Thursday, June 3, 2010

Frontier Revival, vol. 3: Otis Taylor

(Every other Thursday, FP highlights modern takes on folk, blues, jazz, and more)

In case you slept through Freshman Anthropology, the Clovis people settled the North American continent some 13,000 years ago, and were named for a cache of their tools found a century ago in Clovis, New Mexico. Shortly before Otis Taylor began work on his new record, Clovis People Vol. 3., anthropologists found more stone-age tools a few hundred yards from his home in Boulder, Colorado. While Taylor never recorded a Volume 1 or 2, the album's title suggests a continuing journey.

Clovis features Otis' patented "trance-blues" meditations, with sounds that complement the record's metaphysical themes. Few chord changes interrupt the repetitive blues figures. The lyrics are spare and presented in simple melodies or in the talking-blues style of John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins. As Taylor says, “The more words you put into a song, the less freedom the listener has to decide what it means.” The rhythm section provides strong pedaled back-beats over which Taylor picks and strums his guitar. Other lead instruments include fiddle and trumpet. The leads are often high and suspended, weaving through a few background notes drenched in reverb. The effect is not unlike a synthesizer or the eerie tones of a theramin. Overall, the production blends technical effects like hard stereo panning and reverb with the musicians' sensitivity and good timing.

Otis Taylor - Hands on Your Stomach

On one of the strongest tracks, “Hands on Your Stomach”, Taylor recounts an encounter with a ghost who implores him to put his “hands on his stomach and let the spirits come through.” “Harry, Turn the Music Up” is a story of a trip into the desert. “Babies Don't Lie” explores nascent human innocence. Taylor also explores some standard blues themes. “Ain't No Cowgirl” deals with a shot-gun toting hell raiser. “Coffee Women” is a pleading prayer by a man torn between two women.

Otis Taylor - Babies Don't Lie

Otis Taylor - Ain't No Cowgirl

Taylor picks his moments with care. The lyrics arrive at the right moment and never overstay their welcome. The musical repetitions are hypnotic, but never boring. And while the Clovis People themselves don't make an appearance, this record evokes the expansive space where they dwelled: the plateaus of Colorado, the deserts of northern New Mexico and the plains of the West. Listening to the album, you may not want to snap out of the trance.


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