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Music Review: Otis Taylor – Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs

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A lot of people play the blues but Otis Taylor lives the blues. Just past sixty, he is carrying on the legacy and artistry of traditional American blues. He has a laid back vocal style which belies his gritty, realistic, and sometime brutal songs of life.

Taylor has had two careers. He began as a bluegrass banjo picker before switching to the guitar and the blues in the late sixties. He played in a number of bands and as a solo artist until 1978 when he left the music scene and became among other things, an antique dealer. He re-emerged as a blues artist of note in 1995 and his output has been prolific as he has now released his tenth studio album in fourteen years.

Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs contains soothing music and mostly painful lyrics. It is an odd but effective combination and ads up to some of the best blues music being produced today.

Taylor has a wonderful way of creating textures that give his material depth. “Looking For Some Heat” is one of his love songs that does not end well. His vocal is understated and acoustic guitar playing stellar. He then weaves a piano and cornet throughout the song which makes the sound unique.

Several years ago he formed a musical relationship with guitarist Gary Moore who appears on three of the thirteen tracks. “Sunday Mornin’” features a lead vocal by bass player Cassie Taylor. Otis lays down the rhythm while Moore provides a counterpoint with his electric, acoustic guitar. He plays with restraint and provides about as perfect a performance as you will ever hear. “Lost My Guitar” is a lament about the death of a child in a car accident. Gary Moore pulls out his electric guitar and twists the strings to create a sound that compliments the lyrics. "If You Hope" is a fusion of styles as Moore and Taylor blend together and integrate jazz, rock, and blues structures.

Otis Taylor returns to his roots with “I’m Not Mysterious.” The song is about the friendship of two eight years olds of different races and the tensions that it creates. There is some strong guitar playing by Taylor as he demonstrates just how good he can be when he wants too. It makes me wish he would step forward and show off a bit more.

Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs is an excellent blues album. Its music is both subtle and challenging. Otis Taylor has produced what is essentially an album of very different love songs and I recommend it as a definite buy.

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