Definition of a Circle explores the secret places where blues, folk and rock converge
"Otis Taylor is one of the most innovative, thought provoking blues artists to emerge in the last 20 years."
A circle, by its simplest definition, is a space without corners. But Otis Taylor, a songwriter and musician with little interest in definitions or conventions, follows no creative rules but his own. Taylor's version of dark, edgy blues is all about the corners – the rarely visited and often forgotten recesses of the human experience that are obscured by shadow and mystery.
It's this fearlessness in the face of the unknown and the forgotten that garnered high praise from the music press for Below the Fold, his 2005 Telarc release. Paste called him "a country-folk version of spontaneous, talking-blues master John Lee Hooker," while The New Yorker proclaimed that "he's always heading toward places you haven't seen." Dirty Linen simply called his music "startling."
Definition of a Circle, Taylor's latest offering on Telarc, is another trip into these uncharted places. The album, scheduled for release on February 28, 2007, is a 12-song set that ranges from the personal to the political, and compels listeners to join him on the eye-opening journey. The recording includes a diverse and outstanding cast of session players: trumpter Ron Miles (a consistent winner in Downbeat's poll of top ten trumpet players), British blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore, blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite and jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara. As always, Otis' daughter Cassie Taylor adds a layer of haunting vocals to the set.
Definition of a Circle opens with the churning and edgy "Little Betty," a track whose energy is fueled by Taylor's droning banjo riffs and daughter Cassie's rock-solid bass undercurrent. Gary Moore accents the song with tasty electric guitar riffs that turn up the heat but never overpower the mix. The followup track, "Black Mandolin's Boogie," is a song about the plight of the Gypsies in Europe. Reminiscent of classic John Lee Hooker, the track rides on a recurring mandolin and drum combination (Taylor and Josh Kelly, respectively) that's nearly hypnotic.
Musselwhite steps in to lend a hand on "Looking Over Your Fence," a creepy monologue by a man who's forever watching his neighbor and threatening to take his wife and land. There's no question that a deadly feud is brewing as the song fades out with the haunting vocal line: "Maybe we'll go to war…"
Further in, "Few Feet Away" is a heartfelt lullabye from a father to his bi-racial child. The track showcases Cassie Taylor's stirring vocals, with understated but effective accents by cornetist Ron Miles and cellist Zach Miskin. On the edgier side, Taylor's growling vocals combined with Moore's searing guitar riffs turn "Love and Hesitation" into a blues-rock hybrid that maximizes the visceral energy of both genres.
"Long Long Life" is a predominantly instrumental track that juxtaposes the dueling pianos of Taylor and jazz virtuoso Hiromi Uehara. The result is a tug-of-war of styles, loaded with tension and accented by the deft hands of cornetist Ron Miles's organist Brian Juan. The closer, "Lifetime of Freedom," is a simple but powerful anthem to the idea of freedom as something greater than any material possession.
Otis Taylor's latest offering is yet another riveting examination of the infinite complexities of the human experience. Forget whatever notions and preconceptions you may have about where we all stand in relation to the center. Otis Taylor has his own Definition of a Circle, and it's likely to change the way you look at whatever comfortable sphere you live in.