The folks at Canada's NorthernBlues Music have a knack for finding artists who have sunk into obscurity and putting the polish back on their careers. After more than a dozen years playing his unique brand of the blues, in 1977 Otis Taylor retired from the music business. In 1995, he was persuaded to return to the stage and enjoyed a degree of success. After he signed with NorthernBlues Music in 2001, Taylor began to receive accolades on many fronts, including numerous W. C. Handy nominations and awards, a fellowship to the Sundance Institute Music Composers Laboratory, and creation of the "Otis Taylor special edition electric banjocaster" by the Blue Star Guitar company. Not bad.
The music of Otis Taylor stands apart from what a lot of blues fans might consider to be blues music. Many blues fans tend to have a sort of tunnel-vision, listening only to very traditional acoustic blues in the tradition of Big Bill Broonzy or Leadbelly or to the hard-rocking electric blues of artists like B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy. These fans might not even recognize some of these songs as The Blues. More open minded listeners will see in this set something very special, an evolution of The Blues carrying the music of the past into the future.
This music may be of the city, but the sound leans heavily toward the folk side of things. As I listen to the songs, I'm reminded of a strange brew of artists including Richie Havens, Leonard Cohen, Tony Joe White, and even vocal groups such as The Spinners. These are story songs, rich with history and imagery, sometimes sung but sometimes simply spoken over the music. Excellent as the music may be, in these songs the words are the driving force, delivering characters and events that grab and hold our attention.
The stories here are powerful and evocative, with a definite political edge. Taylor's delivery is powerful and dramatic, his writing tight yet with the relaxed flow of the oral tradition. This is a perfect combination of the written and the spoken or sung word.