Otis Taylor, Double V

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Double V

Otis Taylor

This is as far from the blues as this Colorado singer-songwriter has gone thus far, but it's hard to call it anything except blues. Taylor's rock background subtly colors much of what he does, but his music is rooted in black forms dating back to the beginnings of the recording industry. He plays rolling acoustic guitar like it was a banjo, and picks banjo like it was an acoustic guitar. And he writes dark, brooding, outraged songs about outsider characters like York, the slave on the Lewis and Clark expedition who won the hearts of the Indians they encountered ("Mandan Woman"), or Marshall "Major" Taylor, an African-American world-champ bicycle racer at the turn of the century ("He Never Raced on Sunday"). He often sings from the point of view of these characters, like the homeless girl who vows never to eat "Reindeer Meat" at Christmas; he also sings often of Native Americans and the elderly, and one of his favorite themes concerns families torn apart by poverty and/or racial discrimination.

Dark, brooding and outraged — a new twist on the blues

Taylor's vocals are tender but raspy, and sometimes little more than blood-curdling moans ("Sounds of Africa"), while his music ranges from simple, sing-songy melodies to trance-inducing one-chord workouts with low-keyed psychedelia in the background to expand on the mood. Working for the first time without his usual accompanists — bassist/producer Kenny Passarelli and spacey guitarist Eddie Taylor — he relies more than ever on cellists to maintain the John-Lee-Hooker-meets-Velvet-Underground undertow of the music, and if you believe there can be no such thing as blues cello, you need to hear Otis Taylor — he's in a class by himself.