Taj Mahal - vocals, acoustic guitar, National steel guitar, organ, piano, harmonica; Rudy Costa - sax, flute, percussion; Hoshal Wright - acoustic and electric guitar; Ray Fitzpatrick - bass; Kester Smith - drums, percussion; Kwasi Dzidzornu - congas, percussion; Rocky Dzidzornu - percussion
Whether solo acoustic, fronting a rock band or weaving his trademark National steel guitar around music of the West Indies, South America, reggae or whatever tickles his fancy, Taj Mahal creates some of the most consistently engaging modern blues on the planet. During the 1960s and 1970s his influence was at its greatest, inspiring countless other musicians with his unique approach to music. 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. 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 long bygone era. Opening for jazz drummer extraordinaire, Billy Cobham, before his fusion comprehending audience, this 1975 recording captures Taj Mahal creating a fusion all his own. 1975 would prove to be one of the most productive years of his entire career, with multiple album releases, soundtrack work and plenty of performing. This is also near the beginning of a long and fruitful musical relationship between Taj Mahal and the International Rhythm Band, a loose group of musicians who would accompany him in one form or another for years to come. This set features a wide variety of material, both solo and with a full band. Beginning solo acoustic, Taj Mahal establishes an audience report by delivering two songs devoted to feeling good back to back. He starts with his delightful cover of Mississippi John Hurt's "Satisfied "N' Tickled Too," which would see release the following year. "Cakewalk Into Town" from his 1972 album "Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff," keeps the good vibe going with an original, before he wraps it up with the more traditional blues of "Wandering Minstrel." Following these stripped down openers, the band members join Taj Mahal onstage. The electric, percussion heavy ensemble delivers a great deal of diversity, enhancing old favorites in new and surprising ways, beginning with "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." While much of this material is rooted in the blues, Taj Mahal often ventures off the beaten path. There's deep grooving reggae on "Johnny Too Bad" and a remarkable cover of The Wailer's "Slave Driver." More exotic expressions of the pure joy these musicians experience playing together can be found on the set closing "West Indian Revelation" and the irresistible "I'm In Love Again." There are also a several additional classics scattered throughout the set, with "Going Up The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue," "Creole Waltz" and "Why Why Did You Have to Desert Me" all receiving fresh treatments from this unique band, while remaining immersed in the blues. One is also encouraged to explore the terrific vintage Taj Mahal recordings featured here in The Concert Vault, but this too is a thoroughly engaging performance, full of the passion and energy that has always made his music compelling. 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, Taj Mahal finds and enhances the bluesy roots at the core of anything he chooses to play.