It’s interesting and illuminating listening to a a blues musician who came of age in the rock era, as opposed to the older ones making music at the same time. (Mahal was 25 at the time of this record.Albert King and BB King were in their 40s, for comparison.)
Mahal has made few concessions to the rock version of the blues that had become popular in the UK, nor the jazz influences that had found their way into both the UK and US blues scenes (though only a part of the latter scene). Instead, his music is notably rawer and rougher than Albert King or BB King, particularly the latter (at the time at least, but in general too). Though deciding one musician is more authentic than another is stupid and mean, Mahal certainly sounds more connected to what the blues was before polish made it commercially accessible.
That’s both a good thing and a bad thing: I quite like this record, Mahal and his band, they come close to my platonic ideal of the blues. But they also sound rather conservative for the era, ignoring what’s happening in the world. (I have never heard Rising Sons, the band that existed before Mahal went solo, but I wonder if they sound conservative.) It’s hard to assess to something that basically sounds like a better recorded and produced version of an older sound in an era obsessed with innovation.
Mahal’s choice of songs is pretty solid – and mostly out there enough that I haven’t heard every single one of these songs before – and the performances are all very good. But this is just another blues record – rawer than its contemporaries, sure, but still just another blues record.
- “Leaving Trunk” (Sleepy John Estes) – 4:51
- “Statesboro Blues” (Blind Willie McTell) – 2:59
- “Checkin’ Up on My Baby” (Sonny Boy Williamson) – 4:55
- “Everybody’s Got to Change Sometime” (Estes) – 2:57
- “EZ Rider” (Taj Mahal) – 3:04
- “Dust My Broom” (Robert Johnson) – 2:39
- “Diving Duck Blues” (Estes) – 2:42
- “The Celebrated Walkin’ Blues” (Traditional) – 8:52
- Ryland P. Cooder – Rhythm guitar and Mandolin
- Bill Boatman – Rhythm guitar
- James Thomas – Bass
- Gary Gilmore – Bass
- Sanford Konikoff – Drums
- Charles Blackwell – Drums
- Jessie Edwin Davis – Lead guitar
- Taj Mahal – Guitar, Music arranger, Harp, Vocals, Slide Guitar