Taj Mahal: Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal
Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal
(Sony Music)

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“It’s all there, man. Just drive a fucking hole in it!” So says Taj Mahal in “You Ain’t No Streetwalker Mama, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff.” It’s as long as its title suggests, a ribald 14-minute harp extravaganza. When Taj yells “Gimme that Brontosaurus!” and “Work it like a mule!” he tears into harp solos that would give Paul Butterfield chills.

Half studio, half live, the 2-disk set, Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal, captures Taj in his formative years accompanied by guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, mixing together a Delta blues/rock bouillabaisse. Davis’ Delta picking revs up the first of three versions of “Sweet Mama Janisse,” a grittier sound-alike to “She Caught the Katy.”

An early attempt at Taj’s “Ain’t Gwine Whistle Dixie (Any Mo’)” is presented in a relaxed form with muted Dixieland horns…and more cowbell for window dressing. Taj wraps the sparse, gospel-flavored “Jacob’s Ladder” around his rasp, while the blues classic, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” gets a muddy Delta makeover that outclasses the zillion other versions you’ve heard. The uncharacteristically funky “Tomorrow May Not Be Your Day” brings to mind Otis Redding in full funk mode with lines like “It’s imposs-poss-possible!”

Taj and the band stretch out on disc 2, which was recorded April 18, 1970 at Albert Hall in London. Taj and Davis burn up the stage in “Big Fat,” while it’s companion piece, “Bacon Fat,” simmers for its eight-minute duration. Ever the innovator, Taj turns Steven Foster’s “Oh Susanna” into 8:23 of chooglin’ high-octane blues that says these guys aren’t on their way to Alabama, they’re invading it.

With all 22 previously unreleased cuts, this early career Taj chronicle is something fans of the blues and Dixieland jazz will treasure.

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