Respect The Dead is not all about hot guitar licks, funky bass beats or screeching vocals. Instead, this CD showcases the talents of a man who is quickly becoming one of the more talented and creative songwriters in today's blues world.
Otis Taylor, a native of the Boulder, Colorado area, writes about topics that the rest of society tries to forget, covering themes like slavery, the Civil Rights movement, death, sexual abuse, etc. Even the titles of Taylor's CDs set the expectation that you're not likely to be playing this music for your next dance party ... Blue Eyed Monster, When Negroes Walked The Earth, White African and, now, Respect The Dead.
Taylor's latest starts off with "Ten Million Slaves," an urgent, stirring number about slaves crossing the ocean in cramped, inhumane conditions on passage ships. He gives the song more of a primal feel through the use of banjo accompaniment as well as background chanting.
The next number, "Hands On Your Stomach," also deals with the slavery issue, and is given an eerie feeling through the use of slide guitar and other effects.
"32nd Time" is a tribute to those people who have died for a cause. Taylor sings "...the streets were hot, but the blood ran cold..." He then goes through a roll call of places, like Selma, Wounded Knee and Kent State, where innocent lives have been taken. Taylor's narrative and vocals are shouted out over a pulsing, rhythmic guitar beat from Eddie Turner.
Taylor gives the next cut, "Baby So," more of an earthy sound, trading off his solo harmonica playing with shouting vocals on a song about a 1930s-era love triangle.
One of Taylor's strengths is his ability to put the listener right into the situations described in his compositions. "Black Witch" is a chilling song about an evil woman in the South who is taken as a mistress by a white man. The haunting vocals, eerie effects and rhythmic beat give the listeners the shivers after only a few minutes.
The next cut, "Seven Hours Of Light," is a SERIOUS blues about the effects of depression. Again, the listener is made to feel the music as much as hearing it, but this time more through the words and the timing of the song, as Taylor accompanies himself only on acoustic guitar.
On "Jump Jelly Belly," Taylor again goes to the history books to tell the tale of a black sailor during World War II who was forced to complete a dangerous jump between two cargo ships on rough seas. Muffled, echoed vocals give this number a distinctive, old time sound.
Otis Taylor is only recently beginning to receive the acclaim that he deserves. Respect The Dead will that next step forward for his blues career. For more information, check www.otistaylor.com.
The NorthernBlues label has consistently issued high quality recordings from both American artists, like Taylor, Johnny Jones and Archie Edwards, and Canadian performers, such as Rita Chiarelli, Paul Reddick & the Sidemen and Harry Manx. They also have one of the nicest record company web sites I've seen yet --- www.northernblues.com. Great job, folks!
--- Bill Mitchell
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