Album Review

Otis Taylor, 'Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs'

June 29, 2009
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Otis Taylor Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs
ESSENTIAL “Sunday Morning’’

With his guitar, banjo, gravelly voice, and songs that champion the underdog, Otis Taylor has become one of the most compelling bluesmen of our time. Taylor has long approached the blues with a jazz sensibility, but on “Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs’’ he goes full bore. Take his roster of musicians. Jason Moran, the most original jazz pianist of his generation, brought his trio (bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits) along for the date, and other stellar players such as trumpeter Ron Miles are here, too. Taylor’s tunes build and build like good dramas; he tells stories through song, and the music does the talking as much as the lyrics do. “I’m Not Mysterious’’ tells of an 8-year-old black boy who wants to walk a white girl home from school. “Dagger By My Side’’ is about an extramarital affair gone bad. “If You Hope’’ is a ghost story. The disc’s big surprise is the one song on which Taylor does not sing. His daughter, Cassie Taylor, who has a heavenly voice, gets the lead vocal on “Sunday Morning,’’ which just might be the year’s most beautiful song. (Out now) STEVE GREENLEE