Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
This is a very heavy album. It discusses, through music, the African American experience. It is not always pretty or what we want to hear or believe, but these are the thoughts and words of man who has lived the experience. All of the songs tell stories about slavery, racism, inequality, and also some hope.
Although not always happy, Otis Taylor is keeping it real. He is a true social activist singing about the real life. He is not thinking about commercial success, but rather social awareness and change. That is the mark of true activism.
Otis Taylor has had quite an interesting life. He was an acclaimed musician until 1977 when he left the music industry for other pursuits. Taylor became a very successful antique dealer and did not dip his toes back into music until 1995. Since 1995, Taylor has released 15 albums, including Fantasizing About Being Black.
This album is classified as blues, but it is more complex than straight blues. It contains an airy, ambient feel to it and has elements of jazz. Some of the tracks contain cornet (similar to a trumpet) parts that give it that jazz authenticity. Some scat singing by Taylor also gives it that jazz feel.
As mentioned earlier, the songs touch on important racial and social issues. These may not be the easiest subjects to discuss or write about, but it is important in order to move our society forward. The first step is honest discussion and an open dialogue.
The next step is to work together to come up with real solutions to these inequalities that are still present today. Mr. Taylor has taken the first step by articulating these issues into song. Now, it is up to us to further the discussion and try to find real solutions. These songs are as poignant as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
The first song, Twelve String Mile, basically puts all the cards on the table by telling the story of a black man in the deep south in the 1930’s not being able to look a white man in the eyes. “I am a big black man, got dark dark eyes, big big man, I got dark dark skin, nobody sees me”. You have this imposing figure that is marginalized and completely ignored just because of his skin color. A very sad tale that unfortunately, has been repeated over and over.
Walk On Water (Track 2) tells the story of an interracial couple that breaks up and the man states he will walk on water to get his love back. This track features some flamenco style guitar riffs that are not typical of blues music. This tale is a little more hopeful than the others ones and makes us think that maybe it is not too late to repair relationships on a smaller scale and also on a more macro level.
Tripping On This (Track 6) is a song about a man who discovers he has a biological, biracial son who was given up for adoption 48 years earlier.
Going down to New Orleans To see my only son, Ain't heard his name for 48 years, Ain't heard his name for 48 years.
If those lines don’t evoke some really raw emotion, you made need to check your pulse. The ambient guitar solo really adds to the haunting imagery of this song and the uncertainty of events that are about to unfold.
This isn’t just an album, it is a social movement. I believe in peace through music and I also believe that music opens our hearts and minds to subject matter that we wouldn’t normally be exposed to. This isn’t party music but music to provoke thought and it accomplishes its goal very well.