Theotis Taylor – Something Within Me
Big Legal Mess – 2018
10 tracks; 33 minutes
Theotis Taylor followed in family traditions by being a turpentine farmer, preacher and musician, becoming well known locally in his native Georgia. He did have a few single releases and was featured in a Carnegie Hall Gospel concert in 1990 where his set was well received, but until now he had never been heard on an album-length release. Now in his 90’s Theotis will still sing if he can find a suitable accompanist, his piano playing days now behind him due to many years of hard labor.
When Tim Duffy of the Music Maker Relief Foundation heard about Theotis he went to visit him, became friends and was amazed to be given the master tape to an album of Theotis singing and playing piano, recorded in 1979 but never released. With interest from Big Legal Mess a studio session in Memphis added other instruments to the original recording and the result is this album. The other musicians involved include Jimbo Mathus, Will Sexton and Liz Brasher but all the lead vocals and piano are Theotis whose naturally high voice gives an ethereal quality to the music. While the lyrical content is naturally religious the sound relates well to lovers of soul music and you can hear a strong resemblance to Sam Cooke, notably on the opening song “Appreciation” which remains as it was on the original master tape, just Theotis’ voice and piano giving thanks to God for the life we have on Earth.
The song titles show the devotional dimension of the music here, “God’s Unchanging Hand”, “Thank You Jesus” and “Our Father” and the added backing is sympathetically done, as can be heard on a track like “Fly Away To Be At Rest” where choral vocals, guitar and drums are supportive of Theotis’ lead. Two tracks share titles with well-known soul songs but are quite different: “Stand By Me” asks God to support us in tough times; “Steal Away” makes the point that life is short but Heaven is eternal, another track with just Theotis singing and playing piano.
“Tides Of Life” is probably the track closest to the blues musically but “Something Within Me” is classic gospel with the music and the choir making your feet tap and body sway as Theotis emotes about the spirit within. “Little Wooden Church” was this reviewer’s favorite, a stripped-back track with Theotis’ piano set against a gospel choir as he sings of the family’s Sunday visits to the local church.
This short album will delight gospel fans as well as bringing Theotis Taylor to a wider audience.