Taj Mahal followed up Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home (1969) with another double-LP concert platter whose title pretty much sums up the contents. The Real Thing (1971) is drawn from a mid-February run of shows at the Fillmore East in New York City where he, Spencer Davis, the Chambers Brothers, and Roberta Flack, among others, shared the bill. Mahal is supported by an interesting extended aggregate with a brass section consisting of Joseph Daley (tuba/horn/trombone), Bob Stewart (horn), and a pair of former Charles Mingus bandmembers, Earl McIntyre (horn) and Howard Johnson (horn). While at times they tend to overpower the usually intimate nature of the performances, that is certainly not the case for the majority of the arrangements. The opener, "Fishin' Blues," is a solo with Mahal accompanying himself on banjo. "Ain't Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo')" is significantly lengthened from the form found on Giant Step (1968) as it stretches nearly nine minutes and allows plenty of room for interaction, offering up a spirited fife interlude from Mahal. In addition to providing an overview from his back catalog, The Real Thing contains a few new compositions. The full ensemble gets a workout on the funky "Sweet Mama Janisse" and the toe-tappin' rural flavor of the instrumental "Tom and Sally Drake" is lightly augmented by a sole tuba -- presumably that of Johnson. Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues" arguably submits the most successful incorporation of brass, sporting a driving, full-throttle rhythm and soulful interpretation.
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer