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Taj Mahal: Maestro (2008)

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Taj Mahal: Maestro How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

With a forty-year track record of recording the blues, Taj Mahal has earned the label of maestro. Now, he celebrates four decades with an album that uses that word as its theme.

Born Henry St. Clair Fredricks in 1942, Mahal has mixed a variety of cultural influences in making his music. Although primarily a vocalist, he also plays a variety of instruments, including guitar, banjo and harmonica. The two-time Grammy winner has performed with or opened for Otis Redding, the Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, among many others.

On Maestro, Mahal is joined on several tracks by an assortment of guests vocalists, and is backed by several bands. The Phantom Blues Band, which accompanied Mahal on his Grammy-winning recordings Senor Blues and Shoutin' in Key, joins for a cover of "Scratch My Back." Joe Sublett's grinding tenor sax solo gives this pleading anthem some extra juice and Mahal's vocal ad-lib makes a fun tune even more enjoyable.

Mahal co-wrote "Never Let You Go" with his daughter, Deva Mahal, who also performs background vocals. This quasi-reggae tune features the band Los Lobos in the background, and Trombonist Angela Wellman gives it some spirit.

Mahal plays banjo and harmonica on "Further on Down the Road," an easygoing piece that features Jack Johnson as guest vocalist. The Phantom Blues Band again provides backup. Reggae returns with "Black Man, Brown Man," a song of longing that brings in the Ziggy Marley Band, with Marley as guest vocalist. Rudy Costa delivers a delightful alto sax solo. The song also explores the topic of race.

Other guests include Ben Harper, the New Orleans Social Club, and African artists Angelique Kidjo and Toumani Diabate. Maestro features Mahal in a familiar element, particularly those songs recorded with the Phantom Blues Band, but it also is a fresh take on the kind of music that identifies Mahal.

Track Listing: Scratch My Back; Never Let You Go; Dust Me Down; Further on Down the Road; Black Man, Brown Man; Zanzibar; TV Mama; I Can Make You Happy; Slow Drag; Hello Josephine; Strong Man Holler; Diddy Wah Diddy.

Personnel: Taj Mahal: vocals, ukulele (2), guitar (3, 6, 8, 10, 11), harmonica (3, 4, 7, 8, 12), banjo (4, 5, 9); Deva Mahal: background vocals (2); Ben Harper: vocals (3); Jack Johnson: vocals (4); Ziggy Marley: vocals (5); Rudy Costa: alto saxophone (5); Angelique Kidjo: vocals (6); Toumani Diabate: kora (6); Jason Yates: keyboards (3); Michael Jerome: drums and percussion (3); Jason Mozersky: guitar (3); Jesse Ingalls: bass (3); C.C. White: background vocals (3); Pebbles Phillips: background vocals (3); Bill Rich: bass (6, 11); Kester Smith: drums (6, 11), percussion (6); Bassekou Kouyate: ngoni (6); Debra Dobkin: percussion (6); Mike Weaver: organ (11); Billy Branch: harmonica (11); Phantom Blues Band (1, 4, 9, 12); Los Lobos (2, 7); Ziggy Marley's Band (5); New Orleans Social Club (8, 10).

Record Label: Heads Up International

Style: Blues


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