Among the numerous instruments at Mato Nanji’s disposal is a mournful, melodious guitar, equally effective whether the Indigenous frontman has a slide on his pinky or not. It was a chance encounter with Nanji that birthed Otis Taylor’s concept for My World Is Gone, a vivid song cycle of secondhand tales about life on the reservation, about loves and birthrights lost. A sometimes dour, doomstruck album, My World Is Gone nonetheless boasts a palpable pulse, both moral and musical, that keeps it humming along nicely. This pulse inheres in the space between Nanji’s guitar and Taylor’s banjo and deep-throated, early-model voice. Nanji can rip, but he suits his slides and syncopated fills to fit the atmospheric needs of the song.
Taylor remains a sort of smiling conscience among the blues citizenry, an old-timer who still gets youthful banjo geeks hitting pause and rewind ad nauseam while they largely ignore the tremors in his lyrics. My World Is Gone is another socially conscious effort for Taylor, but this time the singer-songwriter/pan-instrumentalist follows in a long line of outsiders who’ve taken the Native American cause for their own, from Marlon Brando to Neil Young to Ian Frazier. Taylor focalizes his typically perceptive bluesy observations through the plight of the people indigenous to the continent. The songs mainly feature tight, moody grooves, and the few yawners fail only because they lack sufficient ideas (and guitar) to make their self-seriousness ring true.
Taylor’s sonic palette is broad: My World Is Gone spans axiomatic blues stomps, loungey baritone horn lines, and string-and-drum figures that sound like a conflation of Crazy Horse and the Jazz Mandolin Project. Only Taylor can make a banjo sing with scrub-guitar patterns usually reserved for pedal-happy funk bands. There’s a slightly off-the-rocker eclecticism that sounds a bit like Ry Cooder’s, but plenty soulful and rarely boring. Of special note are “Lost My Horse,” a jackknife appropriation of the Bo Diddley beat under lyrics about addictions that run in the blood; “The Wind Comes In,” which evokes Howlin’ Wolf with a banjo; and “Green Apples,” a schizoid shuffle with a snazzy recurring 12/8 guitar figure in the vein of CSNY’s “Déjà Vu.” “Blue Rain in Africa,” meanwhile, boasts six-string slide work that sounds very close to gospel steel, a Madeleine Peyroux-style elegy as backed by the Allman Brothers.
Notably, the songs that drag are all missing Nanji’s guitar. This fact may indicate, among other things, that Taylor’s ventriloquistic and conceptual range is still no match for his skill at evoking a mood. “Sand Creek Massacre Morning,” which sounds especially Ry Cooder-y, should be a moving testament to a horrific event; instead, the arrangement torpedoes it—all quasi-military shuffle under horns making loose, Eeyore-like commentary. Gruff and short-spoken in general, Taylor sets a new personal record for lyrical minimalism on My World Is Gone. Much of the time, the music does the talking, with hard syncopation providing a firm, often quite catchy foundation for mournful upper-register arrangements. Taylor writes better Native American protest songs than Robbie Robertson, and the collaboration with Nanji is conspicuously enlivening for the singer. My World Is Gone is an enveloping, at times even uplifting album, its charms diminished only by moments of jumble and overreach.