Otis Taylor sets himself a tall order by choosing two versions of ‘Hey Joe’ with which to convey a theme and set a high musical standard. He fashions the song to his own end, taking Hendrix’s reading of Tim Rose’s slow building arrangement and transforming it with an ambient drone, a trademark growl and a spider’s web of interwoven violin, cornet and guitar lines.
Given that the two versions total 11 minutes of 48 minute running time, there’s a case to be made for never mind the width, feel the quality. Ron Miles’s opening cornet solo and Warren Haynes’s intense guitar lines immediately hit a deep infectious groove that never lets go.
Not only does Otis cover the ‘Hey Joe’ twice, but he goes for the full hat-trick on ‘Sunday Morning’, a portentous trance-blues piece that buries itself deep into your psyche.
He colours it with echo reverb, pristine notes and a repeated pulsating heartbeat that lies at the core of the first and third versions, while the one minute 50 seconds of ‘Sunday Morning (B)’ is a restatement of a mood.
There’s an essential flow to the album which is anchored in repeated motifs and themes. It’s an ambient road trip that is routed in the antecedents of the blues and given a contemporary flavour by an electronic laden production.
There’s also a thematic core based around the consequences of the decisions we make, though in the case of the transsexual tale of ‘Peggy Lee, we’re none the wiser as to what they might be.
‘Hey Joe Opus Red Meat’ broadens his musical palate in terms of subject matter, while a combination of Anne Harris’s meandering violin, Daniel Sproul and Warren Haynes’s electric guitar parts, and the deft acoustic touches of Bill Nershi and Gus Skinas’s layered synth brings light and shade.
Cornet player Ron Miles is an integral part of the album’s subtle dynamics and Otis’s sonic landscape, adding a combination of intricately woven conversational lines and ambient sounds. No one piece overstays its welcome and Otis rations his brusque vocals on a suite of music comprising 10 interlocked pieces that segue into each other.
He summons up several partially resolved tensions to evoke John Lee Hooker on the stream of consciousness blues ‘The Heart is a Muscle (Used For The Blues)’ and evokes Taj Mahal with some expressive phrasing on ‘Red Meat’.
The music has a linear flow that reaches its apex on the repeated hypnotic, ‘Sunday Morning’ . It builds remorselessly towards a final tension that is resolved by a belated cornet break.
Such is the impact of the album that you feel compelled to play it all over again. Recommendations don’t come any stronger than that. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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