time with. Taylor and his cohorts turn his simple repeated vocal phrases about evil behavior and desperate times, and he and his combo's far far far from budweiser riffs, into real drama. I'm not talking about no Linkin Korn Park tele-emo-nurockovela overdone bombast either, this is lightning in the middle of a field. The sound is full but stripped down. Think Blood Ulmer-like modal fuzzwork on guitar, and yes, banjo, mandolin and cello that repeats hypnotically like yer fave hiphop instro loop with bursts of late-night poetry declaimed in a raspy mantra-like approach overtop. While things start slowly with the nearly pop "Rosa, Rosa" (I don't think Ms. Parks will sue over this one), Taylor's bellowing of the phrase "tears running down from her eyes" in his Native American dustbowl saga "Kitchen Towel" will give you shivers. There's nothing light here. "House of the Crosses" is about a child who grows up to be a guard at the St. Petersburg, Russia prison where her rapist father is held, "Be My Witness" is about a black man in the 1930s who dares to drive through a white neighborhood, and even the one overdone cover, Big Joe Williams "Baby Please Don't Go" is rendered with a real sense of passion. You can even try to forget about the lyrics (if you want), Taylor's intermittent stagecoach driver like horse-whipping grunts, and his rough-edged cadence, backed by the eerie stringwork are captivating enough. -Steve
 
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