Labeling Otis Taylor a blues man is painting the man in an unneeded corner. After all, the Chicago musician is fluent playing guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and a celebrated singer/songwriter. His music has blurred the lines of blues, jazz, psychedelic, and roots rock.
On his latest effort, ‘Fantasizing About Being Black,’ Taylor ventures more into a historical journey penning thought-provoking songs about his African American heritage in Africa to his brethren in the Mississippi Delta and reoccurring and unfortunately, recent topics of racism. The topic may come off as heavy, but Taylor writes with a poetic spirit.
Released on his own Trance Blues Festival label, Taylor’s 15th studio album is an adventure into African history, which you probably never learned in school and it is backed with an innovative sound finding Taylor experimenting with African sounds to New Orleans jazz and Chicago blues. ‘Fantasizing About Being Black’ feels more like a cinematic soundtrack than a blues record with Taylor singing/talking his way through his stories almost like a spoken word piece or a concept album.
Opening with the gentle groove of “Twelve String Mile” the tone is set as Taylor sings of a slave who is never seen, but knows he is surely going to die soon. “Banjo Bam Bam,” continues the slave in shackles story behind muscular banjo playing while the following song, “Hands on Your Stomach” does a 180 twist with a blues rocker. “Tripping on This” is a Delta Blues gem similar to Muddy Waters as Taylor tells the touching story of a father and son reunited after nearly 50 years. Taylor picks up an acoustic guitar to play intimate blues similar to Son House on the compelling “D to E Blues,” where the sparse fiddle playing punctuates the theme of searching for freedom. “Jump to Mexico” reflects the perils of interracial relationships in the recent past and highlights slide guitar master Jerry Douglas in a soft and heartbreaking Americana ballad.
‘Fantasizing About Being Black’ features seven new tracks from Taylor and new renditions of two of his previous recordings — “Twelve String Mile,” from ‘When Negroes Walked the Earth’ and “Walk on Water” from ‘Truth Is Not Fiction and Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs.’ Additionally, “Hands on Your Stomach” and “Jump Jelly Belly” are taken from ‘Respect the Dead.’ All four revised songs fit perfectly into the theme of this new offering.
Otis Taylor’s ‘Fantasizing About Being Black’ is so timely and incredibly educational from a black man’s perspective. It is better than any history lesson I was ever taught in my school days. Civil Rights movement, hypocrisy of public officials, slaves, even World War II is covered here and it all boils down to freedom for all — what a concept.