It is difficult to believe that the music industry narrowly escaped a major tragedy when in 1977 blues artist Otis Taylor retired from singing and playing for almost 20 years. He had become frustrated due to philosophical differences between himself and his UK-based record label.
As legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey is apt to say, and now for the rest of the story. In 1995. Taylor emerged from a very successful private business and a stint as an athletic coach to return to music. What has transpired since has been nothing short of a phenomenal run of spellbinding and critically acclaimed records, including Blue Eyed Monster (1997), When Negroes Walked The Earth (1998), White African (2001), Respect The Dead (2002), Truth Is Not Fiction (2003), Double V (2004), Below The Fold (2005) and now he has unleashed upon us his Definition Of a Circle (2007).
The call and response between Taylor’s vocals and lead guitarist Gary Moore rivet your attention from the onset of the opening track "Little Betty." Moore conjures up images of Jimmy Page’s guitar work from his Yardbirds days and then wraps them in solid blues chords. Taylor accompanies himself playing the banjo while daughter Cassie Taylor plays bass.
The confrontational "Looking Over Your Fence," a song about coveting your neighbor’s possessions and family, possesses hard-edged riffs that underscore the darker theme while Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica preserves a more traditional blues element to the music.
Cassie Taylor’s beautiful and ethereal vocals introduce "They Wore Blue" and provide a moving counterpoint to her father’s gritty, grousing vocals. Otis Taylor’s lyrics give us a stirring and haunting commentary on the American government’s many failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Brian Juan’s spectacular organ chops are the centerpiece for a stunning instrumental bridge which also highlights the gifted Nick Amodeo on electric mandolin, Otis Taylor on guitar and once again Cassie Taylor on bass.
Throughout Definition Of A Circle, Taylor, a multiple Blues Awards nominee and a W.C. Handy Award winner, weaves a tapestry of more traditional blues notes with some innovative modern chord progressions. Thematically this songbook tackles a diverse range of subjects including political commentary, lust, lost love and racial issues.
The sad and emotive "Few Feet Away," a duet between father and daughter, poignantly comments on the narrow minded and sectarian views that too often still permeate society when it comes to interracial marriage. Ron Miles’ coronet laments the plight of child and parent in this dark tune.
"Something In Your Back Pocket" is a reminder of the days when blacks and whites were forbidden from attending the same music and eating establishments because of segregationist legislation such as the Jim Crow Laws. Juke joints were established and eventually morphed into what became known as the Chitlin’ Circuit, giving rise to future stars such as B.B. King, Ray Charles, Patti Labelle and the Supremes performing in establishments such as Austin’s Victory Grill, Harlem’s Apollo Theater and Detroit’s Fox Theater.
Although I enjoyed "My Name Is General Jackson," it may have worked better as a male duet because we have Taylor singing both the part of the man pleading for the hand of a woman and the father who continually tells him to go away. The two-part monologue is set to Ron Miles’ melancholic coronet and the beautiful keys of Brian Juan, this time on piano.
"Love And Hesitation," a hybrid blues/funk/rock number, is well worth the listen. As is the case with most of the cuts from this splendid album, Taylor’s vocals take the backseat to a dazzling instrumental display and that is more of a tribute to fine musicianship than it is a comment on Taylor’s vocals. Moore, both Taylors and Juan perform some cleverly crafted charts.
As Definition Of A Circle continues to spin you develop a deep appreciation for Otis Taylor’s banjo playing, it is apparent why he received consecutive (2005 and 2006) Blues Music Awards nominations for Best Instrumentalist in the banjo category. If you enjoy blues music that features great instrumentals, provocative lyrics and gritty vocals, then you are going to love Definition Of A Circle.