8.3
Music  |  Reviews

Otis Taylor: Otis Taylor's Contraband

[Telarc]

February 16, 2012  |  11:29am
Otis Taylor: <i>Otis Taylor's Contraband</i>

Far more immaculate than illicit.

As charged with ritual significance and promise as the basic art form may be, it’s actually hard to find good modern blues records. Cheap production values with too many horns and rote shuffles clutter the landscape, and original voices are disappointingly scarce. But every now and then an album like Otis Taylor’s latest comes along in a gust of inspiration. Across these 14 tracks, Taylor shows a stunning range while studiously avoiding clichés.

Like Taj Mahal, he’s able to bring kinetic spirit and smooth musicality to Delta-based acoustic/banjo work (even stray Mumford fans will be dazzled by “Lay On My Delta Bed”), but he’s also able to pull-off electric urban romps that would equally woo Robert Cray devotees. His singing is crisp and unadorned while his playing is measured and tasteful. Sprinkled lyrically with a knack for character study and sketch-driven storytelling, these songs feel like songs rather than just vehicles for solos or nods to well-known patterns. In short, it’s a modern blues record that even non-blues fans can love and that blues fans can outright cherish.

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