Of all the 1960s folk bluesmen, perhaps none has been as freewheelin' as 62-year-old Taj Mahal. Though rooted in the acoustic side, he's embraced everything from gospel and zydeco to folk and African music, and his Neil Young-like genre-jumping has proved a source of both joy and frustration to fans. (You can see Mahal's influence most readily today in Corey Harris, who is following a similar path.)
Like his contemporary James Blood Ulmer, Taj clearly has taken a liberal interpretation of "the blues" since his 1968 debut record. And like eclectic jazz icon Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Taj claims to have received his performing name in a dream (Henry St. Clair Fredericks, after all, sounds more polished floor than killin' flo').
He's been a resident of Hawaii for more than a decade now, and the fragrant archipelago's laid-back atmosphere is all over his most recent effort, Hanapepe Dream. The record also dips its musical toes into reggae and Caribbean stylings in covers like Bob Marley's "African Herbsman," tosses in a couple of traditionals such as "Blackjack Davey" and "King Edward's Throne," and augments them with a few originals.
Taj Mahal for information, call 713-230-1600.
Like those of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, Taj's voice has coarsened over the years, but there's a gravitas there that nonetheless doesn't take itself too seriously. With his frequent collaborators the Hula Blues Band, expect lots of indoor sunshine and lap steel guitars.
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Opening is Susan Tedeschi, the wailing blueswoman and wife of Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks. Her latest record, Wait for Me, is more polished than her debut, edging her more toward her likely destination as the next generation's Bonnie Raitt.