From a songwriting perspective, Otis Taylor, who joins Taj Mahal at the Boulder Theater on Monday, April 26, has been astonishingly prolific; he's cranked out a CD's worth of original material each year since 2001. Double V features another slew of Taylor ready-mades, but with a twist. This time around, Taylor hasn't teamed with producer/multi-instrumentalist Kenny Passarelli and guitarist Eddie Turner, who've backed him in the studio since the late '90s. Instead, he handles the production chores himself, and rather than open the album with one of his typically grim compositions, he leads off with "Please Come Home Before It Rains," a light-fingered ode to affection.
The music that follows sports more than its share of darkness. "Plastic Spoon" revolves around a couple who eat dog food in order to afford paying for prescription medicine, while "Mama's Selling Heroin" tells the tale of Taylor's own mother, who served a one-year stretch for peddling smack half a century ago. The instrumentation, meanwhile, is awfully spare -- generally Taylor on guitar or banjo, supplemented by bass and cello. As a result, the songs that stand out most are those with distinctive arrangements -- especially the driving "505 Train" and "Buy Myself Some Freedom," which features daughter Cassie Taylor's rich vocals and the plaintive trumpet of guest Ron Miles.
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Double V may not be as immediately compelling as some of Taylor's earlier efforts, but in the end, substance trumps style. His creative well hasn't begun to run dry. -- Roberts
Sounds of the Wind
It's really kind of refreshing that there are no pictures of Tandem inside its CD -- nothing that might tip you off to what the band sounds like. Not even the front cover, a plain photo of a squirt gun, offers any clue. Is it indie rock, metal, hippie jam or hip-hop? It's all a mystery. As you hold the disc above the tray, ready to drop it in and press play, your hand may even tremble in anticipation: This might just be your new favorite band, that jewel sparkling coyly at the bottom of a lake of local talent.
Or it might be the crap floating on the top.
Sadly, Sounds of the Wind doesn't earn the distinction of being either. Its post-alternative "modern rock" just drifts along in the middle, neither gem nor junk, as bland as a tofu pup. Like a cheesy band on the cover of a Guitar Center catalogue, Tandem apparently employs lots of top-notch instruments and effects processors and whatnot; the eight songs on Sounds are as slick as they are stiff and soulless. Sad, downcast verses are slammed into choruses that seem ready to rupture with their own bloated sense of drama, while guitarist Chris Nelson's keening, over-enunciated vocals are pumped way too loud and dry over the already arid arrangements -- not that sheer volume would be enough to make his voice sound any more compelling. At a time when Denver has one of the most creative and aggressively diverse music scenes in recent memory, Tandem sticks out by being remarkably unremarkable. -- Heller