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Following the murder of his uncle in the early '50s, young Otis Taylor accompanied his shattered parents as they uprooted themselves from Chicago and moved to Denver -- the once and future bluesman's adopted home for the last five decades. But that single childhood atrocity wasn't the first act of violence to shake the family tree: Taylor's great-grandfather was not only lynched, but physically ripped apart, with pieces of his body scattered all over town. That episode is relayed with steel-eyed intensity in "Saint Martha Blues," just one of several chillingly painful tales found on 1997's When Negroes Walked the Earth. Equally dark and sobering is 2001's White African, an uncompromising, stripped-down collection of electrified, minimalist blues that earned Taylor the W.C. Handy Award for Best New Artist of the Year. (Credit the masterful soul chemistry of bassist/producer Kenny Passarelli and ace slide-guitarist Eddie Turner, who round out this uniquely drum-free trio.) The album paved the way for 2002's astonishing release Respect for the Dead, which received rave reviews internationally and caught the attention of indie actor/director Billy Bob Thornton, who's earmarked four of the album's songs for his upcoming film, The Badge. Finding himself on the kind of artistic tear that most of his contemporaries can only dream of, Taylor remains committed to stark, primitive and gut-driven blues that focus on injustice, bigotry, romantic obsession, heartache and dying. Rendering big pictures with few words -- the way Jackson Pollack slung paint -- Taylor accompanies his own single-chord drones with a lived-in field shout that's as tuneful and moody as it is rootsy and raw. Colorado's blues ambassador sets the table for an e-town taping at the Boulder Theater on Sunday, December 15, with Leftover Salmon founder and mandolinist Drew Emmitt and New Grass Revival/Sky King singer/bassist John Cowan. A stellar lineup indeed.
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John La Briola