Album Review: Fantasizing About Being Black by Otis Taylor
Excellent, Based on 5 Critics
AllMusic - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Otis Taylor stands alone among 21st century blues musicians in his fearlessness in redefining what the music means in modern society. He pushes forward, but he also has a deep knowledge of its history, and 2017's Fantasizing About Being Black draws upon the past to offer commentary of contemporary race relations in America. Taylor's 11 original compositions -- including four earlier tunes re-recorded for this record -- take stock of African American history, from slavery into the present, but there's a concentration of stories from the 20th century, including songs devoted to World War II and Civil Rights marchers.
The perennial criticism that "not much happens" in an Otis Taylor song has never rung more hollow. At heart, the trancebluesman is a storyteller, and on this fifteenth album he bites off an odyssey, tracing the African-American experience and drawing some ugly conclusions. Pointedly armed with the same instruments - banjo, fiddle - as slaves on the southern plantations, Taylor draws us into a nightmarish world where meeting a white woman's eye means death (Twelve String Mile), where shackled slaves go mad in the sun (Banjo Bam Bam) and civil rights marchers are attacked and abused (Jump Out Of Line).
The Upshot: An album making an impact on the soul that will be felt until the end of one's days. BY MICHAEL TOLAND One of the few contemporary blues artists who builds on tradition instead of refining it, Denver's Otis Taylor has almost quietly amassed a monstrously powerful body of work over the course of two decades. His distinctive style of trance blues, as effective banged out on a flat-top as filtered through an amplifier, has redefined the country blues on which it's based, and given Taylor a versatile platform on which to voice his concerns.
Otis Taylor reaches back to a time before conscious soul or hip-hop to when John Lee Hooker rumbled with bleak portent over hypnotic roughshod guitar and Josh White fearlessly condemned segregation and racist atrocities. Born in 1948, Taylor started playing blues early, but stepped back in 1977, finally making his debut with 1996's Blue Eyed Monster - the first of 14 often unpredictable sets that placed him among America's most vital contemporary bluesmen. The last was 2014's astonishing Hey Joe Opus Red Meat, taking the classic murder ballad into new realms of dark reflection.
I ntended as a history of African-American life, from slavery onwards, the 15th album from "trance blues" maestro Otis Taylor proves a raw experience. Banjo Bam Bam, for example, is the voice of a shackled slave who is slowly losing his mind, Jump Out of Line an edgy, uptempo piece about civil rights marchers' fear of being attacked. Elsewhere come troubled stories of mixed-race relationships and children given up for adoption.