Personnel: Taj Mahal (vocals, whistling, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, National guitar, dobro, mandolin, harmonica, piano, upright bass, finger cymbals, hand claps); Jesse Ed Davis (guitar, electric guitar, piano); Ry Cooder (guitar, mandolin); Eric Bazilian (lap steel guitar); Howard Johnson (baritone saxophone, flugelhorn, tuba); Bob Stewart (trumpet, flugelhorn, tuba); Joseph Daley (trombone, tuba); Earl McIntyre (bass trombone, tuba); John Simon (piano, electric piano); Al Kooper, Bill Payne (piano); Gary Gilmore (electric bass); Kester Smith (drums, percussion); Chuck Blackwell, Sandy Konikoff (drums); Babatunde Olatunji (congas, djembe, shekere, percussion); Larry McDonald, Kwasi "Rocky" Dzidzournou (congas, percussion); Robert Greenidge, Andy Narell (steel drum); Hall & Oates, Merry Clayton, Sheryl Crow, Claudia Lennear (background vocals); The Pointer Sisters.
Liner Note Author: Tom Surowicz.
Recording information: 1967 - 1999.
An impressive two-disc compilation, THE ESSENTIAL TAJ MAHAL lives up to its name by charting the path of the acclaimed blues guitarist/vocalist's career from 1967 to 2004. Though always rooted in the blues, Mahal has incorporated other styles into his distinctive sound, including folk, R&B, and reggae. Proceeding in chronological order, this set begins in the late '60s, presenting tunes such as "The Celebrated Walkin' Blues," a spare song that features Mahal accompanied only by his former Rising Sons bandmate Ry Cooder on mandolin; and the gentle, lilting "Take a Giant Step." The second disc finds Mahal easing into a potent version of Bob Marley's "Slave Driver," while "The New Hula Blues" is a deft Hawaiian slack-key/blues hybrid, revealing the breadth of his stylistic range. As a relatively concise yet remarkably thorough overview of Mahal's decades-spanning catalogue, this 36-track compilation is absolutely indispensable.