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VISITING ACT ‌ Undiluted Blues and Beyond

Taj Mahal's neverending search for soul

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Legendary blues/roots singer, guitarist, pianist, and two-time Grammy-winner Taj Mahal – a highly versatile, from-the-gut American music veteran of 40 years with a massive catalogue of songs and renditions – returns to town this week with his own backing combo for another concert at the Charleston Music Hall.

The Taj Mahal Trio includes bassist Bill Rich, who's played with Taj off and on since 1969, and drummer Kester Smith, who's been keeping time with the guys since the late '70s.

"The Trio allows the music between voice and guitar to happen with the smallest amount of accompaniment," says Taj. "That leaves a lot of space to be filled. The guitar is not submerged but right up front in the music. It's a challenging place to play. This trio sounds great ... it sounds like there's 16 guys up there!"

The band is on the road behind the recent release of a 36-track, double-disc compilation titled The Essential Taj Mahal (Columbia/Legacy), culled from recordings from 1967 through the late '90s.

"I always look forward to playing in South Carolina," says the bandleader. "I got family up in Cheraw and Bennetsville. That's my mama's people up there, so it's always kind of a homecoming for me."

Opening the show are The Carolina Chocolate Drop, a Durham, N.C.-based African-American string band who "play the rich tradition of fiddle and banjo music in the Carolina piedmont." Dom "Arizona" Flemons (banjo, guitar, jug, harmonica, kazoo, percussion), Rhiannon Giddens (string banjo, fiddle), and Justin Robinson (fiddle, banjo) are on tour behind a new album titled Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind. –T. Ballard Lesemann

The Taj Mahal Trio and The Carolina Chocolate Drops perform at the Charleston Music Hall on Wed. Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for $33. See www.tajblues.com and www.sankofastrings.com for more.

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