Taj Mahal | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Taj Mahal 

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TAJ MAHAL

Taj Mahal's current CD, Se–or Blues (Private Music), takes on prewar Chicago blues (Washboard Sam's "Sophisticated Mama"), hipster balladry (Horace Silver's title track), vein-popping soul (Otis Redding's "Mr. Pitiful"), and gospel ("Oh Lord, Things Are Gettin' Crazy up in Here")--and that's not the half of it. On his own "Queen Bee" alone, he lays delicate Piedmont fingerpicking over a modified reggae beat, enhancing the melody with moody pop-jazz keyboard chording and a sweet horn section; what's more, he growls out the lyrics in a harsh Afro-Caribbean accent, and his wheezy harmonica solo is straight out of Bob Dylan's mid-60s lickbook. Not all of this genre jumping works: Taj's Ray Charles imitation on "I Miss You Baby" misses by a mile, and on tunes like "Mr. Pitiful" and Marvin Gaye's "At Last (I Found a Love)" he can't quite summon the magic mix of emotional tautness and effortless delivery that characterized the work of the great soul vocalists. Nonetheless the disc shows that Taj Mahal remains a major force in both the preservation and the ongoing development of the music of the African diaspora. He also continues to challenge arbitrary barriers of genre and generation--a model attitude in this age of prefabricated aesthetics. Saturday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2538. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by James Minchen III.

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