Home » Jazz Articles » Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal: Get on Board: The Songs Of Sonny Terry & ...


Album Review

Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal: Get on Board: The Songs Of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee


Sign in to view read count
Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal: Get on Board: The Songs Of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
There is an African proverb that says "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." The intimacy and the dynamics of the duet setting have long appealed to virtuoso guitarist Ry Cooder. During his expansive six decade career, he has released several adventurous duets and collaborative albums with luminaries such as guitarist Ali Farka Toure, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt or Manuel Galban, to name but a few.

Get on Board is an intense conversation between two longtime friends who have sat at this table before, and after a long time they are hashing out the blues and more. This record is a gorgeous pairing with his old compadre guitarist Taj Mahal with whom he first worked in a band called Rising Sons which was a lifetime ago. And Cooder also played on Taj Mahal's debut album in 1968 and after occasional live performances over the years they haven't recorded any material together ever since. Given the nature of these two's careers, it's fitting that now, after six decades, these two guitar-slinging singers and songwriters, are again making beautiful music in tandem. This long-awaited second installment of their musical partnership is a dose of musical reassurance that, despite the turmoil in which the world finds itself these days, some things remain constant—roots music has always played a long game in matters of the human condition.

Get on Board is a journey worth taking. These two compadres could easily rip into riffs and showmanship that can blow anybody's mind. Instead, they go for the heart of the song and the emotions that have powered them and are content to let their considerable talent speak for itself. Both men are idiosyncratic players who let the music take them down different rabbit holes in search of something special and magical behind the notes that propels them onward. Trading off vocally and instrumentally, Cooder and Mahal blend their musical and lyrical sensibilities together over these 11 tracks. The resulting sound defies being labeled easily as instead, it finds influences across the spectrum of blues, rock, gospel, early jazz, and folk. The songs are warm and rich, with deep flowing rhythms that breathe new life into them.

The opening song, "My Baby Done Changed the Lock on the Door," is an outburst of ragged junk blues—all grinding guitars and raspy vocals by Mahal, complemented by Cooder's burning slide guitar. "Midnight Special" is probably the best-known classic in this collection which the world knows best through the Credence Clearwater Revival's take on it. It was first recorded by Lead Belly on his The Midnight Special and Other Southern Prison Songs (Victor Records, 1940). Cooder and Mahal's take is more jovial and uplifting.

Joining them in this endeavor is percussionist Joachim Cooder who also plays bass. When the three of them really start getting down on cuts like "Packing Up, Getting Ready to Go," "Pick a Bale of Cotton," and "Hooray, Hooray" it's easy to forget it's just three of them making all that joyful noise. These are groovy songs with uplifting vibes. "Hooray Hooray" was the first track released from this album and is a thing of rare beauty. It's a fun, retro romp that mostly evades sugary sentiment. Some of the songs are slow and low like "Pawn Shop Blues" while "Drinking Wine" is a raunchy slice of badass bar-room blues.

Not every song on this record is guitar-based. "Deep Sea Diver" is a piano-based heartfelt, jazzy-flavored song that adds to the album's variety. The artists are not purists in a classical sense and are not afraid to add gospel, to rock occasionally, or use rhythm & blues licks as needed for impact. Such is the closing "I Shall Not Be Moved" with its gospel-like singing that bookends this wonderful record on a high note. The gospel singing blends beautifully with Cooder and Majal's Americana and their gritty street souls.

The general feeling behind this record is of joy. Get on Board is an enveloping and uplifting album. The musicians garner inspiration in each other's talents but also their sense of unity is channeled outward as they invite everyone to "get on board." The duo shows they are a synergistic pairing that makes music that seems more expansive for just a group of musicians who are playing "live" in a room without overdubs. Cooder and Mahal are revitalizing old-time blues songs for these disillusioned modern times. The songs on this record tap into an emotional depth and ancient spirits that modern music seldom comes near.


Ry Cooder: guitar; Taj Mahal: guitar and vocals; Joachim Cooder: percussion.

Additional Instrumentation

My Baby Done Changed the Lock on the Door; The Midnight Special; Hooray Hooray; Deep Sea Diver; Pick a Bale of Cotton;; Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee; What a Beautiful City; Pawn Shop Blues; Cornbread, Peas, Black Molasses; Packing Up Getting Ready to Go; I Shall Not Be Moved.

Album information

Title: Get on Board: The Songs Of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

Post a comment about this album

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.



The Defector
Henry Spencer
Madd For Tadd
Kent Engelhardt & Stephen Enos


Double Portrait
Giuseppe Millaci and the Vogue Trio
Afro Futuristic Dreams
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids
Pharoah (Box Set)
Pharoah Sanders
Dynamic Maximum Tension
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

On the record

Vibes on a Breath
Ted Piltzecker
Jonathan Karrant
Brazilian Match
Luiz Millan
Double Portrait
Giuseppe Millaci and the Vogue Trio

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.