Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Otis Taylor - Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc, 2007)

Originally an African instrument, the banjo has long had a history in African-American music before being adopted by white hillbillies for country and bluegrass music and usurped by the guitar in the blues. Taylor recruits some like minded fellow travelers such as Keb Mo and Alvin Youngblood Hart to bring this instrument back into the fold of the blues. Taylor's deep dark tales of race, loss and redemption are as profound as ever, and the use of the banjo and some backing vocals gives him even more of an old testament prophet feel. This disc includes impressive tales like "Ten Million Slaves" which recounts the journey in shackles to America, the opening "Ran So Hard the Sun Went Down" which is a harrowing tale of going on the lam to escape a lynching for the crime of talking to the wrong person. The haunting graveyard tale of "Five Hundred Roses" and alcoholic despondency of "Absinthe" are countered by the joyful stomp of "Little Liza Jane," the easy rolling "Walk Right In" with it's addition on female background vocals and gentle harmonica, "Les Oignonos", sung in French, also lightens the mood, and shows the different roles the banjo had in African-American music, and the oft-covered murder ballad "Hey Joe" will be familiar to rock 'n' roll fnas. This is a well done and thoughtful album that both sheds light on a forgotten tradition and also manages to be thoroughly modern and socially aware blues music.

Send comments to: Tim