The list of special guests who appear on Taj Mahal's Maestro is hardly what one would expect from a veteran bluesman. Among the special guests are Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Ben Harper, and African pop vocalist Angélique Kidjo -- not exactly a conventional blues lineup. But then, Mahal is hardly a conventional blues artist. He has been providing eclectic, far-reaching albums for a long time, and that spirit of adventure is alive and well on this 2008 release (which marks his 40th year as a recording artist -- Mahal provided his first album in 1968). No one expects Mahal's albums to be the work of a blues purist; in fact, Mahal (who plays guitar, harmonica, banjo, and ukulele on Maestro) is the opposite of a blues purist. While Maestro has its share of electric blues, the veteran singer also gets into everything from soul ("Further on Down the Road") and early R&B (Fats Domino's "Hello Josephine") to reggae ("Black Man, Brown Man," "Never Let You Go") and African pop ("Zanzibar"). The latter features Kidjo on lead vocals and Toumani Diabaté on the kora (a traditional African instrument), while Los Lobos appear on "Never Let You Go" and the humorous "TV Mama" (which is among the disc's straight-ahead blues offerings). Mahal, true to form, is all over the place stylistically on this 57-minute CD -- and yet, Maestro never sounds the least bit unfocused. Being eclectic comes naturally to Mahal, who sees to it that Maestro is a consistently engaging celebration of his 40th year as a recording artist.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson