By Martine Ehrenclou
TajMo, the album from blues giants, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ TajMo is the duo’s first 11-track, self produced album, released May 5, 2017 on Concord Records.
TajMo is a celebratory record that blends blues, roots and world music that’s vibrant, textured, soulful and fun. It brings out the best of these two blues legends and celebrates their individual and collaborative musical talents. TajMo is a delight–full of surprises and guest appearances by Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Sheila E. and others.
The opening track, “Don’t Leave Me Here,” written by Mahal and Mo’, grabbed me immediately. With a serious back beat, horn fills, organ and sweet guitar licks, it’s a contemporary blues number with a foot-stomping groove and sweet harp playing by Billy Branch. Both Mahal and Mo’ trade off on vocals and lush guitar riffs. You might not think that these two would blend so well vocally but they do. On every single song.
The second track, “She Knows How To Rock Me,” written by Willie Perryman, has a definite Delta Blues feel with Keb’ Mo’ on his Resonator. Mahal opens the song with Mo’ on back up vocals and then both trade off on the verses. Both sing it with a sense of humor, a theme for the album.
“All Around the World” is one of my favorite tunes on TajMo. It’s an up-tempo tune of hope, a wish for world peace. Opening with a truly tight horn section, the song glides into Keb’ Mo’s distinct vocals. If you’re at all familiar with Keb’ Mo’, you could probably hear three seconds of his vocals on any song and recognize him. The gospel-esque backup vocals, in concert with the horn section, add a contemporary flavor to this uplifting song. It certainly got me out of my desk chair as I turned up the volume in my headphones. It’s a catchy tune and even more so after I listened to it a few times. The trumpet, played by Keith Everett, is outstanding.
“Om Sweet Om” is another standout on the album. The chord progressions on the chorus are, simply put, beautiful. The chorus is reminiscent of James Taylor, complete with acoustic guitar and a nicely done harp solo by Billy Branch. Lizz Wright lends some rich vocals to this song. “Om Sweet Om” is an ode to spirituality, to the importance of love. Just listening to it brought me a sense of peace.
How can you go wrong featuring Joe Walsh on guitar? “Shake Me In Your Arms Tonight” is a standout track on the album. With tasty licks from Walsh, and a magnificent horn section, this song has serious groove. Mahal and Mo’ sing it, and I mean really sing it. They collaborate beautifully together on the entire album but especially on this song. Magic is certainly captured here. Dare I say, I love this song. Love it.
“That’s who I am,” an up-tempo, toe-tapping number initially features Keb’ Mo’ on vocals and playing the Resonator. Even though Mahal and Mo’ trade off on vocals on the verses, this tune sounds like trademark Keb’ Mo’, complete with his great slide guitar chops. With lines like, “I was looking for myself when I found you,” you know there’s some good songwriting in the six originals out of the 11 tracks.
An all-acoustic song, “Diving Duck Blues,” is Mississippi blues, complete with Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal on acoustic guitars. Mahal’s voice is perfectly matched for this tune. Mahal and Mo’, toward the latter part of the song, both harmonize and sing together with the familiarity of old friends.
A surprise track is Pete Townshend’s, “Squeeze Box,” revisioned with a syncopated, Caribbean tempo. A definite improvement over the original, if you ask me. But don’t kill me, Townshend fans.
“Aint Nobody Talkin’” is storytelling blues at its best and Mahal and Mo’ polish this song to a nice shine.
“Waiting for the World To Change,” (John Mayer tune) closes the album. It features Bonnie Raitt on back up vocals. It’s a fitting track for the record but lacks the punch and vibrancy of the other ten tracks.
Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are currently on tour together. If you have the chance to catch them live, grab it. Here’s the link for their tour schedule https://tajmo.com
TajMo is available:
Apple Music/iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/tajmo/id1208593018