Otis Taylor

Below the Fold

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Otis Taylor doesn't suffer fools lightly, and his insistent, hard-driving modal songs, full of defiant reclamations of history and tender vignettes of people struggling to survive in hostile cultural territory, are like nothing else on the contemporary blues scene. Imagine John Lee Hooker if he had grown up in the Appalachians and cut his teeth playing with a steam-driven mountain string band, then add in the fierce political commitment of a Peter Tosh, and you begin to get the picture. On Below the Fold, his third release for Telarc Records, Taylor stays well within the seam of his previous work, which is by no means a bad thing, and for the first time he actually adds drums (played by Greg Anton) to a few tracks, which is a bit like shoveling Sterno into the boiler, and cuts like the opening "Feel Like Lightning" literally explode down the track like a string band playing "Reuben's Train" on steroids. He calms things down a bit for the lovely "Boy Plays Mandolin," which features some beautifully spooky trumpet lines from Ron Miles. Arguably the most striking track here, however, is a song co-written with his teenage daughter Cassie Taylor (who plays bass on the album), "Working for the Pullman Company." Cassie came up with the melody and chorus when she was only five years old, and she handles the lead and harmony vocals on the song with impressive and wistful poise. Below the Fold fits easily into Taylor's emerging canon, and it has the same urgent, ragged beauty of his previous albums. He is unlikely to change the way he does things in the future, which is just fine, since his Appalachian griot approach is perfect for his musical and political agenda, and perfect for shaking up the complacency of the contemporary blues scene.

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