The legend that is Taj Mahal released a time capsule of acoustic country, folk, blues in Labor Of Love, his first offering in four years and 47th record to date! Housing classic Mahal favorites like “Stack-O-Lee”, “Walking Blues”, and John Hurt penned personal favorite, “My Creole Bell”, but the succulence is the atmosphere. Clearly heard as friends purely making a joyful noise, the collection was recorded by Music Maker Relief Foundation headman Tim Duffy during a month and a half long tour back in 1998 in hotel room to hotel room. Being on tour always leaves ample time to pick and slide, sing a spell, blow some harp, or record all that goodness together and make it a record.
Labor Of Love finds Mahal putting on a clinic of sorts. Picking on blues staples and folk mainstays with a cast of mysterious characters in one-armed harp blower Neal Pattman, blind songbird Cootie Stark, Piedmont blueslady and gentleman Algia Mae Hinton and John Dee Holeman respectively, and not to mention a not so unknown, Cool John Ferguson adding some acoustic axe work on the album closer. There’s piano-laced barrelhouse blues coupled with hambone hand slapping and feathering to help flavor the acoustic folk blues fervor. Labor Of Love is a heaping helping of Taj Mahal’s blues with a little help from his friends.
The man is simply a legend. Recording since the late ‘60s and collecting an attic’s worth of triumph and awards, most notably a couple Grammys, an Americana Lifetime Achievement Award, and of course a seat in the Blues Hall of Fame, and a well-deserved one at that. Mahal has put more blues in hippies ears than Son House, John Hurt, or Fred McDowell combined. He’s toured with Dylan to prime audiences, picked a song or three with the Rolling Stones in front of the white hot lights of the stage, used to hang with BB King and our favorite Blues Brothers, Aykroyd and Belushi, and still plays shows all over the world as your eyes peruse these ramblings.
Bonnie Raitt chimes, “Taj is probably the most important bridge we have between blues and rock-n-roll. He’s as bad as they get.” The new father at 73, Mick Jagger has called him “a living link to the old blues tradition.” There’s no doubt he’s as bad as they come, however, Labor Of Love is also the mellowest of mellow offerings from Mahal. That’s what’s so ultimately refreshing about this thirteen song collection out now on Acoustic Sounds in 200 gram vinyl, no less! That and it’s a damn near twenty years old at the time of its release! There’s a ton of beauty there.
Labor of Love is a time capsule. Even if 1998 doesn’t seem that long ago, it was. Stripping down a record to voices and acoustic instruments will cause anyone to think throwback, yet few can pull it off as genuine and procure it quite like Taj Mahal and friends. Proof positive that all it takes is a soul with something to say and a way to catch it on tape to light that fire in the listener. If you’re akin to the blues, God bless you. If you’re not, let this be your easing in, you’ll find that at the heart of any ‘Labor Of Love’ there’s a definitive true blues.
Originally published at Glide Magazine 1/22/17