Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo', "TajMo" (Concord)
The first collaboration by Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' - the trailblazer and his by-now experienced disciple - is an easy listen.
It's as a blues album when "TajMo" sounds best, like Mo's resonator guitar on Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues," Billy Branch's harmonica on opener "Don't Leave Me Here" and the gruff vocal combination on "She Knows How to Rock Me."
Mo's songs often take the music in other directions. "Om Sweet Om" features exquisite guest vocalist Lizz Wright and a refrain with a sunny, James Taylor-like disposition, while "All Around the World" has Quentin Ware's trumpet solo to accentuate its optimistic outlook, also anchored in pop sounds.
"Soul," the sole exclusive Mahal-Mo' co-write, has an indestructible beat inspired by African rhythms and lists enough global locations to assemble a geography bee. Among the detours, The Who's "Squeeze Box" has lead and rhythm accordions, while Bonnie Raitt hits an unintentional home run on John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change," with her backing vocals placed way, way, way back in the mix.
Mahal is a golden musical reservoir who also helped Mo' (born Kevin Moore) get his first recording contract, while Mo's roots as an acoustic bluesman are part of a musical identity where pop and other sounds also get their due.
"TajMo" is an apparent contradiction in terms, mostly uplifting blues. If there's a follow-up - perhaps "Keb'Mahal"? - there are plenty of other bluesy moods left to explore.
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