Otis Taylor – Below The Fold (2005)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Most bluesmen sing the blues with sadness, resignation or even celebration. Not Otis Taylor. He’s got the blues and he’s pissed about it.

Whether it’s railing against racial discrimination against African-Americans since his 2000 debut When Negroes Walked The Earth, to homelessness, drug abuse and unaffordable health care, Taylor makes his anger known without couching them behind double-meaning metaphors. Lyrically, he’s a modern day JB Lenoir.

His delivery rarely rises to a howl but it’s always conveys despair and often hopelessness. And there’s no basic 12 bar blues like his contemporaries, either; he takes a single chord and milks it for all it’s worth, a la John Lee Hooker. And for good measure, he tosses in a good helping of Appalachian folk to create the sonic match for his down-home but biting lyrics

And so it goes for Taylor’s latest offering, Below The Fold. Although the album starts with something his previous five had none of: drums. “Feel Like Lightning” is a bluegrass flavored gumbo with a fiddle, Taylor’s banjo and a rock guitar. Drums are also employed for just two other tracks, but honestly, his tunes don’t really need any.

Elsewhere, a lightly played trumpet appears on tracks like “Boy Plays Mandolin” which also features some nice playing of the fretted instrument by Taylor. Later, Otis uses the infamous Ludlow Massacre of 1914 to convey the rage of the have-nots toward the haves in “Your Children Sleep Good Tonight”:

Mothers and babies sleep good in the ground
They ain’t never gonna see the light of day

Hey, Mr. Rockefeller I know your children sleep good tonight.
Hey, Mr. Rockefeller I know your children sleep good tonight.

“Went To Hermes” is one of the rare times Taylor expresses any kind of joy, but the wearied expression in his voice conveys a hard life who can’t believe he gets to enjoy the company of a woman.

Taylor also features his 19-year-old daughter Cassie on this record. Before, she just provided some background vocals and she does so here. But since 2004’s Double V, she also plays bass and contributed lead vocals on a song . For this go around she also provides a song that was mostly written by her at the age of five (!). And “Working For The Pullman Company” is a snappy, catchy number that provides a perfect respite from the dark bent of her father.

With an odd harmonica-trumpet-drum instrumentation “Right Side Of Heaven” sounds like a slice of New Orleans, and a uplifting way to end a pretty morose album.

Morose makes it sound bad, but Otis Taylor uses the somber mood in his songs to go straight for both your soul and conscience. And that he does so well than perhaps any of the other blues men and women who have come to light since the turn of the century.

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