For this week's "Random Vinyl," I am spinning Taj Mahal's 1968 self titled debut. If you love the blues or even just rock-and-roll you will dig this record "top left to bottom right."
Taj Mahal was born in Harlem in 1942. His father was a pianist and arranger and his mother sang in a local gospel choir. Mahal was raised to be proud of his heritage; having parents who witnessed first hand the art, prose, poetry, and music, of the Harlem Renaissance. This sense of pride for his West-Indian and African ancestry would prove ever-present in his work as he matured and became one of the most prominent voices in blues music; eventually melding it with the likes of gospel, funk, rock, reggae, and Caribbean music.
On his self-titled debut, under his stage name, which he took around 1961 at the age of 19, we hear what the average listener today might call 'classic blues.' The electric blues as played by people like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King. When Taj Mahal began playing it in 1968, however, it wasn't so well known and wide-spread. Classic blues was Robert Johnson and Son House and was acoustic. People like the blues legends mentioned above and Taj Mahal (certainly a legend in his own right today) were responsible for plugging-in and electrifying the genre. This album is certainly a classic, though, with tracks like the opening "Leaving Trunk," and "Dust my Broom." Songs that have been endlessly covered, but rarely played with as much grit, emotion, and loose groove as they are represented here on this LP. The most notable musicians on the album other than Mr. Fredericks are Charles Blackwell (Drums) and Ry Cooder (Guitar), but I prefer the description of the group quoted from Taj Mahal himself on the back of the sleeve: "We got a pretty tight band here, though-a son of a Texas sharecropper, a Hungarian Jew, a wild-eyed Irishman, and a crazy swamp Spade...(playing) Blues-rock-gospel-Country-funk. Screamin' and Singin'." Its hard to argue that last sentiment. They are definitely screamin' and singin' on "E Z Rider," a classic blues tale of lost love, and on the album's closing track, one of my personal favorites, "The Celebrated Walkin' Blues," which features Mahal playing some tasty slide guitar and, of course, his signature blues harp.