Recapturing the Banjo

Recapturing the Banjo

by Otis Taylor
     
 

Colorado bluesman Otis Taylor has cut a singular path as a musician, fearlessly asserting the "African" part of the African-American musical tradition. In any other hands, an album of banjo blues would seem quixotic, but for Taylor it makes perfect sense. The banjo is the American descendent of the West African banza, and its lute-like cadences backed the songs…  See more details below

Overview

Colorado bluesman Otis Taylor has cut a singular path as a musician, fearlessly asserting the "African" part of the African-American musical tradition. In any other hands, an album of banjo blues would seem quixotic, but for Taylor it makes perfect sense. The banjo is the American descendent of the West African banza, and its lute-like cadences backed the songs of Senegambian griots for centuries before the Grand Ol' Opry was erected. Taylor convenes something of a banjo summit, with participation of Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Gary Davis, Keb' Mo', and Don Vappie of the Creole Jazz Serenaders. Each man -- and woman, for the vocals of Taylor's daughter Cassie are featured on much of the record -- brings something different to the proceedings, from the full-band blues of "Live Your Life" and "Walk Right In," which feature horns and guitar; to Hart's lap steel- and-banjo take on "Hey Joe"; to the stripped-down folksongs such as "Deep Blue Sea," just Hart and Taylor on banjo and percussion. "Les Ognons" follows the banjo's route through the Caribbean via Haiti to New Orleans. The album opens with a banjo quartet (Harris, Hart, Vappie, and Taylor) and ends with a spare, melodic turn by Keb' Mo'. In between, Taylor and his compatriots rewrite the blues book even as they uncover the primacy of the 5-string banjo. Highly recommended for fans of Taj Mahal and Olu Dara, and, of course, the worthy albums by any of the participants, Recapturing the Banjo is deep blues -- deeply intriguing and rewarding.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Steve Leggett
Thanks to films like Deliverance and the rise of bluegrass since the mid-'50s, the banjo has come to be associated with white Appalachia in most people's minds, but the instrument actually has its origins in West Africa, arriving in the New World via the slave trade, and consequently became a dominant factor in early African-American song styles. A simple instrument with tremendous modal possibilities, the banjo, particularly in its five-string version, also has a much wider range of tones, approaches, and styles in its repertoire than most people only familiar with the slash-and-burn speed style of modern bluegrass are likely to realize. In this regard, the title of Otis Taylor's ninth album, Recapturing the Banjo, is quite literally a mission statement. Taylor has always featured the banjo on his various recording projects, but here he brings the instrument front and center and enlists the help of several other contemporary black musicians, including Alvin Youngblood Hart, Guy Davis, Corey Harris, Don Vappie, and Keb' Mo', to present the banjo in a clearer historical light. This is no archival museum album, however, and while it does encompass and illustrate several banjo styles, from the clawhammer work of Davis on the traditional "Little Liza Jane" to the delicate picking style of Keb' Mo' on his own "The Way It Goes" and the jug band approach of Harris and Vappie on Gus Cannon's "Walk Right In," Recapturing the Banjo remains very much an Otis Taylor release, full of the kind of driving, modal trance tunes that he has always done so strikingly well. The opener, "Ran So Hard the Sun Went Down," a Taylor original, is a case in point. With a massed banjo army of Hart, Harris, Vappie, and Taylor himself, and amended by Taylor's daughter Cassie Taylor on bass and backup vocals, the song races in modal fashion with a steam-engine drive not unlike some of the North Mississippi trance blues of R.L. Burnside and company. It's all pretty exhilarating. This isn't an album full of purist intentions, either, and there's plenty of lap steel and electric guitar included in Taylor's powerful take on the old chestnut "Hey Joe," for instance, which features a guitar lead that even pays homage to Jimi Hendrix's famous version. Another highlight is Hart's stripped-down (just Hart on banjo and Taylor on percussion) reading of another traditional song, "Deep Blue Sea," that takes the banjo well out of the parlor. Taylor has yet to make a disappointing album, and Recapturing the Banjo is yet another striking example of how he combines the past and the present in a powerful contemporary cultural statement that informs and instructs even as it keeps the feet moving. So don't expect "Orange Blossom Special." This is the banjo in its original habitat given a 21st century twist while still paying tribute to its African past, and that's quite an impressive hat trick indeed.

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Product Details

Release Date:
02/05/2008
Label:
Telarc
UPC:
0089408366727
catalogNumber:
83667
Rank:
43815

Tracks

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Otis Taylor   Primary Artist,Banjo,Guitar,Mandolin,Percussion,Piano,Vocals,Background Vocals
Don Vappie   Banjo,Vocals,Guest Appearance
Corey Harris   Banjo,Vocals,Guest Appearance
Guy Davis   Harmonica,Mandolin,Vocals,Background Vocals,Guest Appearance
Alvin Youngblood Hart   Banjo,Guitar,Vocals,Background Vocals,12-string Guitar,Lap Steel Guitar,Guest Appearance
Cassie Taylor   Bass,Vocals,Background Vocals,12-string Guitar

Technical Credits

Gus Cannon   Composer
Dick Weissman   Liner Notes
David Glasser   Mastering
Otis Taylor   Arranger,Composer,Producer
Don Vappie   Arranger
Guy Davis   Arranger
Alvin Youngblood Hart   Arranger,Composer
Len Irish   Cover Photo
Traditional   Composer
Matt Sandoski   Engineer
Mark Johnson   Engineer

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