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Posted: May 20, 2009

Otis Taylor teams up with Ron Miles and Jason Moran at Dazzle

Boulder bluesman’s next disc is laced with jazz

Mike Cote

Fresh from his Blues Music Award for best banjo playing – after 14 nominations – Boulder bluesman Otis Taylor returns to metro Denver for four shows over two nights at Dazzle, teaming up with Denver cornetist Ron Miles and Blue Note Records heavyweight pianist Jason Moran at the intimate jazz club. (At press time, the 7 p.m. Friday show was already sold out, so don’t delay.)

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Otis Taylor

Miles has appeared on record and on the stage with Taylor previously, but Moran’s piano is a new element in Taylor’s sound. The young jazz/hip-hop pianist is featured prominently along with Miles on Taylor’s upcoming Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs album, due June 23 from Telarc International.

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Taylor told me several years back during an interview for Blues Revue magazine that he was considering writing some love songs. Considering the dark, brooding nature of his music, I didn’t take him seriously. Looks like he wasn’t joking, but that doesn’t mean Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs is any less intense or more upbeat than the rest of his body of work.

In Taylor’s now trademark liner notes - brief descriptions of songs that help flush out the narrative sketches he conjures – he describes album opener “Looking for Some Heat” as “the journey of a man looking for love and sunshine.” It’s the kind of raw, basic emotion Taylor has long captured in his music. Moran’s piano and Miles’ cornet add color in the background as Taylor’s repeats a weary, desperate plea.

Bass player Cassie Taylor, the singer-songwriter’s daughter and a constant in his band for several years now, handles lead vocals on a few tracks, including the gentle “Sunday Morning,” which features strings as well as acoustic lead guitar by British blues rocker Gary Moore.

You can count on Taylor to redefine the parameters of love songs. “Silver Dollar on My Head” was inspired by Taylor’s uncle. When he was young and got injured, his grandmother “would put a silver dollar on his forehead to make the pain go away.” On “Lost My Guitar,” a man appears to be missing an old instrument but he’s really mourning the death of a child, Taylor notes. And “Mama’s Best Friend” is about a woman who leaves her husband for another woman.

Call it an alternate American Songbook, one that digs at truth too many fear to tread and examines the power and complexity of love beyond mere romance.

From the music box:

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BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO Lay Your Burden down (Alligator)
Here’s the record you pop in your CD player to pump up your mood. Buckwheat Zydeco, led by accordionist and organist Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, bridges rock and blues with the roots music of Louisiana. Produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame, Lay Your Burden Down rocks harder than fans might associate with the band, thanks in part to smoking slide guitar from guest Sonny Landreth (on “Lay Your Burden Down” and “The Wrong Side”) and lead guitar from Warren Hanes (Gov’t Mule, Allman Brothers, the Dead) on the title track. Alligator Records label mate J.J. Grey contributes and sings on the uptempo R&B song “The Wrong Side.” As always, Dural is a charismatic singer, and there’s plenty of his trademark accordion plus that Hammond B3 organ wafting through these tunes.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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