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Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs

Otis Taylor

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Album Review

Otis Taylor doesn't suffer fools lightly, and his songs are full of defiant reclamations of history and tender vignettes of people struggling to survive in hostile cultural territory. Now he wants to talk about love. Taylor began his career playing bluegrass banjo, but switched to guitar (and the blues) in the late '60s, working in various bands and as a solo artist before walking away from it all 1978. He re-emerged a couple decades later in the mid-'90s with an utterly unique and modal-driven blues style that made full use of his gritty singing voice; his quirky songwriting skills; and his raw, driving guitar and banjo playing. Taylor really hasn't been idle since, and Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs is his tenth studio album in 14 years. Following on the heels of 2008's Recapturing the Banjo (which did exactly what its title says), this set finds Taylor turning his attention to love, but these aren't love songs in the normal sense, and more often than not these songs chart the course of love in dramatically unstable and even dangerous relationships. No moon and June stuff. Not even close. Much bleaker. The album opens with "Looking for Some Heat," and yeah, it's about love, but things don't end well at all. "Lost My Guitar," which is all about the loss of love in the truest sense, uses guitars and fatal car accidents as central metaphors. Nope, love isn't all roses in Taylor's view of things. And the sound of this album is different, too, with frequent use of solo cornet, giving these tracks a kind of dark, jazzy feel, particularly on cuts like "I'm Not Mysterious" that feature jazz pianist Jason Moran and Ron Miles' cornet. Irish blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore pops up on three cuts, and Taylor's daughter and bassist Cassie Taylor handles lead vocals on a few songs, including the striking and wonderful "Maybe Yeah." Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs ends up being an urgent, stubborn, and sometimes overly dark view of love in all of its unavoidable permutations. In other words, it's exactly the kind of album of love songs you'd expect from Taylor, one that is direct and as baffling as it is challenging.

Biography

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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Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, Otis Taylor
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