Album Reviews

Otis Taylor

Fantasizing About Being Black

Artist:     Otis Taylor

Album:     Fantasizing About Being Black

Label:     Trance Blues Festival

Release Date:     02/17/2017


Otis Taylor has never been afraid. Always outspoken, he now wants to raise his voice even louder. “After 15 albums, I’ve taken all of my thoughts about the history of racial injustice and created a musical interpretation for modern times. When I started recording in 2015, I had no idea the topics would become even more relevant,” Taylor says. These eleven tunes depict the African-American experience from the slave ships to our current time, an American history not often found in history books or in conventional media. Recording on his Trance Blues Festival label, Taylor’s raw, distinctive signature style ranges from acoustic Delta-like blues to the psychedelic. Each time out you can count on some instrumental changes and even some experimentation. “I experimented with banjo and fiddle because slaves on the Southern plantations played those instruments and I wanted to include the richness of the early African slave instrument sounds throughout the record. If you close your eyes you can imagine the past, yet see the connections and relevance to what’s happening now,” Taylor says.

Configuration ranges from trio to quintet as Taylor is accompanied by long-time cohorts Anne Harris on fiddle, Ron Miles on cornet, Todd Edmunds on bass and Larry Thompson on drums. Dobro ace Jerry Douglas guests on two tracks, playing a koa wood lap steel. Teenage lead guitarist Brandon Niederauer also guests twice.

Within the liners, Taylor provides brief background on each of the tunes, seven of which are new, and four of which are reinterpreted from his previous albums. Let’s highlight some of the new ones first. “Banjo Barn Barn” is the story of a slave in shackles accented by Taylor’s banjo, Harris’ fiddle, and Niederauer bluesy lead. “Tripping on This” features the unique sound of Taylor’s electric banjo in a John Lee Hooker type style. “D to E Blues” goes acoustic with Harris’ piercing fiddle, reinforcing the constant yearning for freedom. “Jump Out of Line’’ describes the fear in Civil Rights marches. “Just Want to Live With You” brings Niederauer aboard again, this time more melodic than fiery. “Roll Down the Hill” is a cry for resilience and “Jump to Mexico” is a ballad about interracial relationships that features Douglas.

Briefly, note that “Twelve String Mile” was originally done on When Negroes Walked the Earth. “Walk on Water” appeared on both Truth Is Not Fiction and Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs. “Hands on Your Stomach” and “Jump Jelly Belly” first appeared on Respect the Dead. There’s a repetitiveness to trance blues that may put off some, but the hypnotic effect has as much to do with feel as it does with listening. If you start shaking your head and body and begin to lose yourself in a sense, that’s the idea.

Taylor is the recipient of 16 Blues Music Award nominations, a Blues Music Award for banjo in 2009 and he is a two-time winner of Downbeat Magazine’s Blues Album of the Year. Simply put, Otis Taylor has no peers. This is a powerful statement and might be the most cohesive album he’s made yet.

—Jim Hynes

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