By Michael Popke
Otis Taylor may release albums under the guise of a bluesman, but the veteran singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist often turns the genre on its side and even its head. His chilling songs are inspired by Appalachian folk music and brazenly reference the horrors of racism, the indignities of the healthcare crisis and the realities of heroin addiction without relying on standard blues arrangements. With such potent lyrics, musical categorization simply doesn’t matter.
On Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, Taylor and his dusty voice examines the complexities of love in many of its forms: “Sunday Morning,” peacefully sung by Taylor’s 21-year-old daughter Cassie and featuring Gary Moore’s understated flamenco guitar, yearns for a long-gone lover; “Lost My Guitar,” based on a true story from 1974, laments death of a child; “I’m Not Mysterious” confronts mixed-race relationships through the puppy love of two 8-year-olds; and “Mama’s Best Friend” revolves around Taylor’s lesbian mother.
Musically, Taylor allows squawking cornet, jazz piano, Odjembe drums and cello to inhabit these sparse yet emotionally draining songs. It’s not his most compelling work, but it nevertheless becomes easily entangled with the rest of Taylor’s challenging oeuvre.