Album Review: Ry Cooder & Taj Mahal – Get on Board [Nonesuch Records; April 2022]

Bringing forward influences from the American folk and blues revival of the 1940s, Get on Board (2022) by Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal is a joint love affair with the music of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, an album in particular, Get on Board (1952).

As Taj Mahal reminisced, “If we wanted to send somebody out to go and see somebody good – go and see Sonny and Brownie” and they soon became the musical imprint that would steer Cooder and Mahal in the same direction.

Traditionally, these guys would indulge in delta and Chicago blues, ragtime, bottleneck and folk. Some of the most wacky world genres in their contemporary years have regularly manifested throughout their solo careers: west African, desert blues, Caribbean and Indian are among them.

Cooder was once a session player for the Rolling Stones in the 1960s, his collaborations with Ali Farke Toure were a match made in heaven, he made the statement: “sometimes records can be so amazing, somehow enhanced sonically because of the process, but then you go and see the people and it’s like ‘oh well’, they didn’t quite do it – but Brownie and Sonny did”.

As a result, Get on Board became a reduplication of its original, an acquired taste no less, but not unlike previous reworks, each track is a testament to the raw and unelaborated, bareboned blues of Sonny and Brownie which the album maintains.

Be that as it may, at the core of these gritty, homespun recordings is something more noble, and less of the nostalgic jam session it reflects. In “Deep Sea Diver”, we hear Mahal on piano, thus providing a gentle respite from the musical landscapes of “My Baby Done” and “Hooray Hooray”. Cooder is heard flexing his musical skill-sets on numerous stringed instruments whilst his son demonstrates his hand-me-downs on bass and drums, a refreshing touch.

Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal’s last collaborative affair was in 1968 on Mahal’s self-titled solo album more than 50 years prior to this. This interpretation of Get on Board, regardless of its merits, tells a story of fellowship and fidelity and thereby becoming a little more than a joyful reunion.


Get on Board is expected to be released on April 22 via Nonesuch Records.