Taj Mahal and Keb Mo ‘Tajmo’ (Concord) 4/5

Pairings of musicians sometimes can be contrived and label-led, but not in this case and this is some of the most soulful contemporary blues you are ever likely to hear. Taj Mahal appears to be entering a whole new creative phase in his career and one in which he is solely interested in creating the music he truly loves. Recorded in Nashville and co-produced by the duo, Taj Mahal and Keb Mo team up for a thrilling excursion through various blues sub-genres and showcase their versatility in the process. Delta blues given a thoroughly modern reworking opens up the album on the Stax-influenced, ‘Don’t leave me here’, and this proves to be one of Taj’s finest vocal performances on the entire album, with some stabbing horns to accompany. Likewise, Keb Mo impresses on the mid-tempo soul-blues of, ‘Ain’t nobody talkin’, and here the Hammond B3 licks of Phil Madeira work a treat. In fact, there is an all-star cast of guest musicians on board including singer Bonnie Raitt, percussionist Sheila E and singer Lizz Wright.

A personal favourite is the pan-Caribbean and extremely percussive, ‘Soul’, with elements of blues, funk and reggae, and the horn section straight out of 1970s Earth, Wind and Fire. Gloriously uplifting music. Lizz Wright plays a largely supportive role on the laid back, ‘Om sweet om’, while there is some genuine acoustic folk-blues on the rousing hues of, ‘She knows how to rock me’, with call and response vocals between the main two vocalists. Catchy hooks, tight instrumental performances and a fine pairing of contrasting vocals predominate. The lovely combination of six originals is augmented by some interesting covers, no more so than a zydeco meets the blues interpretation of Pete Townshend’s, ‘Squeeze box’, with a strong, propelling beat.

This may just be a contender for contemporary blues album of the year and, with a little help, it could reach a wider audience and certainly deserves to do so.

Tim Stenhouse