R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax

Solid Blues Man

09 OCT 08 DAVID NATHAN

Just like the building in India from which he got his name, Taj Mahal is an institution, albeit living and breathing, but just as solid. The New York native is celebrating his fortieth year as a solo recording artist with a brand new album, Maestro.

Taj -- whose genre-bending artistry has included forays into Hawaiian, Caribbean, Latin and West African music styles -- has elicited the support of an eclectic potpourri of special guests including vocalist Ben Harper, Los Lobos, African music star Angelique Kidjo, reggae favorite Ziggy Marley and best-selling artist Jack Johnson. It doesn't hurt that the appropriately-titled release, available on CD or vinyl, also includes accompaniment from the Phantom Blues Band and the New Orleans Social Club.

Given the diversity of material this veteran blues man has covered over the past four decades, Taj is as at home on the hypnotic "Further On Down The Road" (playing harmonica and banjo) on which Johnson guests as he is on the reggae-styled "Black Man, Brown Man" with Marley. The rhythmic "Zanzibar" featuring Kidjo and three African musicians is a real contrast with the harmonica-dominated, fun-filled "TV Mama," one of the two cuts on which members of Los Lobos provide a rockin' accompaniment to Taj's ever-distinctive vocals. Both "Slow Drag" and "Strong Man Holler" are in a more of traditional blues vein, while a cover of Willie Dixon's "Diddy Wah Diddy" with the Phantom Blues Band offers a rousing closer to Taj Mahal's latest triumph.