By Jeff Stevens
If you're looking for happy, party-time blues, you probably won't like Otis Taylor's latest release, "Respect the Dead." Taylor's personal brand of folk blues isn't exactly something to spin while partying with your friends. Instead, it is thoughtful, soul-searching music that demands your full attention ... and will reward you for your time.
"Respect the Dead" follows in the footsteps of "White African," Taylor's previous recording, both issued by NorthernBlues Music. "African," released in 2001, led to four W.C. Handy Award nominations for Taylor, including "Best Blues Album of the Year," "Acoustic Blues Album of the Year," "Blues Song of the Year" (for "My Soul's in Louisiana") and "Best New Artist Debut."
"Respect the Dead" could garner more award nominations for Taylor. The recording's acoustic blues has a similar haunting feel as its predecessor and follows many of the same themes. "Ten Million Slaves" recalls the plight of African slaves on the Middle Passage. "Black Witch" tells the story of an interracial love triangle that ruins a married black man's life. "Seven Hours of Light," according to Taylor, is about "when depression goes beyond the blues."
The music of "Respect the Dead" befits the serious, often dark, themes of the lyrics. Most of the songs feature only Taylor on guitar and vocals, Kenny Passarelli on bass and Eddie Turner on lead guitar -- and no drums at all. Despite this, the album doesn't grow repetitive, thanks to Passarelli's innovative arrangements and the sprinkling of unique instruments here and there.
For example, the spiritual "Ten Million Slaves" is propelled by Taylor's uptempo acoustic and electric banjo playing. Daughter Cassie Taylor contributes haunting vocals. "Changing Rules" is driven by Taylor's hypnotic acoustic slide guitar. "Seven Hours of Light," which sounds like a tribute to John Lee Hooker, features just Taylor's guitar and vocals. Other songs are flavored with harmonica, piano or organ.
Despite the heavy themes and edgy music, Taylor doesn't leave his listeners without hope. The album's final song, "Just Live Your Life," ends on a positive note with Cassie Taylor's sweet background vocals and Passarelli's upbeat piano sprinkled in.
Like many of his fellow blues musicians, Taylor might not find the recognition he deserves. Then again, the recent success of a similar record, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," proves that audiences are receptive to folk, blues and gospel once they find it. "Respect the Dead" deserves a similar chance.
Respect the Dead
Label: NorthernBlues Music
All songs written by Otis Taylor
1. Ten Million Slaves
2. Hands on Your Stomach
3. Changing Rules
4. 32nd Time
5. Baby So
6. Shaker Woman
7. Black Witch
8. Seven Hours of Light
9. I Like You, But I Don't Love You
10. Jump Jelly Belly
11. Three Stripes on a Cadillac
12. Just Live Your Life
Otis Taylor, vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, electric banjo, harmonica, mandolin
Kenny Passarelli, bass, keyboard
Eddie Turner, lead guitar
Cassie Taylor, backup vocals
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