Taj Mahal - vocals, blues harp, guitar, clapping; Ed Michel - upright bass
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, inspiring countless other musicians of the era. His multi-instrumental abilities and multi-cultural 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.
Presented here is a remarkable glimpse of Taj Mahal in 1967, near the dawn of his solo career, shortly after the breakup of The Rising Sons. Taped live at his home stomping grounds, The Ash Grove, this superbly recorded set captures Taj Mahal and supported by Ed Michel on Bass just a month prior to the sessions for his debut album on Columbia.
Although none of this material would be issued on that debut, all the elements that made that first album so compelling are also heard here. Several of the songs heard in embryonic form here would continue to develop and would become key songs on subsequent albums. The first three songs all fall in this category, beginning with "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," heard here in a much more laid back arrangement. This is followed by an early rendition of "Corinna," another song that would become a permanent staple of Mahal's repertoire. Both of these numbers would be recorded for Mahals second album, Natch'l Blues, the following year. Even more fascinating is the "Dirt Road Blues" that follows. Along with "I Can't Be Satisfied," which turns up later in the set, this is a prime example of Mahal's evolving mastery of the Mississippi Delta style of blues, featuring impressive slide guitar, but what is so compelling about this particular performance is that it is clearly the blueprint for "Sweet Mama Janisse," a highlight of Mahal's most popular album, The Real Thing, released a good four years after this performance.
Rare stripped down renditions of "Rock Me All Night Long" and "Preachin Blues" are also featured in this set, showing signs of the musical exploration that would be Taj Mahal's hallmark in the years to come. His musical scope would broaden with each consecutive album, and this live recording clearly conveys the bluesy roots at the core of his music. His vocals are already strong and hard hitting and his passion, keen sense of timing and rhythm are quite apparent here.
The set winds to a close with an excellent read on "Come On In My Kitchen" before Mahal wraps things up with an exuberant performance of the Leadbelly field holler, "Linin' Track," which would turn up two years later on his De Ole Folks At Home album
These early performances display the earthy qualities that would remain at the heart of Taj Mahal's sound. With the development of his first band, Taj Mahal would develop a bigger, more soulful sound with increasing variety. Still, even at this embryonic stage, Taj Mahal was delivering charismatic performances.