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The globe-spanning vision and soulful blues of Taj Mahal

Tuesday, Dec 24 2002
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Three decades after its original release, Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff still stands as the best testament to Taj Mahal's indomitable spirit and large vision. Essentially a solo effort split between a live recording at the Fillmore and a session at Columbia Records' San Francisco studios, Mahal's sixth LP opens with a Caribbean shout-out on a conch shell and a peaceful ditty on African thumb piano. Then, the artist (born Henry St. Clair Fredericks) digs deep into his grab bag of rural blues, spirituals, and old-timey songs, singin' and pickin' (on steel-bodied acoustic guitar, banjo, and upright bass) with a gusto that made him a star on the folk circuit of the late '60s.

Throughout his storied career, which has spanned three dozen albums and thousands of performances around the globe, Mahal has explored nearly all the popular African-influenced idioms -- from zydeco to reggae to jazz -- as well as delving into Indian classical and Hawaiian music. But at 60 years old, he sounds most at home evoking the consummate soulfulness of the blues and folk styles, the simple but powerful song forms of his earliest days.

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Sam Prestianni

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