Since coming on the scene in the mid-'60s as a member of the Rising Sons (with Ry Cooder, Ed Cassidy and Jessie Ed Davis), Taj Mahal has carved out a one-of-a-kind career, first as a living repository of traditional African-American music styles, and later as a musical wanderer, sampling and recording in the styles and traditions of cultures as diverse as West Africa, Spain and Hawaii. These two sets, captured live at Boulder, Colorado's Fox Theatre on January 20th, 2003, showcase Taj working largely in the element where he made his mark: traditional blues. The stripped-down arrangements put the spotlight right on him, giving Taj the room to weave his magic and make this a memorable set.
Volume 1 finds Taj working some of his most popular songs, including "Queen Bee" and Fishin 'Blues." But it's also a good chance to see how the musicologist in him thinks, finding affinities between divergent strains of African-American musical traditions. "Freight Train" takes on a Jamaican lilt — a nod to the music Taj heard growing up as the son of a Jamaican-born musician. And the peripatetic Mahal touches a lot of global bases on his mellow rendition of "Autumn to May," while his spidery guitar work lends a delicate African pop sensibility to "(My) Creole Belle." Two classics with deep roots, "Corrina" and "Stagger Lee," are in the mix, making this a heady yet playful gumbo of deep blues.