Winner of the distinguished W.C. Handy Best New Artist blues award in 2002, Otis Taylor certainly deserved the recognition, though he was hardly new. A seasoned bluesman whose career dates back to the 1960s, Taylor became discouraged with the business and gave it up for antiquing in the late ’70s. It was only in the mid-’90s that he caught the musical bug again and returned, finally recording his debut in 2000.
On Truth Is Not Fiction, this fourth album, Taylor continues to explore political themes, working with a small band. Civil rights (“Rosa”, a majestic song about Rosa Parks), hangings, the struggles of American Indians, racial pride, slavery, and a harrowing Oedipal tale (“House Of The Crosses”) are part of the broad territory he covers, witnessed by characters that fight adversity at any cost. Powerful stuff, and beyond the usual blues fare for sure.
Taylor puts across these stories with a gritty voice, filled with longing and suffering, tinged with a soul shout, and driven by his fast-stepping electric mandolin, with spare production that places other instruments far off to create a satisfying aural space.
Anyone who’s seen Taylor’s live show may regret that he doesn’t often approach the intensity and fury on record that he unleashes on an audience. Nevertheless, Truth Is Not Fiction is a worthy addition to his output, further mapping his mission to expand the vocabulary of the blues.