Title: Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal, 1969-1973
Artist: Taj Mahal
Formats: 2-CD or 2-LP set, MP3
Release date: August 21, 2012
Veteran blues musician Taj Mahal (a.k.a. Henry Saint Clair Fredericks) may have celebrated his 70th birthday this past spring, but he is still actively performing and touring the globe, sharing his unique mélange of blues fused with funk, rock, reggae, gospel, folk, and world music genres. Lest anyone forget Mahal’s significance and his influence on the current generation of traditional blues revivalists and those pushing the boundaries of the genre, Sony Legacy’s new two-disc set serves as a reminder.
The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 draws from recordings and performances from the first five years of the artist’s solo career, immediately following his 1968 self-titled debut for Columbia. Disc one focuses on unreleased studio recordings, some with Mahal’s band The Dixie Flyers, others such as the rollicking “Sweet Mama Janisse” accentuated by a full complement of tubas and horns. The final three tracks—“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” “Shady Grove,” and “Butter”—were recorded in New Orleans with participation from Hosal Wright on electric guitar, Eric Ajaye on bass, and production by the great Allen Toussaint.
Disc two is drawn from a live concert recorded on April 18, 1970, at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Capturing Mahal at his peak, the set is half traditional blues: Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Checkin’ Up On My Baby,” an arrangement of “Runnin By the Riverside,” and a 10-minute jam on “Oh Susanna.” These are interspersed with original compositions by Mahal and others, including “Bacon Fat” by J. Robbie Robertson/Garth Hudson. Band members include Jesse Ed Davis on electric guitar, John Simon on piano, Bill Rich on bass, and James Karstein on drums. All are given ample opportunity to shine in extended solos.
The discs are accompanied by a 15 page illustrated booklet with liner notes by Miles Mellough. Though some compilations dredge the bottom of the vault, this is not one of them. Hidden Treasures should delight any Taj Mahal fan, while leaving us to speculate about other potential gems hiding in Sony’s vault from Mahal’s final three years on Columbia.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss