Taj Mahal - vocals, guitar, harmonica; Jesse Ed Davis - guitar; James Thomas - bass; Sandy Konikoff - drums
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. Recorded live at the Ash Grove, just a month prior to the sessions for Taj Mahal's debut album on Columbia, this recording also boasts one of the earliest recorded examples of guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, Taj Mahal's primary partner during the late 1960s. Although none of the material here would be recorded for the debut, all the elements that made that album so compelling are beginning to happen here. Mahal, Davis, and the rhythm section of James Thomas and Sandy Konikoff are striving for authenticity here and although their musicianship is still underdeveloped, they more than make up for it with youthful enthusiasm.
The first piece, an unidentified instrumental, showcases the group's ability to establish a nice groove, with Taj blowing some tasty blues harp and with Davis' lead guitar work the standout factor. The second longer piece, tentatively titled "Mr. Blues", is essentially a jam, with Taj liberally borrowing lines from other songs as well as improvising his own. Clocking in at nine minutes, this provides listeners with an early glimpse of Taj Mahal's charisma and his group's ability to spontaneously create on stage. For the final song of the set (unfortunately incomplete), Taj and the band deliver a nice slow burn on "Going Down Slow."
These performances show 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, with this early recording displaying 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 already apparent here. 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 (he would soon recruit Gary Gilmore and Chuck Blackwell to replace the rhythm section here), Taj Mahal would develop a bigger, more soulful sound with increasing variety. Still, even at this early stage, Taj Mahal was delivering charismatic performances.
Written by Alan Bershaw