Taj Mahal - vocals, acoustic guitar, National steel guitar, banjo, harmonica. kalimba
Whether he was recording solo acoustic, fronting a rock band or weaving his trademark National steel guitar around a tuba-dominated blues band, between 1967 and 1971 Taj Mahal created some of the most consistently engaging modern blues music, inspiring countless other musicians of the era. His multi-instrumental abilities and multicultural vision of the blues transcended previous limitations of the genre, and he should be credited for playing an enormous role in revitalizing and preserving traditional blues.
Initially honoring the Mississippi Delta blues masters, his early albums emphasized his forceful steel guitar playing and hard hitting vocals, recorded in a sparse manner, not unlike the originals. By the end of the 1960s, Taj Mahal's scope had broadened and with the help of Native American guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis, as well as the extraordinary tuba player Howard Johnson, he began achieving a bigger more soulful sound with increasing variety. It is a testament to his vision and talent that these increasingly adventurous albums remained fresh, new and exciting even though he continued to explore music from a bygone era.
This 1972 recording is particularly fascinating as it returns to his initial approach, so well-realized on his first two solo acoustic albums. His culture spanning abilities are readily apparent here, and the set displays his keen sense of timing and rhythm as well as strong confident vocals. Regardless of the material, and there is a very fine selection of songs here, Taj Mahal finds and enhances the bluesy roots at the core of anything he chooses to play.
This set features a wide variety of material, with the majority of it stripped down renditions of classic Delta Blues. But even when he ventures off the beaten path, as he does on "Kalimba" (an instrumental played on Kalimba alone) or the bluegrass inflected "M'Banjo," he remains genuinely immersed in the blues. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the lengthy a cappella excursion of "Mad About You," which is essentially nothing more than a call and response dual with the audience, reminiscent of a spiritual gospel meeting.
Many of the songs featured on his earliest albums are also included here, such as "Eighteen Hammers," "Corrina" and the ubiquitous "Fishin' Blues." There are also stripped down renditions of classics like "Nobody's Business But My Own" and "Going Up The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue," here dominated by his infectious vocals and unique guitar pickin'. These leaner treatments get to the core essence of these great songs and display some of the catchier grooves not so obvious on the full band arrangements. The same can be said for these performances of "Dust My Broom" and "Good Morning Little School Girl." And if it's straight traditional blues one craves, listen to the pure Robert Johnson-inflected treatment Taj gives to "Done Change My Way Of Livin'."
The set closer, Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Shake "Em On Down," returns to the approach of the aforementioned "Mad About You." Another call and response a cappella number, Taj Mahal once again breaks down the stage barrier, and by the time he finishes, the audience has become an integral part of the performance. One need look no further than right here to find the essence of Taj Mahal's music. This is a remarkably strong performance, overflowing with passion, energy and clarity.