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Otis Taylor fell in love with folk music growing up in Denver--his first instrument was a ukulele, and before long he'd picked up harmonica, banjo, and guitar as well. As a teenager in the 60s he led a series of blues bands, eventually recording for the London-based Blue Horizon label in 1969, but in '77 he dropped out of music, limiting himself to private performances for almost two decades. Since his return in 1995, with the CD Blue Eyed Monster, he's leaned heavily on the banjo (albeit often an electrified model) and developed a preference for drummerless bands, both of which might seem like a blues revivalist's gambits. But his vitriolic social commentary and dark vignettes have the self-consciousness and artistic breadth of the best current alt-country. In addition to the uninflected first-person tale-telling of old-fashioned blues, Taylor uses fables and allegories from distant places and times--and his sidemen create hallucinatory, immersive soundscapes to match. He kicks off "Ten Million Slaves," from the current Respect the Dead (Northernblues), with a simple clawhammer banjo pattern, but the tune's hardly a bare-bones front-porch affair: bassist Kenny Passarelli drops in with a pounding single-note vamp, guitarist Eddie Turner lays a fuzzed-out line over the top, and by the end of the song a ghostly chorus of screams and hollers is swirling around Taylor's obsessive, tight-throated vocals. On "Shaker Woman" he evokes the title sorceress and her victims--all of them in thrall to what could be either demonic possession or madness--with banshee slide lines that unravel into frantic single-note flurries. And though Taylor suggests that "Just Live Your Life" is intended as an inspirational song ("Take time to do something close to your heart," his liner notes advise), his voice swings between a death-rattle whisper and a ravaged moan as he warns, "Live your life before you die / Only might be for a little while / Death won't touch you on your heart / Death will come and knock you on your back." Then he unfurls an almost comically apocalyptic dreamscape--parched trees, dying oceans, clubbed baby seals--backed by his daughter Cassie's angelic coo and his own fits of caustic, choked laughter. Thursday, April 4, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333.

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