Taj Mahal’s rangy, guest-packed Maestro was perfectly titled

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Another strong late-career effort, Maestro didn’t tamper with Taj Mahal’s long-held template, which meant it was a good album already. Throw in some guest spots by Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Los Lobos, Ziggy Marley and Angelique Kidjo, and it gets even better.

Taj has, of course, been making his own records for more than four decades now, and shows no sign of slowing down. He helped revitalize Delta blues back then, and was a roots musician years before anyone came up with that term. It’s because of him that others like Keb Mo, Eric Bibb and Corey Harris could emerge and make old-school blues and folk sound fresh again.

Taj Mahal established this template early on by blending in so many styles: mix Caribbean, folk and rock with the blues and blues standards with some solid originals — and acoustic with electric. Mahal is truly the Swiss Army knife of the blues. As such, everything Taj did on the perfectly titled Maestro, he did exceptionally well.

“Scratch My Back” rocked hard, as did Jimi Hendrix-ian heavy blues of “Dust Me Down.” In contrast, Taj Mahal’s “Never Let You Go” was a real soulfully sunny reggae and “Zanzibar” was honest African pop. And just to let you know he hadn’t forgotten about the pure, undiluted blues, Taj applied an Elmore James treatment to “TV Mama” and then went into Howlin’ Wolf mode for “I Can Make You Happy.”

Sure, every song on Taj Mahal’s Maestro — released on September 30, 2008 — was a change up, but every song also had its own charms. That’s the mark of a deeply experienced professional who’s completely settled and comfortable in his approach to his music. It made for equally comfortable listening.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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