Taj Mahal

Oooh So Good N'Blues/Recycling the Blues

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Australia's Raven Records is among the most venerable reissue labels in the world, and this two-fer of Taj Mahal vintage recordings is a case in point. Sony Legacy began a rather aggressive reissue campaign of Mahal's recordings, remastering and reissuing his late-'60s work and early records, including his self-titled debut, The Natch'l Blues, and Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home and The Real Thing. For whatever reason, they stopped short of these two fine albums. In typical fashion, Raven has painstakingly remastered the tapes and they sound utterly fantastic; warm, full, and sparkly. Another trademark of Raven's is to reverse the order of the recordings on their presentations, so Oooh So Good N'Blues, which was released in 1973, is first and the 1972 album Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff is relegated second. The music here, while not wildly different from Mahal's earlier recordings, has dated exceptionally well. Oooh So Good N'Blues is notable for its beautiful exposition of Mahal's Piedmont style playing and the influence of Mississippi John Hurt and Elizabeth Cotten -- who were both alive at the time -- are prevalent. Versions of "Buck Dancer's Choice," "Oh Mama Don't You Know," and of course "Frankie and Albert" are highlights. But there are important others, as well. "Little Red Hen," issued as a single (record companies were far more progressive then) features the backing vocals of the Pointer Sisters whose own debut would be issued later in the year; their backing vocals are heard on "Frankie and Albert" as well. Old favorite "Dust My Broom" is here, played lean, raucous, and mean on a National Steel. Other standards such as "Railroad Bill" are present, but it's the stellar reading of "Built for Comfort" that takes the cake with Mahal playing a mean piano. The latter album in its presentation is the first place that Mahal began to evoke his life-long fascination with the music of twin cultures: Caribbean and African. The first half of the disc is live, and Mahal introduces his set with a short yet beautiful conch shell solo, followed by one on kalimba! It gets decidedly more intense after that with "Bound to Love Me Some," and his own "Ricochet," as well as "Cakewalk into Town," and a moving reading of "Corinna," with the late Jesse Ed Davis on slide guitar. The second half of the album features new material with the Pointer Sisters singing backup -- their first recorded performances -- on three tunes, and a gorgeous instrumental played on the National called "Gitano Negro." These are stellar records and are highly recommended to any late to the party fan who hasn't heard them (because they've been out of circulation for 15 years) or any old faithful one who has forgotten they existed. They are like old friends, familiar, humorous, and still full of surprises.

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