In concert: Otis Taylor
By Mike Joyce
Operating on just four hours sleep and confessing to feeling thoroughly caffeinated, Otis Taylor never settled down during his quartet’s opening set at Blues Alley on Thursday night. And when someone in the packed house suggested that he stop talking and start singing, the veteran bluesman shrugged off the comment before inviting more “questions and insults.” So in addition to somber meditations and relentless vamp-driven grooves, always Taylor’s strong suit, the show was peppered with banter and shtick.
(Following instructions, plus more pictures after the jump.)
Whether playing electric banjo or a Stratocaster, Taylor never reached for two chords when one would do. Like a latter day John Lee Hooker, he uses stagnant harmony to mesmerizing effect, and when you couple that ability with a flair for songwriting that rises far above the level of blues clichés, the result is potent and stirring. “Ten Million Slaves” and “Looking For Some Heat” offered sufficient proof of that.
What’s more, the show was consistently enlivened by renowned steel guitarist Chuck Campbell, who framed Taylor’s baritone voice and resonating chords with piercing moans, slashing slide work and Hendrix-inspired flourishes.
Taylor had no trouble engaging listeners, and he certainly wasn’t reluctant to instruct them — to sing, sway, stand or shout. The brooding soul man heard on recordings is an affable showman onstage. In fact, at one point Taylor delighted the audience by strolling through the club playing blues harmonica over a thudding “hambone” beat. Yet one couldn’t help but feel that more time should have been devoted to exploring his rich catalog of original songs.
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