The list of special guests who appear on Taj Mahal's Maestro is hardly what one would expect from a veteran bluesman. Among the special guests are Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Ben Harper, and African pop vocalist Angélique Kidjo -- not exactly a conventional blues lineup. But then, Mahal is hardly a conventional blues artist. He has been providing eclectic, far-reaching albums for a long time, and that spirit of adventure is alive and well on this 2008 release (which marks his 40th year as a recording artist -- Mahal provided his first album in 1968).
Folk blues artist Taj Mahal has been putting out recordings for 40 years. He has a distinctive style of playing the guitar with his thumb and middle finger that adds syncopation to his leads, and a recognizable vocal style. His voice is simultaneously gruff and sweet, like someone sandpapered his throat and then coated it with honey. As a result, it’s always been easy to identify a Taj Mahal song after hearing just the first few notes.
Taj Mahal has been recording for 40 years now, and he's clearly in the mood to celebrate. His remarkable career has involving reviving, reworking and often repopularising roots music of almost any kind - from the blues to reggae or Hawaiian and African styles - and Maestro provides a reminder of his range and his many musical friends. Blues, in different shades, dominate the album, from the slinky Slow Drag, in which he shows off his banjo work in a reunion with the Phantom Blues Band, through to their brassy reworking of the Otis Redding favourite Scratch My Back.