Otis Taylor Examines the Darker Dimensions of Love
No one ever accused blues singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Otis Taylor of overindulging in the brighter and happier aspects of the human condition. His songs are often peopled with characters whose emotional landscape – no matter how raw or dark – is laid bare for all to experience, and the story is often less than pretty.
But if love – in any or all of its joyous and painful variations – is somewhere amid that confusing emotional swirl, he’ll go there too. The result will by no means be syrupy, over-simplistic ballads obsessing over romantic love. Instead, Taylor’s love songs take a hard, realistic look at the relative benefits and costs of what is perhaps the most confusing and unnerving of forces within the human heart.
Taylor’s new recording, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, throws a light on the complexities of love in all of its forms. The album is set for June 23, 2009, release on Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group. In addition to Taylor’s trademark haunting vocals and simple but stirring guitar riffs – a combination often referred to as trance blues – the album also features guest appearances by Irish blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore (previously heard on Taylor’s Definition of a Circle in 2007) and jazz/hip-hop pianist Jason Moran.
Within these songs of love are tales of tragedy and loss, misunderstanding and deception – but often a glimmer of hope as well. “That’s just my nature,” says Taylor. “I may write love songs, but they aren’t always going to be happy and pretty. Look at songs like ‘Teen Angel’ or ‘Ode To Billy Joe.’ Those are love songs, but they aren’t exactly happy. So why shouldn’t my songs be considered love songs?”
Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs follows Taylor’s 2008 opus, Recapturing the Banjo, and album that celebrated the African roots of an instrument whose origins have been largely obscured by its subsequent associations with Appalachian folk music.
“This is a different kind of endeavor for me,” he says of the new recording. “I found myself saying, ‘What can I do after making a banjo album? What will people want to listen to?’ My answer was love songs. I’m doing things here that I didn’t have the opportunity to do on previous albums, things that people wouldn’t normally expect from me, compared to what I’ve done so far. I think it’s one of my best works because it has such unusual elements.”