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Taj Mahal makes them sway

A review of the veteran songsmith and his trio at the Pour House


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Taj Mahal Trio
The Pour House
May 10

What is it with blues artists? While the rock gods, punk sirens, and metalhead thunderbirds may rocket to Olympian heights early in their careers, their fall to earth in middle age is often a sputtering, wayward nosedive. But blues men and women? Just as their hair is graying (or falling out altogether), they're hitting their stride, growing more certain of their craft.

When Taj Mahal took the stage at the Pour House, it was not as an Olympian but as a journeyman, who looked out on the crowd, strode forward, and with the first few bars of music that night, had the audience in his pocket.

And it was a mixed crowd, too — 20-somethings and those who were 20-somethings decades ago. Impressively, a good many of the younger set knew the song lyrics and sang right along.

Taj and his Trio, drummer Kesster Smith and bassist Bill Rich, had the crowd swaying, waving and shuffling to the beat. There would have been a lot more dancing save that sardines have more elbow room in their tins than the main room had that night. And the guys have those road-tested chops. Taj played a couple different guitars, sat down at the keys and reached for a banjo during the set. A lot of variety from a just a few personnel.

"I keep reminding people," a Pour House employee said, "there's only three guys on stage!"

Over it all, Taj made the crowd feel like guests at the best party you've been to in a long time. In his Hawaiian print shirt (with hula girls), and Panama hat, he wasn't just making a fashion statement but also directing the action from the stage.

"Ladies scream!" he shouted. "Guys yowl! Everybody holler! Let's blow the roof off this sucker."

Highlights of the show included spirited renderings of "Queen Bee" off his Grammy-winning Señor Blues, great country blues numbers like "John Henry" and "Fishing Blues," and a gorgeous "Zanzibar," which had so much soul it could make your heart break.

At the end of the set, Taj reminded his audience of his journeyman credentials. "It's not us up here and you down there," he said. "It's all of us together, up here. At the same level." And he brought his hand up above his eye level a though it were a benediction. Not an Olympian condescension. Just a blessing.

So other artists may peak out early and fall by the wayside, but you know, the Taj abides. Good to know.


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