By M.D. Spenser
The incomparable Taj Mahal, who celebrated his 40th anniversary in the business last year, remains as inventive and lovable as ever, as this highly enjoyable album shows.
It opens with ‘Scratch My Back’, the 1966 Slim Harpo hit – upbeat Blues, rowdy and bawdy, with a great beat, killer horns and salacious lyrics. When his baby hits the right spot, Taj squeals with delight, “Oh, you gonna get you a new car! Ooh, you ’bout to get you a new house!”
Then his restless intelligence ranges over a magnificent array of styles – West African, reggae, Blues, New Orleans – never losing his raucous sense of fun.
Guests include Ben Harper, Ziggy Marley and Angelique Kidjo. The backing bands are superb: his own Phantom Blues Band, Ziggy Marley’s Band, Los Lobos and the New Orleans Social Club.
Never one to limit himself, Taj plays guitar, harmonica, ukulele and banjo, all well. ‘Slow Drag’ is an original Blues with Taj playing the melodic lead on banjo – very pleasing.
‘I Can Make You Happy’, another original, is lascivious hard-ass Blues. It doesn’t get any greasier than this: ‘I’m coming over Saturday night, baby/Now you know just what your daddy wanna do’
The Fats Domino song, ‘Hello Josephine’, and the album’s closer, ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’, by Bo Diddly, are joyous stomps.
No one’s done more than Taj over the last half-century to keep the Blues alive. Yet he’s never been bound by genre. If you think that’s a paradox, you just don’t get it.