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Rendezvous with genius

Rendezvous With the Blues
Rendezvous With the Blues
By Melvin Taylor & The Slack Band

Evidence Music: 2002

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This review first appeared in the Autumn 2002 issue of Turbula.

They released their debut albums within a few months of each other. Both featured scintillating guitar solos, understated vocals, and radio-friendly songs that could comfortably fit into the programming of both rock and jazz stations.

Yet while Stevie Ray Vaughan went on to superstardom before dying tragically young, Melvin Taylor still toils away in obscurity twenty years later.

The easy answer to the disparity in their relative careers would be race – Taylor being black to Vaughan's white.

And while that may be a part of it – Robert Cray and Jimi Hendrix remain the only two black guitarists to ever get any kind of rock radio airplay – there was also the fact that Taylor was based out of Europe for much of the 1980s.

The fact remains, though, that most fans of blues-rock remain sadly unaware of Taylor's mere existence, much less the enormous scale of his talent or the richness of his recorded output.

Given the reality of the corporate music world – and the skinniness of most radio station playlists – his new "Rendezvous With the Blues" is unlikely to turn Taylor into a star. But those hip to what he's doing will find the new release to be every bit as good as his earlier efforts.

As with his 1984 album "Plays the Blues for You," Taylor is joined on keyboards by the increasingly interesting Lucky Peterson. While Taylor was already a monster on guitar on their first meeting, Peterson was still finding his musical voice – and didn't really contribute that much to their first pairing.

The intervening years have been kind to both men musically – Taylor continues to improve and grow as a guitarist, constantly pulling new notes out of his instrument. And Peterson has found his footing, allowing him to really anchor the band on this album and provide a foundation for Taylor's playing.

The songs on this album are an interesting lot. All covers, they range from the pens of old-school bluesmen like Jimmy Reed ("I'm the Man Down There") and Sonny Boy Williamson ("Help Me"), to old-school rockers like Stephen Stills ("Black Queen") and ZZ Top ("Blue Jean Blues").

More interesting is the cover of "Five Women" by mod-hipster Prince. He turns it into a slow blues burn underscored by the Miles Davis-like trumpet meanderings of Scott Thompson.

"Blue Jean Blues" he also slows down considerably from ZZ Top's original, and even converts it from a Texas boogie to a straight-ahead Chicago blues.

But his reading of Stills' "Black Queen" is the cover that's most different from the original. Taylor's version is almost Hendrixian in its arrangement – he makes it over into a kind of psychedelic exploration. Taylor, though, is one of the very few guitarists with the chops to aim for a Hendrix sound and not come off looking silly for it.

Which brings us back to what it is that makes every Melvin Taylor release a treat: He's one of the best guitarists playing today in any style. His long, fluent solos tell real stories – they inform and entertain, all while exhibiting more virtuosity than just about anyone else you'll ever hear.