Friday, March 11, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

The Natch'l Blues

Taj Mahal

Columbia/Pure Pleasure CS 9698 180g LP
Produced by: David Rubinson
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Ray Staff at Air Mastering



Taj's Second Album With Bonus Tracks
by Michael Fremer
February 01, 2011

Henry Saint Clair Fredericks A/K/A Taj Mahal grew up in Harlem, spent time as a teenager on a Massachusetts dairy farm, attended U of M, gigged around and finally headed west and built a musical career first in Los Angeles and later in the Bay area. The life influences come through in his music: a mix of urban and country blues mixed with world music.

Taj's first break came when he joined with Ry Cooder and formed The Rising Sons. The group signed with Columbia records and recorded a Terry Melcher-produced album that was never released. It's since come out on Sony/Legacy. Sundazed issued it on vinyl. Taj stayed with Columbia and issued a dozen albums before leaving for Warner Brothers.

This was the second one and it's among his strongest in my opinion. This reissue adds three bonus tracks: an alternate version of "The Cuckoo" (guess which is better?) and "New Stranger Blues" and "Things Are Gonna Work Out Fine."

The album grooves in an upbeat country/blues mood until a Memphis stew version of William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til Your Well Runs Dry)" where Taj digs into Otis Redding and an anonymous brass and reed section adds the Stax/Volt juice. The original ends with a smoking "Gimme Some Lovin'"-like version of the oft covered "A Lot of Love."

In addition to Taj on harp and National Steel guitar the excellent backing band includes Jesse Ed Davis on guitar and pian, Gary Gilmore on bass and Chuck Blackwell on drums. Al Kooper is on piano and Earl Palmer plays drums on unspecified tracks but I'd say Palmer plays on "A Lot of Love."

This reissue tacks on the two bonus tracks to flesh out what was a relatively short but pleasingly compact and self contained album. The bonus tracks sound like demo/jams. They're superfluous but don't hurt and if you don't like them you can always lift the stylus after "A Lot of Love."

The upbeat performances are crisp and infectious, the backing band rocks and the recording quality is high. Producer David Rubinson rarely disappointed during this era.

The original 1A pressing I have here is somewhat cleaner and more immediate sounding, but the vinyl is noisier.

The cover art changed at some point in this release's history. The original has the artwork in a white border signed by the artist with 1/25 between the work's title (Taj) and the artist's name. There was probably some permission and/or licensing issue.

This is a fine reissue of a worthy album, though you might easily find a clean original on line or at your favorite used LP emporium

Thanks to Michael over at for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

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