SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Taj Mahal – Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff – Columbia Records/ Original Recordings Group (45 rpm vinyl)

Rare look at an emerging blues legend is captured on exquisite vinyl.

Published on January 12, 2012

Taj Mahal – Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff – Columbia Records KC 31605 (1972)/ Original Recordings Group 12” 45rpm stereo audiophile vinyl (2 discs), 37:54 total ****:

(Taj Mahal – steel guitar, kalimba, conch, hand claps, upright bass, vocals; The Pointer Sisters – background vocals; Howard Johnson – hand claps, tuba)

When Taj Mahal burst on the scene in the late sixties, it was difficult to classify his music. Playing guitar and harmonica, he fit the bill as a traditional blues artist. Folk enthusiasts appreciated his banjo work as well. He collaborated with a variety of artists, including rock musicians (Ry Cooder). With creative vision, he developed a unique blues mystique. His stage presence led him to, folk and blues festivals, national rock venues and clubs around the world.

His 1972 studio/live album, Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff has now been reissued on 45 rpm vinyl. This is an unusual recording with 11 tracks that clock in just shy of thirty-eight minutes. The first seven tracks are live, recorded at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Side A opens with a “Taj” oddity…a conch solo! Known for experimenting with unusual instruments, the next cut is unexpected. Performing on kalimba (African thumb piano), he manages to extract a rhythmic flow from this “tinny” instrument, as the crowd responds enthusiastically. Switching to his trademark National steel guitar, Taj explodes with forceful strumming and an earthy, baritone voice on “Bound To Love Me Some”. As a solo performer, he has few peers in the totality of his delivery. The set becomes more innovative as the bluesman unveils a banjo for an instrumental, “Ricochet”. With indelible technique, a riveting progression of chord and individual notation transforms bluegrass into modern expression.

Side B starts with a solo a capella gospel song (“A Free Song/Rise Up Children Shake The Devil Out Of Your Soul”). Then, it’s vintage Taj Mahal as he delivers “Corinna” with his raspy vocal style. Without losing the idiosyncratic ambiance, a duet with tuba player Howard Johnson (“Cakewalk Into Town” is an appealing transition to studio material. Side C is some of his best work. Backed by the “unknown” (at the time, anyway) Pointer Sisters, Taj reinvents Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” and makes it his own. The gospel-laden backup vocals are exultant. The Pointers resonate like soulful Andrews Sisters with their three-part harmonies on “Texas Woman Blues”.  The album concludes with a virtuosic solo guitar instrumental, “Gitano Negro”. Easily the longest cut on the album (eight and a half minutes), Taj alternates pensive, delicate phrasing with cadenced strumming. There is an underlying classical structure that coalesces with the up tempo riffs.

ORG Recordings Group re-mastered 45 rpm vinyl is superior to most digital reproductions. Pressed at RTI and mastered by Bernie Grundman from the original analogue master tapes, every nuanced detail, including the rarely used kalimba is pristinely clear. The tones of the steel guitar are rich in texture. Audiophiles and Taj Mahal enthusiasts will want to add Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff to their collections.

TrackList:
Side A: Conch Intro; Kalimba; Bound To Love Me Some; Richochet
Side B: A Free Song (Rise Up Children Shake The Devil Out Of Your Soul); Corinna; Conch:Close; Cakewalk Into Town
Side C: Sweet Home Chicago; Texas Woman Blues
Side D: Gitano Negro

–Robbie Gerson




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