Taj Mahal

Sing a Happy Song: The Warner Bros. Recordings

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Sing a Happy Song: The Warner Bros. Recordings Review

by Richie Unterberger

Mahal's stint with Warner Bros. was not among his most artistically productive, documenting an era in which he become preoccupied with fusing his brand of blues with Caribbean rhythms and steel drums. This double-CD set contains the entirety of three 1976-1978 LPs for the label, in addition to some unreleased material. Those three LPs -- 1976's Music Fuh Ya (Musica Para Tu), 1978's Evolution (The Most Recent), and the 1977 soundtrack to the little-known film Brothers -- form most of what's on this compilation. There's a sameness to Mahal's easygoing blues-on-the-beach approach, and a sometimes irritating reliance on Caribbean steel drums for color, that wears down the listener's attention span in such a large dose. The highlights, though not that high, tend to be the times he cuts the Caribbean arrangements down to emphasize more of his blues roots ("Freight Train," "The Big Blues"), or at least go in some unexpected directions (the Dr. John-like "Southbound With the Hammer Down," the Mills Brothers tribute "The Four Mills Brothers," the good-timey jazz strut "Honey Babe"). For many inclined to check this out, the chief attractions will be the unreleased material, comprising seven live songs from a February 1977 show. It's well-recorded, repeating only two songs that are found as studio versions elsewhere on the set (both from Music Fuh Ya (Musica Para Tu)), but is no more exciting than (and similar to) everything else here.

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