Sunday, 29 January 2012

"Original Album Classics" by TAJ MAHAL. 2011 Sony/Columbia/Legacy 3CD Mini Box Set Remasters - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Have You Ever Been On The Outside..."

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Blues of Henry Fredericks from Harlem in New York (Taj Mahal to you and I) - and his 1968 self-titled "Taj Mahal" debut (part of this nifty package) still ranks in my books as one of the all-time-greats. Like "Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac" (1968), John Mayall's "Blues From Lauren Canyon" (1968), Johnny Winter's "Second Winter" (1969) or Shuggie Otis' 1970 debut album "Here Comes Shuggie Otis" - "Taj Mahal" is the kind of good-time hair-shaking bum waddling Blues-Rock that I adore and to me still sounds as fresh as a daisy (with maybe less hair and a wee bit of middle-aged droop around the tum tum). Here are the 'E Z Rider' details…

UK released 24 January 2011 (1 Feb 2011 in the USA) on Sony/Columbia/Legacy 88697731562 (Barcode 886977315626) - this 3CD mini box set is part of Sony's hugely successful and popular "Original Album Classics" series. It contains the following 3 albums in singular 5" card repro sleeves with original American artwork on the front and rear...

Disc 1 (33:00 minutes):
1. Leaving Trunk
2. Statesboro Blues
3. Checkin' Up On My Baby
4. Everybody's Got To Change Sometime
5. E Z Rider [Side 2]
6. Dust My Broom
7. Diving Duck Blues
8. The Celebrated Walkin' Blues
Tracks 1 to 8 are his debut album "Taj Mahal" - released February 1968 in the USA on Columbia CL 2779 (Mono) and CS 9579 (Stereo) and in the UK on Direction S 8-63279 (Stereo only). The Stereo mix is used in this 2000 remaster and there are no bonus tracks.

Disc 2 (49:03 minutes):
1. Good Morning Miss Brown
2. Corinna
3. I Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Steal My Jellyroll
4. Going Up to The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue
5. Done Changed My Way Of Living
6. She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride [Side 2]
7. The Cuckoo
8. You Don't Miss Your Water (’Til Your Well Runs Dry)
9. A Lot Of Love
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 2nd studio album "The Natch'l Blues" - released February 1969 in the USA on Columbia CS 9698 (Stereo only) and in the UK on Direction 8-63397 (Mono) and S 8-63397 (Stereo). The Stereo mix is used.

BONUS TRACKS (all Previously Unreleased in 2000):
10. The Cuckoo (Alternate Version)
11. New Stranger Blues
12. Things Are Gonna Work Out Fine

Disc 3 (33:43 minutes):
1. Johnny Too Bad
2. Blackjack Davey
3. Big Mama
4. Cajun Waltz
5. Slave Driver [Side 2]
6. Why Did You Have To Desert Me?
7. Desperate Lover
8. Clara (St. Kitts Woman)
Tracks 1 to 8 are his 8th studio album "Mo' Roots" - released October 1974 in the USA on Columbia KC 33051 and CBS S 80346 in the UK (no bonus tracks)

Remastered for CD by the dynamic duo of BOB IRWIN and VIC ANESINI in 2000 and put out as part of the "Columbia High Fidelity "360 Sound" Series" - these are Audio Engineer names I actively seek out. Anesini alone has handled hugely prestigious catalogues like Elvis Presley, Simon and Garfunkel, Carole King, Janis Joplin, Hall & Oates, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Jayhawks, Mott The Hoople, Santana and many more. So the audio is top notch and at first glance this release seems like a steal at just under seven quid (nine bucks) - but there's 'both' really good and really bad on here. Let's get to the good first...

The debut album is the stuff of Blues-Rock legend - an absolute gem. The band consists of guitarists Ry Cooder (credited as Ryland P Cooder) and Jesse Edwin Davis with veterans James Thomas on Bass and Charles Blackwell on Drums. Taj sang all the tunes and mainly stuck to harp playing except on the brilliant 8-minutes of "The Celebrated Walkin' Blues" where he puts in some great slide-guitar work. Niggles - the original album was also issued in MONO - and as you can see from the playing time provided above - it could easily have been fit on here as a first - but alas. I would also love to one day see a LEGACY DOUBLE DELUXE of this fantastic debut - there must be some outakes in storage somewhere - and live sets with that stellar band...

The follow-up album "The Natch'l Blues" was more of the same up-tempo boogie (and his first LP to chart in the USA - it peaked at a lowly 160 in February 1969). Again it featured Jesse Edwin Davis (had his own albums on Atco by now) but also brought in Al Kooper on Piano. Produced by Bruce Robinson, the record featured great funky blues rhythms like "Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue" - sounding not unlike Shuggie Otis on his wonderful debut "Here Comes..." (see separate review for that 3CD box set). The 3 bonus tracks are shockingly good too - especially the Fleetwood Mac 1st album feel to "New Stranger Blues" (lyrics above).

But the side is let down badly by the "Mo' Roots" set - a real dog and wildly out of place here. It was also badly produced for 1974 - very dull and lifeless sounding - and I'm afraid this supposed remaster has done nothing for it. Tracks like "Slave Driver" with its cod-reggae rhythms sounds like poor man's Bob Marley and The Wailers. A better inclusion would have been the 1969 2LP set "Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home" which continued on convincingly from the first two records. It's also a single CD that fitted the entire double on it - so it would have been ideal here and would have made this mini box an absolute must-buy.

Like the Shuggie Otis, Muddy Waters and Fleetwood Mac 3CD sets in this cool little series - this box set of great Blues Rock is stunning value for money. But Taj Mahal’s addition to the series is docked a star for that turkey 3rd disc.

To sum up - a good release then (2 out of 3 ain’t bad) - but it's a damn shame Sony didn't apply some imagination here because it could have been a truly great one...

PS: 01/02/2010 saw the introduction of THREE DISC SETS in the "Original Album Classics" Series (there are 5CD sets also) and releases are ongoing. Here is a list of the '3CD' sets to January 2012...

1. ADAM & THE ANTS (26/09/2011)
[Dirk Wears White Sox/Kings Of The Wild Frontier/Prince Charming]
2. AMERIE (01/02/2010)
(All I Have/Touch/Because I Love It)
3. ANATHEMA (26/09/2011)
[Judgement/A Fine Day To Exit/A Natural Disaster]
4. BLONDIE (26/09/2011)
[No Exit/Livid/The Curse Of Blondie]
5. COLIN BLUNSTONE (26/07/2010)
[One Year/Ennismore/Journey]
6. DAVID BOWIE (09/01/2012)
7. JOHNNY CASH (09/01/2012)
[Hello, I'm Johnny Cash/The Johnny Cash Show/Man In Black]
8. CLANNAD (24/01/2011)
[Magical Ring/Macalla/Sirius]
9. SHAWN COLVIN (08/02/2010)
[Steady On/Fat City/Cover Girl]
10. ALICE COOPER (26/09/2011)
[Trash/Hey Stoopid/The Last Temptation]
11. MILES DAVIS (26/07/2010)
[Nefertiti/Sorcerer/Filles De Kilimanjaro]
12. DEEP PURPLE (26/09/2011)
[Slaves And Masters/The Battle Rages On/Purpendicular]
13. DONOVAN (22/07/2010)
[Mellow Yellow/Hurdy Gurdy Man/Barabajagal]
14. BOB DYLAN (26/07/2010)
[Empire Burlesque/Down In The Groove/Under The Red Sky]
15. BOB DYLAN (09/01/2012)
[Good As I Been To You/World Gone Wrong/MTV Unplugged]
16. EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER (28/03/2011)
[Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970/Live At The Royal Albert Hall/Live In Poland]
17. AGNETHA FALTSKOG [of ABBA] (01/02/2010)
[Agnetha Faltskog/Nar En Vacker Tanke Blirsang/Elva Kvinnor I Ett Hus]
18. (PETER GREEN'S) FLEETWOOD MAC (01/02/2010)
[Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac/Mr. Wonderful/The Pious Bird of Good Omen - The Original UK Album Track Lists - No Extras]
19. ARETHA FRANKLYN (01/02/2010)
[The Electrifying/The Tender The Moving The Swinging/Soul Sister]
20. GROOVE ARMADA (26/07/2010)
[Vertigo/Goodnight Country (Hello Nightclub)/Lovebox]
21. THE JEFF HEALEY BAND (09/01/2012)
[See The Light/Hell To Pay/Feel This]
22. JAPAN (28/03/2011)
[Adolescent Sex/Obscure Alternatives/Quiet Life]
23. JEFFERSON AIRPLANE (28/03/2011)
[Volunteers/Bark/Long John Silver]
24. JOURNEY (01/02/2010)
25. TAJ MAHAL (24/01/2011)
[Taj Mahal/The Natch'l Blues/Mo' Roots]
26. CHARLES MINGUS (26/07/2010)
[Mingus Ah Um/Mingus Dynasty/Tijuana Moods]
27. WILLIE NELSON (01/02/2010)
[Yesterday's Wine/Red Headed Stranger/Stardust]
28. THE ONLY ONES (09/01/2012)
[The Only Ones/Even Serpents Shine/Baby's Got A Gun]
29. SHUGGIE OTIS (09/01/2012)
[Here Comes Shuggie Otis/Freedom Flight/Inspiration Information]
30. DOLLY PARTON (8/02/2010)
[Eagle When She Flies/Slow Dancing With The Moon/White Limozeen]
31. IGGY POP (28/03/2011)
[New Values/Soldier/Party]
32. ELVIS PRESLEY (26/09/2011)
[Today/From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis Tennessee/Moody Blue]
33. PRIMAL SCREAM (26/09/2011)
[Vanishing Point/Echo Dek/XTRMNTR]
34. SANTANA (08/02/2010)
[Illuminations/Oneness/The Swing of Delight]
35. SANTANA (26/09/2011)
[Havana Moon/Beyond Appearances/Spirits Dancing In The Flesh]
36. SCORPIONS (01/02/2010)
[In Trance/Virgin Killer/Taken By Force]
37. GIL SCOTT-HERON (24/01/2011)
[Real Eyes/Reflections/Moving Target]
38. SIMON and GARFUNKEL (01/02/2010)
[Sounds Of Silence/Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme/Bookends]
39. PATTI SMITH (26/07/2010)
[Gone Again/Peace And Noise/Gung Ho]
40. THE STRANGLERS (28/03/2011)
[Feline/Aural Sculpture/Dreamtime]
41. TOTO (08/02/2010)
[Toto/Hydra/Turn Back]
42. LUTHER VANDROSS (01/02/2010)
(Never Too Much/Give Me The Reason/The Power of Love)
43. VANGELIS (26/09/2011)
[Heaven And Hell/Albedo 0.39/Spiral]
44. THE WALKER BROTHERS (01/02/2010)
[No Regrets/Lines/Nite Flights]
45. MUDDY WATERS (24/01/2011)
[Hard Again/I'm Ready/King Bee]
46. BOBBY WOMACK (09/01/2012)
[Home Is Where The Heart Is/Pieces/Roads Of Life]

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