taylor

Booker T. & the MGs, Staple Singers & Johnnie Taylor launch Stax Remasters Series

From the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, the Stax label dominated soul, R&B, gospel, and related genres with a stable of artists who have since become iconic figures in the history of American popular music. Now a part of the Concord Music Group, the Stax catalog is a treasure trove of some of the most visceral and influential recordings of the 20th century. On May 10, 2011, Concord reaches back into that deep catalog to launch Stax Remasters, a series of reissues that cast a new light on classic Stax recordings with the help of 24-bit remastering, rare bonus tracks, and new liner notes to frame the recordings in a historical context.

The first three reissues in the series are:

  • Booker T. & the MGs: McLemore Avenue (1970)
  • The Staple Singers: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972)
  • Johnnie Taylor: Taylored in Silk (1973)


“Stax is a very important label, not only in the history of soul music, but in the history of music in general,” says Nick Phillips, Concord’s Vice President of Catalog A&R and co-producer of the series with Chris Clough, Concord’s Manager of Catalog Development. “We have a number of amazing recordings by Stax in the catalog. This is an opportunity to revisit some of the best of these classic recordings, upgrade the sound quality, and put them in the proper historical perspective that they deserve.”

Booker T. & the MGs: McLemore Avenue

Released in January 1970, McLemore Avenue is a tribute to Abbey Road, the landmark recording released by the Beatles the prior summer. McLemore Avenue sets up an interesting cause-and-effect loop by putting an R&B spin on songs by a profoundly innovative British pop-rock band that, ironically, emerged years earlier from the most basic elements of American R&B.

McLemore Avenue was inspired by “my pure fascination and admiration of the work that [the Beatles] had done,” says keyboardist Booker T. Jones in the reissue liner notes by music historian Ashley Kahn. “I didn’t know their inner workings. I found out later. I had a picture of those guys as a perfect unit. I didn’t know that they fought, had arguments, or that they needed referees. When you listen to that music, you think it comes from a perfect union, you know?”

The tribute album “represents a fascinating and musically compelling intersection,” says Phillips. “On one hand, you can look at the strength of the Beatles’ songs, and how they’re such strong songs that they can be successfully adapted — in the right hands — to soulful instrumental versions. At the same time, it is of course a testament to Booker T. & the MGs’ creativity and soulfulness and groove. It’s not only a very interesting musical intersection, but it’s also a very deep and at the same time a very fun listen.”

Clearly, Booker T. & the MGs had had plenty of their own opportunities to flex their creative muscles in the studio, having recorded with artists like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. “But on a record like this,” says Clough, “where all the songs were already written and it was just a matter of interpretation, it wasn’t work for them. It was an opportunity to put their spin on the songs and just have some fun.”

The bonus tracks include seven additional Beatles covers, recorded in sessions separate from those for the McLemore Avenue album. “We figured it made good sense to expand this edition by adding other tracks that Booker T. & the MGs had recorded of Beatles songs over the years,” says Phillips. “So the Stax Remasters reissue is not only an expanded edition of McLemore Avenue, it’s also a de facto ‘Booker T. & the MGs Play the Beatles’ collection.”

The Staple Singers: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

Originally released in 1972, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself captures the celebrated family vocal group in what was essentially the third act of their career, according to music historian Rob Bowman. The Staple Singers had initially established themselves as a gospel group in the 1950s, then merged with the folk music closely tied to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and ultimately veered away from protest songs and toward what Mavis Staples termed “message music” in the early and mid-1970s.

“Obviously, there was a lot going on in America — politically and socially — around that time, and the Staple Singers took up the cause,” says Clough. “Stax provided a huge platform for that cause, and it worked. It wasn’t insincere or disingenuous. It was the real deal. The Staples had taken up the banner at that point.”

Be Altitude found a comfortable middle ground between gospel music and secular music. “Some of the messages in their music have that gospel element running through it, but it’s a broader message than what you’d find in traditional gospel,” says Phillips. “The soul, the gospel, the grooves — all those things blended together — really make for a unique sound that is the Staple Singers.”

The two previously unreleased bonus tracks — “Walking in Water Over Our Head” and an alternate version of “Heavy Makes You Happy” — were both recorded at the Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama in 1970 and 1972, respectively. “We felt that it was appropriate to add these bonus tracks, not only because any undiscovered material by a group as great as the Staple Singers is worthy of a listen,” says Phillips, “but also because they’re such great performances that they fit right in.”

Simply put, says Bowman, “the recording you hold in your hands represents the Staple Singers at the very peak of their career.”

Johnnie Taylor: Taylored in Silk

Released in 1973, Taylored in Silk is an ideal example of Taylor’s newly expanded and embellished sound, crafted with the help of producer Don Davis, who had united with Taylor a few years earlier, according to the liner notes by Bill Dahl. “As far as Davis was concerned, a fundamental change of sound was in order for Johnnie,” says Dahl. “Gone were the savory slow blues in favor of a hard-edged, uptempo attack that energized [Taylor’s] sound like never before.”

The issue could well have been regional marketing as much as musicality. “The story goes that Davis was brought in to forge a sound that would be sort of a combination between Northern and Southern soul, and capture the best of both Stax and Motown,” says Phillips. “He certainly hit a home run in his work with Johnnie Taylor, especially on this album.”

Taylored in Silk underwent “a lot of overdubbing,” Dahl notes, “but the end result was a splendidly conceived soul album boasting three major R&B hits within its eight selections…Blues wailer or soul philosopher, silky or gritty, Johnnie Taylor will always be revered as one of the greatest southern soul singers of ’em all.”

The six bonus tracks were previously released as singles in the early ’70s, “and they’re all outstanding performances,” says Phillips. “They certainly fit the vibe and the performance quality of the rest of the album.”

National Jazz Museum in Harlem Events, April 4 - April 10, 2011

Upcoming events at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem for this week include:

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Jazz for Curious Readers

Art Taylor: Notes and Tones, a celebration

7:00 – 8:30pm

Location: NJMH Visitors Center

(104 E. 126th Street, Suite 2C)

FREE | For more information: 212-348-8300

Notes and Tones is one of the most controversial, honest, and insightful books ever written about jazz. As a black musician himself, Arthur Taylor asked his subjects hard questions about the role of black artists in a majority white society. Free to speak their minds, these musicians offer startling insights into their music, their lives, and the creative process itself. Notes and Tones consists of twenty-nine no-holds-barred conversations which drummer Arthur Taylor held with some of the most influential jazz musicians in jazz—including: Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, Elvin Jones, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Dexter Gordon.

Arthur Taylor drummed with Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and dozens of others. He was called ”one of the great drummers to come out of the fertile Harlem bebop scene” (New York Times) and ”one of the best bandleaders living or dead” (Village Voice). His band, Taylor’s Wailers, recorded several albums, and was based in New York City up until Taylor's death in 1995.

We welcome you to join this celebration of a classic of jazz literature.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jazz for Curious Listeners

It Don't Mean a Thing: Great Jazz Rhythm Sections

7:00 – 8:30pm

Location: NJMH Visitors Center

(104 E. 126th Street, Suite 2C)

FREE | For more information: 212-348-8300

Count Basie's All American 4

The Count Basie Orchestra's All American rhythm section appropriately initiates our focus this month on great rhythm sections. Basie (piano), Walter Page (bass), Jo Jones (drums), and Freddie Green (guitar) together perfected what, after Louis Armstrong's style modeled it, became known as swing. From the mid-30's to early 40's, the Count Basie Orchestra popularized this feeling, contributing to the period of American history called the Swing Era. These four men blended into a "cohesive whole greater than the sum of its parts," as Loren Schoenberg, Executive Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem put it in The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Jazz.

We invite you to swing on through to our Visitor's Center for this free event in which the sounds of Lester Young and the All American rhythm section will reign once again.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Harlem Speaks

James Spaulding, flutist/saxophonist

6:30 – 8:30pm

Location: NJMH Visitors Center

(104 E. 126th Street, Suite 2C)

FREE | For more information: 212-348-8300

James Spaulding has established his reputation as a masterful soloist for ensemble performances, and for many years was among the busier sidemen for Blue Note Records. An exceptional saxophonist and flutist, he is one of the many fine artists to come out of the Indianapolis, Indiana area. James is a modernist, with solid roots in classical jazz; his saxophone style is an extension of the Charlie Parker influence, but his overall concept incorporates much of the broad jazz saxophone heritage.

Spaulding's musical training started early, as he came from a musical family in his place of birth Indiana (his father was a professional musician who played the guitar and led his own big band, traveling throughout the country). James began playing a bugle when he was in grade school. He later took up the trumpet and saxophone on his own, and while in high school studied clarinet. He made his professional debut playing around Indianapolis with an R&B group.

From 1954 to 1957, Spaulding was in the army playing in service bands. When he was discharged, he settled in Chicago where he performed in clubs leading his own group, and had a stay with the Sun Ra Orchestra. He also furthered his flute studies there at the Chicago Cosmopolitan School of Music. In 1962, he arrived in New York City, and subsequently was associated with notables such as Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Max Roach and the Ellington Orchestra.

In 1975, he received a bachelor's degree in music from Livingston College in New Jersey where he taught flute as an adjunct professor. James' daughters, Gina and Yvonne Spaulding were on the cover of his very first recording: The Legacy of Duke Ellington, recorded in 1975. Mr. Spaulding's range of performance experiences extends nationally and internationally, from the concert stage to jazz clubs to colleges and street fairs. His original music, a suite entitled "A Song of Courage," was performed by him with full orchestra and choir at the Voorhees Chapel at the Rutgers University campus from funds awarded him by the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been recorded on over 100 recordings.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Special Event: Mingus on Film with Loren Schoenberg

Sunday, April 10, 2011 | 2:00pm

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University

328 Lomita Drive, Stanford, CA 94305

FREE|for more information: 650-723-4177

Loren Schoenberg, Director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, concludes the Remember Mingus series with an afternoon of rare film footage, live concert clips, and lively discussion about Charles Mingus’ music, life and legacy.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Loren Schoenberg with the Gunn School Jazz Band, Music of Jazz Great Charles Mingus

Community School of Music and Arts at Finn Center

230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View, CA 94040

FREE|for more information: 650-917-6800

Stanford Lively Arts performance offering musical excerpts and conversation with Loren Schoenberg.

Billy Taylor - July 24, 1921 - December 28, 2010

Dr. Billy Taylor, a Jazz pianist, composer, educator and broadcaster who encompassed that rare combination of creativity, intelligence, vision, commitment and leadership, qualities that made him one of our most cherished national treasures, died in New York on December 28, 2010.  He was 89 and lived in Riverdale, New York.

The cause was heart failure, according to his daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson.

The distinguished ambassador of the jazz community to the world-at-large, Dr. Billy Taylor's recording career spanned over six decades. He also composed over three hundred and fifty songs, as well as works for theatre, dance and symphony orchestras.

Among his most notable works is "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free", achieving great popularity with Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Nina Simone covered the song in her 1967 album Silk and Soul, and the song continues to be recorded by many artists worldwide, most recently by Levon Helm.

Playing the piano professionally since 1944, he got his start with Ben Webster's Quartet on New York's famed 52nd Street. He then served as the house pianist at Birdland, the legendary jazz club where he performed with such celebrated masters as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Starting in the 1950s, Billy Taylor ked his own Trio, as well as performed with the most influential jazz musicians of the twentieth century.

After many years of recording for leading record labels, in 1989, Taylor started his own "Taylor Made" record label to document his own music, releasing four albums, and in the late 90s, "Soundpost Records," releasing his two final recordings.

Dr. Taylor was not only been an influential musician, but a highly regarded teacher as well, receiving his Masters and Doctorate in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and serving as a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University.

He also hosted and programmed such radio stations WLIB and WNEW in New York, and several  award winning series for National Public Radio. In the early 1980s, Taylor became the arts correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning.

Dr. Billy Taylor was one of only three jazz musicians appointed to the National Council of the Arts, and also served as the Artistic Advisor for Jazz to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he developed one acclaimed concert series after another including the Louis Armstrong Legacy series, and the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival.

With over twenty three honorary doctoral degrees, Dr. Billy Taylor was also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy and a host of prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as the National Medal of Arts, the Tiffany Award, a Lifetime achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine, and, election to the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education.

Dr. Taylor's survivors include his wife, Theodora and his daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson.  A son, Duane, passed away in 1988.

Local Natives at the Fox, Tues Sept 28

Local Natives make soaring, sky-scraping harmonies, dreamy orchestral melodies, and throbbing tribal beats that bash their way into your soul. Theirs are songs you can dance to almost as well as you can swoon to them. Drawing a line from the vocal stylings of Crosby Stills Nash & Young and the Zombies through the more esoteric edges of post-punk and Afro-beat, this California five piece have communally crafted a brand of indie rock all their own. The band’s sound has been described as “afropop-influenced guitars with hyperactive drumming and hooky three-part harmonies”.

For Local Natives everything is a collaboration, from song writing duties to the band’s self produced artwork. The three part harmonies come courtesy of keyboardist Kelcey Ayer, guitarists Ryan Hahn and Taylor Rice. Then there’s Matt Frazier on drums and Andy Hamm on bass, who look after the band’s equally impressive graphics and artwork. One of SXSW 2009’s biggest success stories, the band drove for two days to get from Los Angeles to Austin in order to play nine spectacular shows that saw them sprinting, instruments in hand, from one gig to the next. Their hectic schedule paid off as Local Natives left Austin with the attention of the UK music Industry.

Based in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, three of the five-piece originally hail from Orange County. Kelcey, Ryan and Taylor attended neighbouring high schools and hooked up with bassist Andy a year after they graduated, later meeting drummer Matt. They’ve been playing – and evolving - together for three years. Last year, however, the band realized that the new songs they were writing were the sounds of a new project entirely. Their debut album as Local Natives, “Gorilla Manor”, was released in the UK on Nov 2nd, 2009, and saw a US release date of Feb. 16th, 2010.I nitial reviews of Local Natives have drawn favourable comparisons to Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend.

All Ages / GA  / $14.00 adv / $16.00 DOS

Internet 24-7 at www.foxtheater.com

Phone: During box office hours: 303.443.3399

Otis Taylor's new album, 'Clovis People,' set for May 11 release

Otis Taylor digs the past. Whether it’s the songs he wrote a decade ago, or ancient civilizations that lived more than 10,000 years ago, he’s drawn to stories from another time, and he’s compelled to retell them in a way that’s relevant in the modern day. On Clovis People, set for release May 11, 2010, on Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group, Taylor writes his own history.

It’s the ideal project for the architect of a sparse and hypnotic style that has come to be known as “trance blues.” Taylor has spent his career crafting songs that are wide open to interpretation — thematically as well as structurally. “I give people a starting point, and then they can take it where they want to take it,” he explains. “That’s true for the people playing my music as well as the people listening to it. That’s how art should be. A person looking at a painting should be able to interpret it in whatever way he wants. The more words you put into a song, the less freedom the listener has to decide what it means.”

The album title is inspired by a recent scientific discovery very close to Taylor’s home in Boulder, Colorado. Barely 100 yards from the edge of his property, archeologists dug up a cache of tools and other implements belonging to a civilization known as the Clovis people, who walked the earth briefly about 13,000 years ago and then mysteriously disappeared.

“That’s amazing to me,” says Taylor. “There have only been four or five sites like this found all over the country. That means these people probably walked on my property. My music only goes back about ten years, but there’s something about reaching back to an earlier time and revisiting the stories of the past from a new perspective that I find compelling.”

Helping to shape that new perspective is a crew of players who lend a variety of shades and voices to the mix. Among them is guitarist Gary Moore, a guest musician on two of Taylor’s previous recordings (Definition of a Circle in 2007 and Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs in 2009), who moves in and out of the tracks with a hard riff here, a subtle accent there, and just the right atmospherics wherever he appears. Also on hand for nine of the twelve tracks is pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell — a member of the Campbell Brothers, the African-American gospel group that has developed a sound commonly known as “sacred steel.” In addition, Clovis People features cornetist Ron Miles and bassist Cassie Taylor (Otis’ 22-year-old daughter).

The set gets under way with the haunting “Rain So Hard,” a bluesy number that employs an intriguing mix of pedal steel, cornet and theremin as the backdrop to Taylor’s unsettling lyrics about a hard rain turning to snow and falling on a scene of betrayal and deceit.

“Little Willy” and “Lee and Arnez” are two previously unreleased songs. The former is a fictional tale of a school shooting — a song Taylor wrote in 1990s, but then shelved in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting of 1999. “Lee and Arnez” tells the story of a couple that Taylor remembers from the neighborhood where he grew up. “They were my parents’ best friends, and they had a boxer dog that I really loved,” says Taylor. “This would have been the 1950s, which were still a difficult time for black people, but I have great memories of this couple and their beautiful dog.”

“It’s Done Happened Again” is built on an urgent rhythm that plays like a frantic heartbeat. “The song is about that moment when someone who got his heart broken hears about someone else who got his heart broken,” says Taylor. “It’s that moment when pain and empathy converge, and you say, ‘Oh yeah, I know where he’s coming from.’”

“Harry Turn the Music Up” recalls Taylor’s memories of the Denver Folklore Center, a place he frequented when he was a boy in the early ’60s. “The song follows a groove that’s deep in the pocket, and it’s really powerful,” says Taylor. “The Denver Folklore Center was a place where nobody cared if you were black or white, skinny or fat. It was a place where everyone was accepted.”

“Babies Don’t Lie” rides on a single chord and speaks to the profound vulnerability of innocents. But somewhere underneath the simple and recurring lyrical line is the question of how and when dark forces take hold and turn some innocents into monsters.

“Think I Won’t” is a showdown-flavored track that captures the moment when a mother confronts a drug dealer in a schoolyard. “There are some badass moms out there,” says Taylor. “Sometimes people don’t realize how tough black women can be. It’s a matriarchal culture, and there are some moms who’ll kick your ass in a half-second if you threaten their children.”

Indeed, some instincts are eternal, whether the frame of reference is 2010, 1950 or some time before recorded history. Clovis People is in some respects a vehicle for Taylor  — an archeologist of a different kind — to re-examine some of the truths he’s uncovered in his own era and preserve them for listeners in some future time.

“I went back to my musical past with these songs — all the way back to my first album,” says Taylor. “I like finding different ways to retell the old stories. They continue to mean something — to me, to the people who hear them, to the musicians who play with me — many years after I first told them.”

Local Natives Announce US Tour

Local Natives make soaring, sky-scraping harmonies, dreamy orchestral melodies, and throbbing tribal beats that bash their way into your soul. Theirs are songs you can dance to almost as well as you can swoon to them. Drawing a line from the vocal stylings of Crosby Stills Nash & Young and the Zombies through the more esoteric edges of post-punk and Afro-beat, this California five piece have communally crafted a brand of indie rock all their own.

For Local Natives everything is a collaboration, from song writing duties to the band’s self produced artwork. The three part harmonies come courtesy of keyboardist Kelcey Ayer, guitarists Ryan Hahn and Taylor Rice. Then there’s Matt Frazier on drums and Andy Hamm on bass, who look after the band’s equally impressive graphics and artwork.

One of SXSW 2009’s biggest success stories, the band drove for two days to get from Los Angeles to Austin in order to play nine spectacular shows that saw them sprinting, instruments in hand, from one gig to the next. Their hectic schedule paid off as Local Natives left Austin with the attention of the UK music Industry.

Based in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, three of the five-piece originally hail from Orange County. Kelcey, Ryan and Taylor attended neighboring high schools and hooked up with bassist Andy a year after they graduated, later meeting drummer Matt.  They’ve been playing – and evolving - together for three years. Last year, however, the band realized that the new songs they were writing were the sounds of a new project entirely.

It was in December 2008 that the band decamped to Silver Lake, where they all live in the same house.  But the Silver Lake digs isn’t the first house the band have shared. They lived together in Orange County too, in a place affectionately known as Gorilla Manor. “It was insanely messy and there were always friends over knocking around on guitars or our thrift store piano,” says Ryan, “it was an incredible experience and I’ll never forget that time.” The original Gorilla Manor, where the band wrote the majority of their record, had such an impact that the band has paid tribute to the house by naming their debut album in its honor.

The self-funded Gorilla Manor was recorded by Raymond Richards in West Los Angeles. Richards produced the record with Local Natives in his own Red  Rockets Glare Studio.

Featuring twelve sumptuous slices of dappled California sunlight and beguiling percussive rhythms, the album kicks off with the moody, driving, ‘Wide Eyes’. Says Ryan, “It’s about people’s obsession with the miraculous and disastrous…with witnessing extraordinary events”. The effervescent, mandolin boasting ‘Airplanes’ follows, which Kelcey explains is about “longing to have met my grandfather, a great man and pilot, who died before I was born.”  Also included is the glorious ‘Sun Hands’, which was released as a limited edition single on Chess Club back in July.  According to Taylor, the lyrics describe “that all too familiar feeling of wanting what you can’t have –  especially when you once had it.”  There’s a cover version in the mix too, a barely recognizable version of Talking Heads’ ‘Warning Sign’. “We’ve basically flipped the song on its head,” says Matt, explaining how they switched David Byrne’s original yelped vocals into a beautiful three-part harmony.

Local Natives US Tour

4/20 Tucson, AZ – Solar Culture
4/22 Dallas, TX – The Cavern
4/23 Austin, TX – Emo’s Inside
4/24 Houston, TX – Mango’s
4/26 Little Rock, AR – Sticky Fingerz Chicken Shack
4/27 Haittesburg, MS – Thirsty Hippo
4/29 St. Augustine, FL – Cafe 11
4/30 Nashville, TN – The Basement
5/1 Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
5/4 Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
5/5 Washington, DC – DC 9
5/6 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
5/7 Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
5/8 Allston, MA – Great Scott
5/11 Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
5/12 Columbus, OH – The Basement
5/14 Chicago, IL – Schubas
5/15 Rock Island, IL - Rock Island Brewing Company
5/17 Minneapolis, MN – 400 Bar
5/18 Iowa City, IA – The Mill
5/19 Columbia, MO – Mojo’s
5/21 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge
5/22 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
5/25 Spokane, WI – Empyrean
5/26 Boise, ID – Neurolux
5/27 Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
5/28 Vancouver, BC – Media Club
5/30 Seattle, WA – Sasquatch

Otis Taylor Examines the Darker Dimensions of Love

No one ever accused blues singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Otis Taylor of overindulging in the happier aspects of the human condition. His songs are often peopled with characters whose emotional landscape — no matter how raw or dark — is laid bare for all to experience, and the story is often less than pretty.

otis taylorBut if love — in any or all of its joyous and painful variations — is somewhere amid that confusing emotional swirl, he’ll go there too. The result will by no means be syrupy ballads obsessing over romantic love. Instead, Taylor’s love songs take a hard, realistic look at the relative benefits and costs of what is perhaps the most unnerving of forces within the human heart.

Taylor’s new recording, Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs, throws a light on the complexities of love in all of its forms. The album is set for June 23, 2009, release on Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group. In addition to Taylor’s trademark haunting vocals and simple but stirring guitar riffs — a combination often referred to as trance blues — the album also features guest appearances by Irish blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore (previously heard on Taylor’s Definition of a Circle in 2007) and jazz/hip-hop pianist Jason Moran.

Within these songs of love are tales of tragedy and loss, misunderstanding and deception — but there’s often a glimmer of hope as well. “That’s just my nature,” says Taylor. “I may write love songs, but they aren’t always going to be happy and pretty. Look at songs like ‘Teen Angel’ or ‘Ode To Billy Joe.’ Those are love songs, but they aren’t exactly happy. So why shouldn’t my songs be considered love songs?”

The set opens with the pensive “Looking for Some Heat,” the story of a man looking for some love and sunshine. Moran and cornetist Ron Miles provide enough subtle riffs to serve as counterpoint to Taylor’s more edgy vocals. “I met Jason in Germany once, but I didn’t really pay that much attention to him at first,” says Taylor. “Then I saw him in concert in West Virginia, and I was really amazed. I wanted to get him on one of my records.”

The melancholy “Sunday Morning” features lead vocals by Cassie Taylor (Otis’ 21-year-old daughter), backed by Gary Moore’s understated but potent flamenco guitar lines. The power of the song lies in the simplicity of the lyrics, as they draw attention to the images and rituals of what is often the most introspective day of the week.

“Lost My Guitar” was inspired by the tragic true story of Emma K. Walsh, whose preschool-age daughter was killed in a car accident in Boulder, Colorado, in 1974. The singer in the song laments the loss of his guitar, but “the guitar is a metaphor for the child,” says Taylor.

“I’m Not Mysterious,” a tale of puppy love between two eight-year-olds, seems innocent enough, but the difference in race between the two children makes for an undercurrent of tensions. “That’s something I’ve lived, so I decided to write about it,” says Taylor, who grew up in Denver in the ‘50s and ‘60s. “When I was a little kid, this little girl sent me a note telling me she loved me. So I followed her home to see where she lived. Then one time I visited her at her house. That was when I had to stop seeing her.”

otisThe hypnotic “Mama’s Best Friend,” sung by Cassie and fueled by the odjembe drumming of percussionist Fara Tolno, is a glimpse into the life of Taylor’s mother — a sort of follow-up chapter to “Mama’s Selling Heroin,” a track from his 2004 recording, Double V. “My mother was gay, and she eventually hooked up with one of her girlfriends,” he explains. “My father left and went to California. I put these stories out there for my children.”

The closer, “If You Hope,” is a story about a ghost who wants his lover to join him in the afterlife. “If you listen to the very end, you hear it build up beautifully,” says Taylor, “sort of like a grand finale to the entire album. It brings the various elements of my music together — the jazz, the blues-rock, all of it.”

Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs follows Taylor’s 2008 opus Recapturing the Banjo, an album that celebrated the African roots of an instrument whose origins have been largely obscured by its subsequent associations with Appalachian folk music.

“This is a different kind of endeavor for me,” he says of the new recording. “I found myself saying, ‘What can I do after making a banjo album? What will people want to listen to?’ My answer was love songs. I’m doing things here that I didn’t have the opportunity to do on previous albums, things that people wouldn’t normally expect from me, compared to what I’ve done so far. I think it’s one of my best works because it has such unusual elements.”

STAX REISSUES JOHNNIE TAYLOR'S LIVE ALBUM, ' LIVE AT THE SUMMIT CLUB'

Johnnie Taylor- for the Grateful Web

Johnnie Taylor, one of the greatest soul singers who ever lived, was at the peak of his game on September 23, 1972, when he sang to an effusive crowd at the now-defunct Summit Club in South Los Angeles. The show was captured on tape and will be reissued February 20 by Stax Records as Johnnie Taylor: Live at the Summit Club.

 
The live album, produced by Al Bell, the then-president of Stax Records, was recorded at the time of the historic two-day Wattstax concert at nearby Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  The Wattstax bill was filled, so Stax put many of its artists into nearby clubs where they were taped and filmed.

 
As well as including his biggest hits ("Who's Making Love," "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone"), the album contains six previously unreleased tracks that emphasize the blues side of Taylor's repertoire. Label-mate Rufus Thomas said of Taylor in his introduction: "When you speak of blues, this is a man who knows 'em from the letter A to the letter Z."

 
Taylor recorded eight straight Top 10 R&B hits, though by 1971 he had been eclipsed by Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers as the label's top hitmakers. Eventually he moved from Stax to Columbia, where he enjoyed one more big hit, "Disco Lady," before winding down his recording career at Malaco with steady work on the Chitlin' Circuit.

 
staxWhile this recording found Taylor was at the peak of his faculties, his band unfortunately was not in such top form. The musicians messed up again and again — not so much that the audience really noticed, though Taylor did chastise them from time to time. The flaws and the way Taylor handled them without interrupting the flow make for fascinating — and ultimately satisfying — listening. The Arkansas-born vocalist considered himself "a salesman of songs," and he wasn't about to allow adverse circumstances to prevent him from driving home the messages of six of his biggest hits (including two very different versions of "Steal Away") and extended treatments of the blues songs "Little Bluebird" and "Hello Sundown." Six of the nine performances on the reissue, which was produced by Stuart Kremsky, are entirely new to disc.

 
Concord Music Group, which acquired the legendary Memphis label as part of its purchase of Fantasy Records in 2004, will also honor Stax's 50th year by releasing definitive collections, rare performances, unreleased tracks and more from the Memphis R&B imprint in deluxe new packages. Plans for digital releases, remixes and other projects are also in the works; the anniversary year's releases are slated to include more than 20 CDs and DVDs.

 
In addition, Concord Music Group will reactivate Stax this year as a dynamic new force in contemporary R&B music committed to the continuing the legacy of the original legendary label. The first new Stax signings are Isaac Hayes, Angie Stone and Soulive.