Recording information: Blue 52 Studio, Sherman Oaks, CA; Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA; Rax Trax Recording, Chicago, IL; Stu Stu Studio, Nashville, TN.
Photographer: Jay Blakesberg.
Keb' Mo' and Taj Mahal have been friends and colleagues for years but 2017's TajMo is the first time the pair have recorded an album. It also marks the first time Taj Mahal has entered a studio since 2008 -- Keb' Mo' last released an album in 2014 -- and if this seems like it should be a momentous occasion, what's striking about TajMo is how casual the whole affair is. The duo designed TajMo to be an upbeat, life-affirming listen, something that emphasizes how the blues can also offer a good time. If the album can occasionally seem a little too crisp and polished -- it's bright and shiny without a hint of grit -- it's also true that this reflects the lightness at the heart of TajMo. Sometimes it gets so light it's almost glib -- witness the cover of the Who's "Squeeze Box" -- but Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' are also determined to broaden the scope of the blues, adding Soweto rhythms to "Soul," cutting a version of John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change," even making concessions to pop on the ebullient "All Around the World." Maybe it's not a major record but its mellowness is charming, and the two bluesmen play off each other like the longtime friends they are, which is an endearing thing to hear. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine