Somewhere between Massachusetts and California, between the Mississippi Delta and Chicago, between the blues and rock & roll, between soul and jazz sits Taj Mahal. Simultaneously recognized and yet rarely heard, without radio aid or a bevy of co-genre players to be compared to, the man has a career that spans from sharing his first band with Ry Cooder, to friend of, and influence upon, the Rolling Stones (not to mention three Grammy’s under his belt). Mahal’s rise to notoriety began early, and is intricately, and oddly, tied to the aforementioned Rolling Stones during their transition from Brit-invasion rockers to hippies and hipsters.
Mahal, suffice to say, blew the roof off of the Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. His performance, at the taped concert-event (that was never aired), easily competes against The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away” for the show’s highlight. Two weeks after this seminal performance, Mahal released his second solo record (and the first predominately written by him): The Natch’l Blues. A preview and blueprint of his coming career, The Natch’l Blues is a record that straddles up-tempo blues, Otis Redding-esque belted ballads and gut-bucket rock. With a band that included members Al Kooper on piano (who infamously played with Dylan when he went electric), the vastly underrated guitarist Jesse Ed Davis and drummer Earl Palmer (himself a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame).
It’s a record of varied genre, and more particularly, varied songwriting, as Taj has a knack for storytelling, for preternatural inspired blues playing, and, yes, even for love songs. When I need to explain to someone the genius of Taj Mahal, of how his music occupies so many times, and so many places, that the very elusiveness of this genre unto himself may in part be what makes him so appealing, I turn to The Natch’l Blues. While it may not be a timeless record, it is the sound that this master of rock, blues and soul still makes. words/ b kramer
MP3: Taj Mahal :: Corrinna
MP3: Taj Mahal :: The Cuckoo
Amazon: Taj Mahal -The Natch’l Blues
Taj Mahal :: Ain’t That a Lot of Love (on the Rock N Roll Circus)