The elders among us remember Martin Luther King as "the most prominent representative in the struggle against oppression and social injustice, who was the most famous spokesman of the US Civil Rights movement between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, and who used civil disobedience as a means against the political practice of racial segregation in the southern states of the USA" (source: WIKIPEDIA). Is Otis Taylor something like the Martin Luther King of the US Blues scene? That would certainly grant him too much honor. Rather better Otis Taylor is kind of a singing historian of the tale of woe of the African-American part of the US population - at least as far as his latest album Fantasizing About Being Black is concerned. In fact, Otis Taylor succeeds in bringing life and suffering of the black people by songs of his fifteenth album to the point with just a few words and spirited melodies. Otis Taylor, who accompanies himself on the guitar and the banjo finds congenial instrumental support by Larry Thompson on the drums, Todd Edmunds on the bass, by Ron Miles with his cornet, guitarist Brandon Niederauer and last but not least by Jerry Douglas, lap-steel -guitar. Anne Harris, with her colorful violin playing in two songs, creates a dreamy blues mood. Although not all instrumentalists are active in all songs, they provide for a voluminous, rich sound, whenever appropriate.
With the opening song "Twelve String Mile", cornet and lap-guitar are the first to put us in an 80-year-old, distressingly oppressive southern scene in which Otis Taylor tells the sad fate of a black man hunted to death. Only seemingly brightened by a flamenco-like rhythm, "Walk in Water" is about the inevitably sad story of a mixed-race couple. A tied slave in "Banjo Bam Bam" is driven is driven slowly but surely to the edge of the madness, almost figuratively represented by a circling banjo melody. In "Hands On Your Stomach", spirits are called by the cornet wanting to drive a woman into the madness. "Jump Jelly Belly" tells of a black soldier who passes unhappily between two ships during load distribution. Once again, it is up to the cornet to conjure the threatening mood. All of these songs have been heard on earlier Otis Taylor albums, albeit partly in starkly different arrangements.
The remaining songs on Fantasizing About Being Black are completely new. On "Tripping On This", a father meets his multiracial son again after half a life. The peculiar mood of this happy / unfortunate event is brought closer to us by Otis Tylor, supported by an electro-banjo. The time of the first Civil Rights march is sung of in "Jump Out of Line" along with the accompanying fears. Not infrequently, whites from higher circles fell in love with black women. In "Just Want to Live With You" it is precisely such a "misalliance" whose existence at that time was perceived by the "better" society as unseemly. The two guitarists Taylor and Niederauer portray impressively the accompanying mood situation. "Roll Down The Hill" tells the story of the brave black man, who, after repeated ill-treatment, as well as the protagonist in "Jump to Mexico" cannot be downed, who ultimately jumps out of a window on the second floor, to escape the unjust judgment of a white judge.
May this startling, artistically successful Otis Taylor album contribute to his countrymen not being more strongly aroused than they already are in the current situation. And may it please also have a positive effect against xenophobia on our side of the Atlantic.
Otis Taylor, vocals, guitar, banjo
Brandon Niederauer, guitar
Jerry Douglas, Koa wood lap guitar
Anne Harris, Geige
Ron Miles, Cornet
Todd Edmunds, bass
Larry Thompson, drums