Friday, March 19, 2010
Taj MAHAL - Like Never Before 1991
Taj Mahal is a walking encyclopedia of black music and one of its most genial, enthusiastic partisans. To the catalog of genres he has mastered, both as a musician and as a scholar, contemporary R&B now can be added. **Like Never Before** finds him integrating synths, programming, turntable trickery and high-gloss studio polish on certain tracks. Understandable, that: Like everyone else, he wants to be heard. But unlike everyone else, he has assimilated a broad inventory of styles, sees them all as part of an evolving continuum and wants to share that wisdom.
Taj Mahal has been processing acoustic and electric blues, ragtime, calypso, reggae and native African forms for a quarter of a century now. So while Like Never Before makes its timely nods to current trends, it also slips into older, more rough-hewn modes. The album can be seen as a guided tour, starting from a point familiar to contemporary listeners and then gradually backtracking into the blues and other roots styles. Because it also is the most crisp, detailed recording Taj has ever made – fuzzy sound quality has been a hindrance on some of his wonderful early work – Like Never Before might just be the definitive Taj Mahal album.
"Don't Call Us" opens the album with a showbiz truism – "Those same people you meet on the way up/Are the same people you meet on the way down" – as Taj's gruff voice provides a shot of soul among the synths. "River of Love" could be an old Temptations side – it's bright and upbeat, with caressing harmonies. From there on out, Taj gets noticeably more idiomatic and eclectic. He slips into Jamaican patois and reggae rhythms on "Scattered" and avails himself of Howlin' Wolf-like moans on "Blues With a Feeling."
Taj's friendly nature and big, smile-filled voice make "Ev'ry Wind (in the River)" convey well-being without leaving a saccharine aftertaste. The neatest act of assimilation is the way D.J. Jazzy Jeff is worked into a jumping, old-time boogie called "Squat That Rabbit," whose lyrics are a pastiche of familiar blues rhymes. By the time Taj gets to "Love Up" and "Cakewalk Into Town" (a Dixieland-style remake of his best-known song), the horn section is out and blowing, and friends like Dr. John and the Pointer Sisters help him turn up the heat. Finally, a breathtaking reworking of "Take a Giant Step" – yes, the Monkees tune penned by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and first recorded by Taj in 1969 – closes the album, its instrumentation pointing to Africa, and Taj's vocal gently targeting the heart.
By Parke PUTERBAUGH.
01. Don't Call Us 4:19
02. River Of Love 4:09
03. Scattered 5:42
04. Ev'ry Wind (In The River) 4:53
05. Blues With A Feeling 3:54
06. Squat That Rabbit 4:41
07. Take All The Time You Need 4:23
08. Love Up 3:08
09. Cakewalk Into Town 3:02
10. Big Legged Mommas Are Back In Style 4:21
11. Take A Giant Step 4:41