1968: Taj Mahal
Album: Genre Highlight, 7.5/10
Specific Genre: Electric Blues
Main Genre: Blues
Undertones: Blues Rock
Baby, now you know your natural man done come
Exuding the laidback confidence of someone who seemed to know where he was headed, Taj Mahal’s solo debut falls neither into the category of psychedelic blues swirls from that period’s West Coast and Midwestern updates, nor is it a purely reconstructional effort. Rootsy it is, but only in a sense: All these songs hail from the 1930s and -40s, but you wouldn’t know it from the firm blues rock production here, stressing Taj’s exquisitely sonorous harmonica. Taj Mahal tips his hat to Howlin’ Wolf’s brash boogie on Sleepy John Estes’ “Everybody’s Got to Change Sometime”, he presents a variant of “EZ Rider” like Otis Redding might have and very much enjoys the company of fellow would-be folksong-historian Ry Cooder on rhythm guitar.
The biggest feat the album pulls off is making its source material hip and contemporary – like a fresh tap on an old source, which caused its lasting impact on blues rock and southern rock bands of the early 1970s. While I don’t put it on very often – there’s only so much a standardized “Dust My Broom”-version in 1968 can do for me – the album is best summed up in the triumphant nine-minute “Celebrated Walking Blues”, almost provocative in its slow strut, riding on Taj Mahal’s vocals, a dragging guitar and Cooder’s lilting, rural mandolin. The give-away is in the title – Taj Mahal doesn’t just play ‘the theme’ (as the Walking Blues was sometimes called in the Delta), he plays the blues like you would drive a weathered, but astoundingly maintained Corvette.