Otis Taylor, Otis Taylor’s Contraband

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 01.03.13 in Reviews

Otis Taylor's Contraband

Otis Taylor

Because it runs the risk of sounding samey, Taylor’s trance-inducing sound, based mainly on blues and other traditional styles, is no easy thing to do year after year, and his last couple or three albums have sounded relatively thin. Not so with this one, with its wall-to-wall harrowing songs and tunings, tempi and textures to match. If anything, he’s using a little more instrumentation than usual; opener “The Devil’s Gonna Lie” rides on haunting pedal steel, swirling B-3, pounding drums, multi-tracked cornet and African djembe, as well as Taylor’s gruff gospel vocals and choral backups, to explore evil’s ubiquity, and it kicks booty. “Contraband Blues” uses considerably less instrumentation to create just as dense and eerie a sound while commenting on the Union Army’s holding of escaped slaves in the North as contraband during the Civil War. His songs — often musings inspired by stories more than stories themselves — aren’t “topical” so much as considerations of human conundrums like the World War I soldier in “Never Been to Africa” who fights abroad but never gets to see his ancestral homeland.