Sunday, 30 April 2017

"Brothers/Music Fuh Ya' (Musica Para Tu)/Evolution (The Most Recent)" by TAJ MAHAL (November 2015 Beat Goes On 3LPs onto 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...In The Key Of Dire..."

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 debut "Taj Mahal" ranks in my books as one of the all-time-greats of the Blues-Rock genre. The two or three albums that followed that fantastic start were damn good too (he made 11 albums before he quit Columbia Records for Warner Brothers in 1976). But as the new decade wore on – he mellowed those fun 60’s Boogie Blues into wishy-washy Seventies pseudo pap – eventually arriving in 1977 at the truly dreadful "Brothers" soundtrack (not that the other two are much better).

Unfortunately these three albums are an ample example as to why Taj Mahal's records from this period in his career garnish so little interest. They’re just no good and at times genuinely hard to stomach even in hindsight. For what its worth - here are the details...

UK released 27 November 2015 (December 2015 in the USA) – "Brothers/Music Fuh Ya' (Musica Para Tu)/Evolution (The Most Recent)" by TAJ MAHAL on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1214 (Barcode 5017261212146) offers 3 albums onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (41:30 minutes):
1. Love Theme In the Key Of D
2. Funky Butt
3. Brother's Doin' Fine
4. Night Rider
5. Free The Brothers [Side 2]
6. Sentidos Duice (Sweet Feelings)
7. The Funeral March
8. Malcolm's Song
9. David And Angela
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Brothers" – released 1977 in the USA as a Soundtrack LP on Warner Brothers BS 3024

Disc 2 (78:26 minutes):
1. You Got It
2. Freight Train
3. Baby, You're My Destiny
4. Sailin’ Into Walker’s Cay
5. Truck Driver's Two Step [Side 2]
6. The Four Mills Brothers
7. Honey Babe
8. Curry
Tracks 1 to 8 are the album "Music Fuh Ya' (Musica Para Tu)" – released January 1977 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2994 and January 1977 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56324

9. Sing A Happy Song
10. Queen Bee
11. Lowdown Showdown
12. The Most Recent (Evolution) Of Muthafusticus Modernusticus
13. Why You Do Me This Way [Side 2]
14. Salsa De Laventille
15. The Big Blues
16. Nighnite
17. Southbound With The Hammer Down
Tracks 9 to 17 are the album "Evolution (The Most Recent)" – released 1978 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3094 (no UK release)

There's a card slipcase which lends the 2CD reissue a classy look, a new 2015 High Definition CD Remaster from ANDREW THOMPSON and a 16-page booklet with informative CHARLES WARING liner notes that include the original musician credits and some repro'd artwork. The Remaster sounds brilliant even when the music is being busy - these are warm and well-handled transfers (if only the music actually warranted it)...

The "Brothers" soundtrack is based in the Bahamas so every track is dreadful steel drum percussion that renders every tune both dated and unlistenable. But even worse is his voice – which feels out of tune and stoned half the time. You wouldn’t mind if any of the songs were any good – they’re not – insipid half-assed up-pop that just doesn’t work either as Blues, Soul or Pop. Side 2 offers moments of redemption though - the 8-minute "Free The Brothers" track sees the title chanted against an incessant drum and percussion backbeat – but about four minutes in and your patience starts to wear thin as you realise that the song has nothing else to offer – just eight minutes of the same chant that builds a bit towards the end. "Sentidos Dulce (Sweet Feelings)" is a Saxophone Samba with more Steel Drums but feels like elevator music while at least "The Funeral March" has some semblance of Soul in its melody.

Both of the next two records are ruined with Steel Drums invading almost every track – sounding at times like dreadful 'three blind mice' calypso outtakes from "Dr. No". This is epitomised by the woeful "The Four Mills Brothers" where he sings Louis Prima's refrain "...I ain't got nobody..." in the middle of a nowhere melody. But worse is that despite top-notch production values and a huge array of talented players – the songs feel dreadfully dated and strangely lifeless for tunes that have so much going on in them. "Lowdown Showdown" sounds like bad Abba - while its easy to see why "The Most Recent..." track graced the anthology 2CD set from the 90's – its at least got decent vibes and interesting trippy guitar soundscapes. "Why You Do Me This Way" has a nice Ry Cooder groove and "The Big Blues" sounds like a welcome return to form with his harmonica matching a slick brass refrain...with "Southbound With The Hammer Down" doing the same...

To sum up – despite the top-notch presentation and remaster – for me the largely derivative music makes this a rare turkey in the BGO reissue cannon. If you’re not a fan – I’d advise to get a listen first before purchase – and if you are interested in TAJ MAHAL and wonder why such affection was afforded him in the first place - I’d plum for that "Taj Mahal" debut album with Ry Cooder in his band (see review) which is available online for less than three quid in many places...

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