The Deal: Taj Mahal celebrates four decades of his rich, multicultural musical heritage.
The Good: As any performer who's tried to follow him figured out a long time ago, Taj Mahal has always been a formidable presence. He just keeps getting better with age. His latest shows the artist at the top of his form. Mahal's heartfelt, bluesy, roots rock never sounded better, or stronger. He kicks it off with a powerhouse soulful rendition of Sim Harpo's "Scratch My Back," done Otis Redding-style. But like anything Taj tackles, he puts his own imprint on it so strongly that even an overpowering presence like Redding gets a run for his money. Big Joe Turner's "TV Mama" strips off Turner's laid back, sophisticated veneer and drags it out back into the alley for a whomping stomp fest. Mahal's cover of "Hello Josephine" is a close match to the '07 release Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, but that's OK. This thing grabs you in places so deep you can't get enough of it. Though Mahal's known for what he calls his spirit-channeling voice, with it's percussive grunts and low-down growls, he proves his mellifluous, if somewhat husky upper register skills are still intact on a current version of "Further On Down The Road." It's as good or better than when it first appeared on 1975's "Music Keeps Me Together." He's reunited with his former touring group the Phantom blues Band and its wonderful to hear those funky horns punching up Mahal's rootsy vocals and powerful harp work.
The Bad: Get out of here. That's blasphemy.
The Verdict: Yessir. It's a keeper.
Heads Up; Release date: Sept. 30, 2008