Below the Fold – Otis Taylor
The title of Otis Taylor's newest record could be his motto. Like a man from another planet, wielding otherworldly blues from beyond the Delta, Chicago, or New Orleans, the man and his music lie somewhere outside the fold of traditional blues. More specifically, Below the Fold, is where his primal rhythms and ancient melodies abandon the blues’ standard twelve-bar structure for a bottom-dwelling, hypnotic style that combines mournful angst, damning accusations and celebratory gospel with Taylor’s throbbing undercurrents into a poetic, brown acid psychedelia that’s too busy chronicling infidelity, old age, and social injustice to stop and smell the pink elephants.
The album's closer, "Right Side of Heaven," expresses a heaven-bound confidence known only by the righteous and imperfect in the face of unrelenting (and sometimes irresistible) temptation, and "Went to Hermes" is content, easy strumming for later-life, rocking chair, "wonderful days," but these two are the only bright nuggets Below the Fold digs from the dirt of its dark resignation. Taylor’s daughter and bassist, Cassie, sings hopefully on "Working for the Pullman Company," but the rest of the album suggests that daddy’s train ain’t coming back.
Old men get older on "Boy Plays Mandolin" and "Hookers in the Street," which suss out life's simple pleasures long after it's too late to enjoy them, and "Didn't Know Much About Education" teaches good lessons from bad experience lived beneath a thumping, back-alley, twelve-bar style. A crying fiddle floats atop a scarred battle field on "Government Lied," and Taylor's laid-back strumming reminds us of the sad fact that death usually comes first to those who have suffered the most already.
The aged experience in Taylor's voice give it a wisdom and antiquity that refuse to be ignored, and with the force of drums finally behind his otherwise idiosyncratic blues formula, traditionalists may find it harder to turn away. Taylor's music has an inherent urgency in spite of, or more likely because of his temporal and stylistic distance from traditional blues. He is too busy framing the emotions behind these abstract, expressive songs to worry over peripherals like melody and form. These blues don't need to be spoon-fed, because we've swallowed so much of them already.