Taj Mahal's been chasing the blues around the world for years, but rarely with the passion, energy, and clarity he brought to his first three albums. Taj Mahal, The Natch'l Blues and The Real Thing are the sound of the artist, who was born in 1942, defining himself and his music. On his self-titled 1967 debut, he not only honors the sound of the Delta masters with his driving National steel guitar and hard vocal shout, but ladles in elements of rock and country with the help of guitarists Ry Cooder and the late Jessie Ed Davis. This approach is reinforced and broadened by The Natch'l Blues. What's most striking is Mahal's way of making even the oldest themes sound as if they're part of a new era. Not just through the vigor of his playing--relentlessly propulsive, yet stripped down compared with the six-string ornamentations of the original masters of country blues--but through his singing, which possesses a knowing insouciance distinct to post-Woodstock counterculture hipsters. It's the voice of an informed young man who knows he's offering something deep to an equally hip and receptive audience.
Soon, Mahal turned his multicultural vision of the blues even further outward. The live 1971 set, The Real Thing, finds him still carrying the Mississippi torch, while adding overt elements of jazz and Afro-Caribbean music to its flame. But it's overreaching. His band sounds under-rehearsed, and the arrangements seem more like rough outlines. Nonetheless, these albums set the stage for Mahal's career. (For a condensed version, try the fine The Best of Taj Mahal.) Today, he continues to make fine fusion albums, like 1999's Kulanjan, with Malian kora master Toumani Diabate, and less exciting but still eclectic recordings with his Phantom Blues Band.
This reissue is a good one. The music displayed here is a "roosty" sound that Clapton was seeking after he left the big ol' Marshall sound. Taj, the Band, Dave Mason, Delany & Bonnie..... & the closest he got to it was with the Dominos. Ry Cooder seems to get most of the PR for the guitar work on this album, but the real star is Jesse Ed Davis. He answers Taj's vocals & harps on these tracks from the opening track. While the trend of the day was to play LOUD, the playing of players such as Davis & Robertson was a welcome addition to the music scene. And yes, the Statesboro Blues later influenced a young Duane Allman to pick up a Coricidin bottle....if you are into Taj's "blues" work, this is the place to start.
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1. "Leaving Trunk" (Sleepy John Estes) – 4:51
2. "Statesboro Blues" (Blind Willie McTell) – 2:59
3. "Checkin' up on My Baby" (Sonny Boy Williamson) – 4:55
4. "Everybody's Got to Change Sometime" (Estes) – 2:57
5. "EZ Rider" (Taj Mahal) – 3:04
6. "Dust My Broom" (Robert Johnson) – 2:39
7. "Diving Duck Blues" (Estes) – 2:42
8. "The Celebrated Walkin' Blues" (Traditional) – 8:52
* Ry Cooder - Guitar (Rhythm)
* James Thomas - Bass
* Sanford Konikoff - Drums
* Jesse Ed Davis - Lead Guitar
* Taj Mahal - Guitar, Music arranger, Harp, Vocals, Slide Guitar