Sunday, November 29, 2009
Taj MAHAL - The Real Thing, Live At The Fillmore East 1971
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.
By Ted Drozdowski.
Taj Mahal followed up Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home (1969) with another double-disc concert platter whose title pretty much sums up the contents. The Real Thing (1971) is drawn from a mid-February run of shows at the Fillmore East in New York City where he, Spencer Davis, the Chambers Brothers, and Roberta Flack, among others, shared the bill. Mahal (vocals/banjo/guitar/harmonica/arranger/fife/harp/steel guitar/ harmonica) is supported by an interesting extended aggregate with a brass section consisting of Joseph Daley (tuba/horn/trombone), Bob Stewart (horn), and a pair of former Charles Mingus bandmembers, Earl McIntyre (horn) and Howard Johnson (horn). While at times they tend to overpower the usually intimate nature of the performances, that is certainly not the case for the majority of the arrangements. The opener, "Fishin' Blues," is a solo with Mahal accompanying himself on banjo. "Ain't Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo')" is significantly lengthened from the form found on Giant Step (1968) as it stretches nearly nine minutes and allows plenty of room for interaction, offering up a spirited fife interlude from Mahal. In addition to providing an overview from his back catalog, The Real Thing contains a few new compositions. The full ensemble gets a workout on the funky "Sweet Mama Janisse" and the toe-tappin' rural flavor of the instrumental "Tom and Sally Drake" is lightly augmented by a sole tuba -- presumably that of Johnson. Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues" arguably submits the most successful incorporation of brass, sporting a driving, full-throttle rhythm and soulful interpretation. The 2000 CD reissue was extended to fit the entire live set, adding the previously unavailable "She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride," matching the intensity of the sizeable bluesy, closing jam "You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, Honey But I Do Love They Way You Strut."
By Lindsay Planer, All Music Guide.
Earl McIntyre- Horn
Billy Rich- Bass
Greg Thomas- Drums
John Hall- Guitar
John Simon- Keyboards
Joseph Daley- Tuba, Horn, Trombone (Valve)
Rocky Dzidzornu- Percussion
Bob Stewart- Horn
Howard Johnson- Horn
Taj Mahal- Banjo, Guitar, Harmonica, Fife, Harp, Vocals, National Steel Guitar, Chromatic Harmonica
A1. Fishin' Blues 2:45
A2. Ain't Gwine To Whistle Dixie (Any Mo') 8:17
A3. Sweet Mama Janisse 3:35
B1. Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue 3:07
B2. Big Kneed Gal 4:45
B3. You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond 6:15
C1. Tom And Sally Drake 3:23
C2. Diving Duck Blues 3:30
C3. John, Ain' It Hard 5:10
D1 You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, Honey But I Do Love The Way You Strut Your Stuff 18:56