Northern Blues Music CD NBM0002, 2001 (40:16)
A dark and moving album - bleak in outlook, but not in musicality
Dan Macintosh, 5 May 2002
Some blues music provides a temporary way to replace the hardships of troublesome daily life with the joys of cathartic music. Still other blues variations describe and illustrate downtrodden circumstances. Otis Taylor's painful cries on this release are the later of the two, like a kind of Bad News 'N Blues daily edition.
The album's liner notes tell how Taylor's uncle, Andrew Bell, was killed by a random robber who took his cash in a crap game. The song "Saint Martha Blues" details the story of the way his great grandfather was lynched. Taylor may be many literal years removed from their tragic circumstances, but he sounds only seconds away in emotional time and sure knows how to channel his ancestors' sorrows through song.
With Eddie Turner's echoing slide guitar circling around in the mix, the character in "Resurrection Blues" speaks of how Jesus may have suffered and died, but he sure doesn't want to be like Jesus in that painful respect. Taylor talks/sings this song in a way that may remind you of Bono in the midst of his American music baptism about a decade ago.
Unlike a lot of contemporary blues recordings - where the mixes are so clean they sound like bad Eric Clapton recordings on auto-pilot - Taylor's sound is closer to Mississippi folk blues, with plenty of acoustic instruments and tangibly spontaneous heart.
Whether he's giving "3 Days and 3 Nights" a swaying rhythm, or thrashing away on the banjo for "Momma Don't You Do It," Taylor proves his instrumental prowess. On "Round and Round," it's just Taylor and some of his own mean harmonica accompaniment.
Another big plus with Taylor's music is how he's made his blues into an appropriate response to modern day problems. Some folks might want to keep blues music hidden away in some out of the way display at the rock & roll history museum, untouched by 21st century air. Taylor knows how to sing contemporary blues with power, purpose and - most importantly - relevance. "Hungry People" decries homelessness, while "Resurrection Blues" lends an empathetic word of kindness to those with cancer, AIDS, or other deadly illnesses.
"Stick On You" is about as close as this album ever gets to something even remotely happy sounding, even though it describes how loving somebody can make you crazy. This album may not contain a lot of joyful noise, but it's the most timely blues music to come along in a mighty long time, and almost guaranteed to stick on you.
performers Otis Taylor, vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, electric banjo, harmonica, mandolin; Kenny Passarelli, bass, keyboard; Eddie Turner, lead guitar; Cassie Taylor, backup vocals
production Produced and arranged by Kenny Passarelli. Engineered by Mark Derryberry. Recorded at Fanfare Studios, Golden, Colorado. Mixed by Tim Stroh, Stepbridge Studios, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
songs My Soul's in Louisiana · Resurrection Blues · Momma Don't You Do It · 3 Days and 3 Nights · Round and Round · Stick on You · Rain So Hard · Lost My Horse · Saint Martha Blues · Ain't No Cowgirl · Hungry People