Dancing The Blues

Taj Mahal

Private Music Records, 1993


REVIEW BY: George Agnos


Taj Mahal is a veteran bluesman who has been recording since the sixties. In his career he has pretty much covered all types of blues songs, as well as styles outside the blues genre. His 1993 release, Dancing The Blues, is a look back to some of the songs that influenced his own work. He covers everyone from 1930's Rhythm and Blues artist Louis Jordan to 1950's rocker Fats Domino. The result is a fun, foot-stomping album.

Songs like Hank Ballard's "The Hoochi Coochi Koo" or Domino's "I'm Ready" are fun rockabilly tunes that are such no-brainers that Mahal would have to deliberately try to butcher, for them not to sound good (thankfully, he doesn't). What is especially enjoyable are some of the quirky covers like Alvin Robinson's very funny "Down Home Girl".

Another standout is his version of Percy Mayfield's "Stranger In My Own Hometown", a deceptively upbeat song about a man who is no longer accepted by his friends or family. The Texacali Horns give an understated performance that is not brassy and helps move the story along. I do wish pianist Bill Payne got a little more soloing room as he displays some tasty chops in a really short time.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Mahal's guitar playing is solid, and on Howlin' Wolf's "Sitting On Top Of The World", he plays a mean steel guitar, an instrument which is not easy to play. His band also excels on many cuts. I especially like the shuffling beat provided by the piano, bass, and percussion on the gritty cover of T-Bone Walker's "The Hard Way". However, I would have liked to hear the band jam a little more throughout the album. The only time they really cut loose is on "I'm Ready".

Mahal includes two originals on Dancing The Blues. The first, which starts the album off, "Blues Ain't Nothing", is a solid uptempo blues number that seems like the theme song for this project. And on "Strut", Mahal shows his jazzy side. He scat sings over his own guitar chords not unlike George Benson, although he is not quite guitar player that Benson is.

Where Dancing The Blues stumbles is on the Fats Domino ballad "Going To The River" which is overlong and dull. This is a sore spot on an otherwise interesting collection. He makes up for it on another ballad "That's How Strong My Love Is". His performance here is heartfelt even if, as a singer, he won't make people forget about Otis Redding. On the other hand, his duet with singer Etta James on "Mockingbird" blows away the hit version by James Taylor and Carly Simon.

The most adventurous move on the album is a reggae version of the Four Tops song "I Can't Help Myself". I like the way he de-Motowns this song making for an interesting cover. What I don't like is that this is a bonus cut, which implies that there are probably versions of this album that does not include this cut, and that is really a shame.

What Mahal has accomplished with Dancing The Blues is come up with an appealing, eclectic collection of his favorite songs. His enthusiasm for this music is obvious, even if he may be a little too reverent of the material at times. Nevertheless, there is plenty of fun moments and even people not into the blues might enjoy this one.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Private Music Records, and is used for informational purposes only.