When Otis Taylor puts out a new album, you know that you are going to get a few basics-- songs about historical injustices, dark religious themes, unusual instrumentation, and the dark groove of what he calls, "trance blues." That's all here. Taylor's sound keeps evolving in small steps, though, and this album fits very neatly next to Clovis People, by virtue of the prominent roles played alternately by Chuck Campbell's pedal steel (which first appeared with Taylor on Clovis People) and frequent collaborator Ron Miles' cornet or trumpet. Most of the songs feature either Campbell or Miles, with the Campbell tracks leaning closer to rock-influenced gospel-blues, and the Miles tracks being jazzier, as one would expect. If you were hoping to hear Campbell and Miles meet in the middle and jam together around one of Taylor's compositions, you are not going to get much of that. In fact, both Campbell and Miles play in a much more subdued manner than one might expect. After all, while Taylor is a storyteller when it comes to lyrics, he is essentially a sonic painter. Each song, or perhaps "trance," is built around a simple structure in order to create a groove. That approach doesn't lend itself to extended solos that go off into the stratosphere, as either Campbell or Miles would be likely to do on their own. This might seem like a waste of their talents, but when the music really calls for it, Taylor showcases the virtuosity of his side-men.
It should also be noted that while Taylor's sound has evolved since his first few albums (obviously, an album featuring Eddie Turner is going to sound very different from an album featuring Chuck Campbell), Taylor continues to return to the same basic melodic and rhythmic structures that he always uses. As forward-thinking as he is, he follows the old blues tradition of reusing musical ideas. They are always somewhat modified, as though he is tinkering with his creations, but when it gets right down to it, these structures are the basis for the Otis Taylor sound. He has created his own subgenre of blues. He gets to make the rules. Let him put you in a "trance," and you won't be disappointed.
One other thing that must be said-- there isn't enough of Otis' daughter Cassie on this album. Cassie handles most of the bass duties, but why let her voice go to waste? I love the way her spooky, soulful voice has worked with her father's compositions in the past. Of course, if you just want to hear Cassie's voice, you now have some other options.