Review and Photos by Max Stewart
Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ have both been around the Blues block. Taj Mahal, 75, has maybe had a few more rounds on that block than Keb’ Mo’, 65, but both have storied musical backgrounds that make their collaboration (dubbed ‘TajMo’) a one-of-a-kind treat for Blues fans everywhere. The duo has garnered accolades individually, but their recently-released record (also named TajMo) proves these two have a special chemistry together that has developed and prospered outside of the studio as they continue on the road this year.
Taj Mahal’s celebrated career as a Roots and Caribbean-inspired Blues musician progressed the sound of the genre thanks to his incorporation of different musical flavors into the traditional Blues pot. When walking onto the stage at Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Theatre in August, Mahal’s fun-loving charisma and charm immediately drew the crowd in, much like that of the teacher at school that all the students gravitated towards because he or she ‘made learning fun.’ Taj Mahal surely stays true to the Blues format in many ways, but makes the whole process fun and unique by adding his own zesty spin on the oftentimes regimented style. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt while dancing on stage, Mahal has a gravelly voice that sounds like it has hundreds of years of history in it, lifting the collective energy of the room up during solo tunes “Leaving Trunk” and “Queen Bee.”
Keb’ Mo’ has had a well-rounded career himself: he began in a Calypso band, was involved in the world of R&B and Rock for a while (he co-wrote Jefferson Starship’s “Get Fiddler” in 1975), but he really cemented himself in the Blues after releasing his self-titled debut in 1994. Mo’s smooth and soulful voice is a nice counterweight to Mahal’s, one of many reasons this duo works so well. Mo’s superb musicianship was also well-displayed in his lead guitar fills throughout the course of the night, most prominently during his solo songs “Government Cheese” and the twangy, “Am I Wrong.”
“The good thing about doing this is we get to break it down to this level,” Mahal proclaimed before he and Mo’ stripped it down to the basics for an acoustic version of his 1968 song, “Diving Duck Blues.” Mo’ took on the dobro during “Diving Duck Blues,” showing he is an unbelievable multi-instrumentalist with a well-oiled precision on slide guitar. It is well-known that Mahal is the same way, not only can he hold his own on the guitar, but he has excelled during his career by mastering the harmonica and banjo, too.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for y’all, thank you so much,” Mahal confessed as he credits the fans for recognizing that the two musicians’ combined forces would be magical. The new record is strong with songs that translate well on the road, specifically on the sludging Delta-blues tune “Don’t Leave Me Here,” and the gleefully-upbeat “All Around the World.”
“Take a Giant Step” (originally recorded by Mahal in the Sixties) prominently featured Mahal’s daughters on vocals for a sonic family affair, proving that his musical genes must have been passed down. The encore, “Soul,” was the most worldly moment of the show, with the entire audience on its feet and basking in the tropical delight.
Taj Mahal and Keb Mo give the audience all that they could want from a Blues concert: the heart, the soul, the authenticity. But what sets ‘TajMo’ apart is that their deep roots in a variety of musical buckets keep the night fresh and full of inspirational life.
Check out Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ this fall: https://tajmo.com/shows