Double V CD
May 2, 2004
By Rolf Olmsted
When this CD arrived in the mail I was cautious. I?d loved his three earliest albums; the fourth had been drenched in ?production values? and reverb and seemed aimed at the trance crowd. His songwriting power part-buried under expectations. Putting the new CD on the player was delayed by my caution. Too bad I waited. Otis is back home.
In songs ranging from a field holler to an ironic Christmas song to a sailor reading a letter, Otis evokes past and the present. If you?re looking to boogie down this isn?t it. A songwriter is at work here, and his roots are in the blues, jazz, folk, Langston Hughes, and the Beat Poets. He?s not interested in being the next Freddie King. Otis? great strength is that he evokes all this without being literary, preachy, or impersonal; none of his influences are separable from the others.
The album begins with a sailor reading a letter from his wife. To Caribbean lilt he sings "Please Come Home Before It Rains." "Oh, Yes, I will, I will, I?m coming home."
The second song is a stunning a cappella voice and harmonica blues "Took Their Land" somewhere between Sonny Boy?s "Mighty Long Time,? Sonny Terry?s "Mama Blues" and field recordings. ?Took their land and put them in concentration camps:? the Native American tragedy. Somehow deepest blues and filled with the feel of the dry lands at the same time.
"Plastic Spoon" is a desperate song about elderly poverty. "Just can?t eat no more dog food with a plastic spoon." Which will it be---prescription medicine or food?
"Mama?s Selling Heroin" is an autobiographical powerhouse with high people cackling and a young boy?s horror and loss. Cassie Taylor?s dreamy backup singing floating on top of the chant rhythm is powerful stuff.
"505 Train" is a distorted guitar song about spousal abuse. "Mama?s never coming back." Ooof.
In "North Mississippi Hill Country" style is the ringing chant "Mandan Woman (dance with me)" celebrating York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition . A stomp dance with the beat accent hiding in the ?three.? Otis? sense of inferring a larger story by telling a smaller one is affecting.
The whole CD is filled with great stories and ways of looking at things. The poor boy who "Ain?t gon? eat no reindeer meat, ?specially on Christmas Day" is a real poignant. And Cassie Taylor?s sweet and aching vocal "(Wish I could) Buy Myself Some Freedom (down at the Department Store) is a knock out.
Returning to what he does best, Otis Taylor has produced another great CD of songs with diverse influences. It?s not Chicago; it?s the West.
Rolf Olmsted was born on the banks of the Mississippi River and had a dog and played his father's mandolin. He was exposed to the blues at an early age which accounts for it. Among his accomplishments are reproduction, a collection of cheap guitars, and computer semi-literacy. He's guilty of attempted guitar and mandolin playing.