Album Review: The Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ – TajMo [Concord Records, 4th May 2017]

Blues as a genre is no stranger to collaborations, and albums of choral paternity have been coming out for years. Few records, however, can display the joint efforts of such great musicians as Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’.

Taj Mahal, born in 1942 in Harlem, has been playing his blend of blues and world music for over 50 years, collaborating along the way with everyone from Ry Cooder to The Rolling Stones, as well as cultivating a scholarly passion for African music.

Keb Mo’, stage name of Kevin Roosevelt Moore, is a seasoned blues veteran. Winner of three Grammy awards, he has been said to be “a living link to the seminal Delta blues that travelled up the Mississippi River and across the expanse of America”.

Although this is their first official collaboration, the two musicians have always had a common ground in their talent to interpret and bring forward the great Delta blues tradition.

Coming out this June on Concord Records, TAJMO has everything you would expect the fruit of their collaboration to possess: a polished production (with a recognisable Nashville touch), special guests (Bonnie Raitt, Joe Walsh, Sheila E., Lizz Wright, and many others), and quality tunes.

We start with the excellent opening of “Don’t’ Leave Me Here”, a blues driven by a luscious groove remindful of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”. What follows is a string of brilliantly upbeat tunes, blending delta blues, soul and world music. “Om Sweet Om” is a mellow and soulful ballad, whose texture is embellished by Lizz Wright’s vocal contribution.

“Shake Me In Your Arms” blends James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan, while “That’s Who I Am” is a stomping gospel of steel guitar and raucous vocals. “Diving Duck Blues” goes straight to the Delta roots of the two composers, thanks to its essential arrangement of duetting guitars. Less interesting is a version of The Who’s “Squeeze Box”, a somewhat surprising choice for the two blues players to cover. Taj Mahal’s knowledge and passion for African rhythms is then to be heard in “Soul”, a track constructed around powerful Soweto drumming.

If there is a flaw in TAJMO, it is perhaps to be found in how neat the whole record sounds. In fact, although the album makes for smooth listening, it lacks a sense of adventure and grittiness. If looked through the lens of tradition and instrumental prowess though, TAJMO shines as a masterclass in modern blues.