If I've ever come across an article sighting the long list of great, classic blues albums, Taj Mahal's debut album is not automatically offered up as an example. It's a disappointment, as it really should be. Cut in 1968, and comprising mostly of covers of well known standards (bar one Mahal original) this is an often brilliant, always blistering, contemporary blues record.
Supporting by a first class band (including Ry Cooder) Mahal energetically grabs these tunes and delivers a well structured and impressive set.
I could spend time discussion the musicianship on this record, but what's particularly noticeable throughout is Mahal's vocal phrasing - his approach to singing certain lines is often unexpected, cramming more words in than usual or following the rhythm of the song and then, for good measure, blowing in to his harmonica to really kick the song up a notch. It's not so much about what he sings, but how he sings it - there are tricks here that you'll still be picking up on after playing this album a dozen times.
Mahal also covers a number of basis here: there is funky, stomping blues (Leaving Drunk), pulsing, driving blues (Stateboro Blues, Checkin' Up On My Baby) and slow, contemplative turns (Celebrated Walkin' Blues). Granted, it sticks to the blues formula, but stretches in many different direction on what is a relatively short (but almost perfect) 30 odd-mintue journey.
If you're new to Taj Mahal then don't automatically buy his best of - sure it's good, but his first three records (or 4 if count Giant Steps and De Old Folks at Home as two albums rather than a double) are all essential, and stand as great purchases in their own right.