In a discussion I heard on the radio the other day, a pundit suggested the blues as a genre needs to speak to “today’s reality” to find a wider, younger audience. I have found such a voice and such a reality.
Otis Taylor’s fourth album, Truth Is Not Fiction, is a dangerous, biting, contemporary, mesmerizing tour through Taylor’s penetrating, fearless, even disturbing psyche. Arranged and produced by bassist Kenny Passarelli (Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg, Hall and Oates, Elton John – been wondering what happened to that dude), Taylor runs all around the outskirts of what is stylistically called “the blues” without ever once playing an identifiable “blues lick” (apart from an occasional John Lee Hooker boogie vamp).
In fact, it is only in retrospect after hearing Taylor’s stories of Native American despair (“Kitchen Towel”), black courage (“Rosa, Rosa,” “Be My Witness,” “Shakie’s Gone”), pointillistic unrequited love (“Comb Your Brown Hair”), and organ memory (“Be My Frankenstein”) that you even realize he is singing the blues. Taylor’s unorthodox instrumentation – he plays the Ome banjo, mandolin, and lap steel guitar in addition to electric and acoustic guitar, Eddie Turner plays a rocking, psychedelicized lead guitar, Ben Sollee’s cello graces three tracks – in conjunction with his commanding vocals and shaman’s story-weaving powers turn Truth is Not Fiction into a kind of magic realist journey where reality past, present and future intermingle and refuse to be silenced.
Creativity and a distinctive edge have returned to the blues in the person of Otis Taylor – may he find the audience he deserves.