Everyone loves the blues. Around the nation's pubs and clubs there are countless blues bands churning out bog-standard riffs to real ale-fuelled punters.
Taj Mahal is different. He's a classic bluesman, for sure, but we aren't talking Robert Cray or even Buddy Guy. Mahal is one of the last great roving troubadours, and he's just as likely to be jamming with Ali Farka Toure or the Malian kora master Toumani Diabate. His last album, Mkutano, was made with the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar. It follows a long fascination with Africa, and 40 albums on, at the age of 63, he's not resting on his laurels.
So it's no surprise he chose the Malian bluesman Idrissa Soumaoro as support for his UK tour. Soumaoro has had an illustrious career playing alongside Salif Keita's legendary band Les Ambassadeurs, and recently winning France's prestigious RFI World Music Award.
Here, he draws exclusively on his debut album, Köte. From the opening "Yorodian Taga" through to the finale "N'Taki", it's a set of deep Malian blues that undulates like a slow river. Highlights include "Safi", a love song to his daughter, and "Wari", a cautionary tale on the allure of money. He switches to his signature instrument, the kamelen ngoni, for the last numbers.
In the old Rolling Stones film Rock and Roll Circus, there's a stellar performance from Taj Mahal, stuck between The Who and a woodenly pouting Marianne Faithfull. He cuts an even more imposing figure now, a bear of a man. But he sure can move, and his voice is like fine old whisky now. "You expected an old bluesman," he says after a pulse-raising power blues intro.
As he launches into "Annie Mae", one remembers that much of the blues was built on raw sexual tension. Taking off his black fedora to mop his brow, Taj suggests that the ladies might be wondering what he had for breakfast. He says cryptically that the last time he was in Poole, in the late Sixties maybe, it was a "very arresting affair".
Tracks such as "Blues With a Feeling" reek with sexual suggestion, and are the better for it. Like Howlin' Wolf or John Lee Hooker, Taj understands raunch. After "Fishin' Blues" he heads into Creole country with "Creole Belle" and stops off in Africa for "Zanzibar". He finishes with the rousing electric blues of "Queen Bee" and the classic "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes". Taj Mahal can still put a lot of British contemporaries to shame.Reuse content