Rotation: Otis Taylor

Otis Taylor Definition of a Circle Telarc

While not one of the best-known contemporary blues players, the bearish, intimidating-looking Otis Taylor is certainly among the most unique. He's the rare artist who actively pushes the boundaries of the genre to create music both challenging and wholly identifiable with no one else. While Definition of a Circle has a couple of searing electric blues numbers ("Little Betty," "Love and Hesitation"), it's when Taylor plays sonic alchemist, layering guitar, bass and organ lines with healthy doses of cello, mandolin and cornet, that the interesting things happen ("Black's Mandolin Boogie," "Maharaja Daughter").

The album also showcases a variety of moods and characters. "Looking Over Your Fence," which features a menacing man who covets his neighbor's wife, and "Something in Your Back Packet," with its juke joint doorman turning away trouble, are both genuinely chilling collages with droning tones. Taylor is also capable of touching tenderness, particularly with his vocals, in "Few Feet Away" (a lullaby to a bi-racial child) and "My Name Is General Jackson" (in which a nervous suitor asks a father for his daughter's hand in marriage). In the latter, a simple catch in Taylor's throat speaks volumes; his lyrics may be sparse, but they carry weight. While a few tracks overstay their welcome (the Hurricane Katrina elegy "They Wore Blue" and "Lifetime of Freedom"), Definition of a Circle is overall an utterly grabbing work that shows the man as a multi-faceted craftsman willing to take real chances. - Bob Ruggiero

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