VOICES Notes and news on Contemporary Jazz releases
25 APR 12 JONATHAN WIDRAN
A celebrated bluesman who transcends the tradition via colorful experimentation and bold craftsmanship via the guitar, banjo and harmonica, Otis Taylor brings a fascinating history to his nearly decade long catalog on Telarc -- which includes his latest multi-faceted offering Contraband.
Originally from Chicago, he grew up in Denver playing the banjo, but his father wanted him to be a jazz musician. Upon hearing that the banjo was originally an African instrument turned almost exclusively into a white bluegrass instrument in part through the derogatory black-face minstrel shows of the 19th century, Taylor dropped the banjo and began to focus solely on the guitar and harmonica. He played music professionally both in Europe and the United States in a variety of blues-oriented bands until 1977, when he left the music industry for other pursuits, including becoming an antique dealer.
Since returning to music in the mid-'90s, there’s been no stopping him. He has earned eleven Blues Music Awards nominations, including his latest in 2009 for his banjo playing. He won Downbeat Magazine’s Critics Poll various times for Blues CD of the Year, most recently in 2008 for Recapturing the Banjo. A master of the unexpected, Taylor draws on a mix of roots music in their rawest form and, despite his personal lighthearted delivery, has no problem singing about hard topics like murder, homelessness, tyranny and injustice.
Contraband, which splits its 14 tracks between electric and acoustic, features his trademark mix of tempos and styles, beginning with the rousing rocker “The Devil’s Gonna Lie,” then strutting playfully on “Banjo Boogie Blues,” telling a heartfelt story on the laid back “Blind Piano Teacher and firing back up on “Contraband Blues.”