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CD Review: Otis Taylor

Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs (Telarc Blues)

There's certainly nothing novel about an album filled with love songs, and the concept isn't made any more revolutionary by putting it in a blues setting. But Otis Taylor is no mere blues practitioner, and these are no mere love songs. Taylor twists lyrical and musical forms on Pentatonic Wars, from prepubescent interracial love ("I'm Not Mysterious") to the woman who leaves her man for another woman ("Mama's Best Friend," based on Taylor's own mother) and the loss of an instrument as the metaphor for the loss of a child ("Lost My Guitar").

And while Pentatonic Wars is populated with standard blues depictions of lovers of all varieties — murderous, mournful, greedy, boastful, wandering — Taylor has placed them all in a distinctively chilled context, counterpointing his acoustic blues guitar with Jason Moran's jazzy piano and Ron Miles' slinky cornet for a sound that lives up to Taylor's own description of the music as trance-blues. The album's vocal textures are just as important. Taylor's emotive voice hovers somewhere between Ben Harper's and Taj Mahal's, and his daughter Cassie — who takes an occasional lead and provides a good deal of bass — has an appealing Alicia Keys quality, perfect for Pentatonic Wars' unconventional love songs and atypical smoky jazz/blues atmosphere. — Brian Baker


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