Taj Mahal & The Hula Blues




I

t’s
been five years since Taj Mahal’s last studio recording and
in the case of


H


a


napepe
Dream

(by Taj Mahal & the Hula Blues, Tone Cool, 2003)


it was well worth the wait. Mahal has been a blues and “roots”
music mainstay since the mid-1960s when he was performing with Ry
Cooder in the legendary band Rising Sons. With a career spanning
nearly four decades, Mahal continues to explore new musical forms
and is a stalwart guardian of older ones. While Taj Mahal hasn’t
had an album on the charts for years, his strength lies in his ability
to continue to amaze audiences with his fluid playing and uncanny
ability to blend styles like few other musicians can. 


After
leaving the Rising Sons in 1966, Mahal went solo. He explored the
blues and brought to it a style that has now been taken up by younger
players such as Keb Mo. In typical Mahal style he would abandon
one form to explore another before things got stale. Taj Mahal is
most likely the first major artist to pursue what is now called
world music. In the early 1970s Mahal began to broaden his musical
horizons, exploring styles such as reggae and calypso long before
musicians like Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood made it hip to do
so. Having taught himself to play the guitar, banjo, piano, organ,
harmonica, bass, and mandolin, Mahal can certainly be classified
as a musician’s musician. 


Having
left such cities such as Los Angeles and New York for the balmier
climate and slower pace in Hawaii, Mahal has assembled a world-class
line-up of musicians to back him on

Hanapepe Dream

. Hanapepe
is a small idyllic town on the island of Kauai where couples having
difficulty conceiving were once sent to “improve” their
efforts. 



Hanape


pe


Dream

opens with “Great Big Boat,” a self-penned happy-go-lucky
tune that sets the pace for the entire album. He follows with “Blackjack
Davy,” a song Mahal first recorded in 1974 on the album

Mo’
Roots

. This latest rendition offers a more up-beat rhythm and
fuller sound than the original. “Stagger Lee,” long a
Mahal staple, is more proof that age has improved on the original.
Hula Blues ukulele player, Pat Crocket takes over the lead vocals
on “Moonlight Lady,” a lilting Hawaiian song penned by
Crockett and covered back in 1974 by the Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian
Band on which former Rising Sons member, Ry Cooder, played. “King
Edward’s Throne” shifts styles with a sound reminiscent
of the eclectic jazz band, Squirrel Nut Zippers. Mahal’s take
on “All Along the Watchtower” mixes a bluesy style with
band member Rudy Costa’s sax that is a joy to be heard. The
album comes full circle with the instrumental and title track “Hanapepe
Dream” that conjures up images of watching a sunset on the
pristine beaches of Kauai. 


Also
included are two CD-ROM live performances that are as good as any
cut from the audio portion of the disc. Mahal continues to perform
an eclectic brand of music, ranging from reggae to blues and rock,
his way.

Hanapepe Dream

is a welcome relief in an era of
manufactured beats and sampled sounds. Mahal delivers and that’s
as good as it gets.








John Zavesky
is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the



Los
Angeles Times



and the



San Diego Union



,
as well as other periodicals.