Taj Mahal – Savoy
This isn’t the Taj Mahal of his Columbia Records days – The Natch’l Blues, or Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home, wearing shades, neckerchief, resonator guitar on a back porch with suede boots & slender. This Taj Mahal is the mature version. White hair, either a Hawaiian shirt or a nicely tailored suit with a couple extra pounds (like the rest of us). But the talent is there. It’s just been redirected.
A Grammy winner Taj goes through several vintage genres with the atmosphere pulled back from their respective eras. He’s Cab Calloway on “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” a genuine entertainer on “I’m Just a Lucky So and So,” & he’s drenched in 40s cocktail lounge blues of “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.” His ragged voice is rich with experience, style, & class.
A roots artist goes deep into another soil. Instead of a rural spud, pumpkin, or radish with rootsy folk flavors, he sprouts more like a sweet cherry tomato, tall corn stalk & bright red beets beneath the bright Americana sun. Produced by pianist John Simon (The Band, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Blood, Sweat & Tears), the set is loaded with swing-jazz-big band era standards on the 14-cut Savoy (Drops April 28–Stony Plain Records). The Savoy lasted between (1926-1958) & this collaboration is classically endowed.
Each song lays down impeccably with slinky female choral coloration. The band’s vintage sounding with authenticity per the decades they represent. Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, George Gershwin & Louis Armstrong melodies spill from this rich songbook.
I started to really enjoy Taj when he did 2 songs on a compilation CD called Largo. The thrilling “Freedom Ride.” & “Banjo Man.” This Savoy set is a foray into the opposite – with nostalgia & vintage arrangements — it’s natural for an artist like Taj Mahal.
A humorous sparkler of a song with vocalist Maria Muldaur spices up affectionately the now controversial but well-intentioned “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s playful & harmlessly suggestive of what humans do. This band plays charmingly. The duo vocalizes warmly. Taj tries hard to seduce Maria. And we root for him.
Highlights –“Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “I’m Just a Lucky So and So,” “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.” “Summertime,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” “Do Nothin’ Till’ You Hear From Me,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” the brilliant “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Lady Be Good,” “Caldonia” & “One For My Baby & Me.”
Musicians – Maria Muldaur (vocals), Evan Price (violin), Taj (vocals/harmonica), Danny Caron (guitar), Ruth Davies (bass), Leon Joyce, Jr. (drums), Carla Holbrook, Leesa Humphrey, Charlotte McKinnon, Sandy Cressman, Sandy Griffith & Leah Tysse (bgv).
Color photo by Jay Blakesberg courtesy of Geoff Kulawick.