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Double V

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Album Review

Otis Taylor's unconventional approach to the blues has made him one of the freshest and most innovative musicians to hit the genre in decades. A multi-instrumentalist, his driving, modal arrangements and defiant, politicized subject matter make most other contemporary blues artists seem like watered-down popsters. Imagine grafting John Lee Hooker and Peter Tosh together into a righteous, fire-breathing hybrid, and you get the picture. But Taylor is more than just a loud challenge to the blues status quo. He is also a striking and intelligent songwriter who knows how to draw on history, when to re-imagine it, and when to dole it out straight, and he drives his points home with the force of a laser-guided jackhammer. On Double V, his second album on Telarc, Taylor has also added a kinder and gentler approach to his arsenal, coming up with songs like the opening track, "Please Come Home Before the Rain," and the closer, "Buy Myself Some Freedom," that make their points with easy, beautiful melodies. The upbeat and breezy "Please Come Home Before the Rain" is nothing short of a modern classic, a love song of sorts, sung by Taylor in a gentle, bemused voice as he tells the story of a sailor reading a letter from his wife. The stark "Plastic Spoon" is a haunting depiction of what happens when poverty and old age converge, as the protagonists in the song are forced to eat dog food with a plastic spoon in order to have enough money for prescription drugs. This is an unlikely subject for a song, certainly, but it works, and it illustrates why Taylor is such a vital and interesting artist. The autobiographical "Mama's Selling Heroin" is another unforgettable track. It isn't subtle, it doesn't wrap things up in a bow, and it is absolutely chilling. Taylor's choice of instrumentation on these songs is as innovative as his subject matter, with an assortment of churning, driving banjos, mandolins and acoustic guitars, little or no percussion, and well-placed cellos, all of which (when you add in his frequent hums, moans, and spoken interjections) combine to make him sound like some postmodern Appalachian griot who wandered into a new age convention and shook the place down. Taylor's 17-year-old daughter, Cassie Taylor, plays bass and adds harmony vocals throughout Double V, and she takes center stage on the album's final track, singing the beautiful and wistful "Buy Myself Some Freedom" with élan, framed by perfectly placed and nuanced trumpet lines from Ron Miles. There is nothing on Double V that hasn't been foreshadowed on Otis Taylor's previous albums, and there are plenty of his patented, piledriving modal blues pieces, but he has also figured out that there are times when nothing can rattle your head like a spoonful of sweetness.


Born: 1948 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Bluesman Otis Taylor never skirted tough subject matter in a career that took him from the Folklore Center in Denver to a brief stay in London, England, to retirement from music in 1977, to being a successful antiques broker and, since 1995, back again to the blues. Taylor's 2001 CD White African (Northern Blues Music), featuring Kenny Passarelli (bass, keyboards) and Eddie Turner (lead guitar), became his most direct and personal statement about the experiences of African-Americans. He addressed...
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