Taj Mahal, The Natch’l Blues
A fresh, crackling reinterpretation of the blues idiom
Forty years after Mahal's sophomore effort was released, it sounds as fresh and original as it did back in 1968. The Harlem-born musician, trained in African rhythms, certainly offers a unique take on the blues, using an integrated band to transpose the oft-wearied call-and-response formula that dominates the Southern musical style into a playfully upbeat sound.
When The Natch'l Blues surfaced, the hippie counterculture was in full swing. Electric bluesmen like Albert King — a southpaw famous for wrangling psychedelic chord changes from his Flying V — headlined the Fillmore Auditorium, while pre-war acoustic purveyors such as Furry Lewis and Son House were experiencing unlikely renaissances on the coffeehouse circuits. Mahal, true to form, elected to forge his own trail, employing an electric combo that included organist Al Kooper, the legendary Earl Palmer on drums, and sessions guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, best known for his work on Gene Clark's White Light album.
Originally composed of nine tracks, The Natch'l Blues includes renditions of Yank Rachell's classic country blues number "She Caught the Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride," the Delta-styled vamp "Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue," and a pair of horn-laden Stax soul songs, William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til Your Well Runs Dry)," and Sam and Dave's "Ain't That A Lot Of Love." His voice crackling like wildfire, the phrasing punctuated by his virtuoso finger picking technique, Mahal ably reinterpreted the blues idiom, creating an American roots music primer that is perfectly sandwiched between King's bristling Born Under A Bad Sign, released in 1967, and Johnny Jenkins' funk-rock masterpiece, Ton-Ton Macoute!, released in '70.