Some “official bootleg” compilations dispel the notion of being for completists only, and this is one of them. These early outtakes and live performances reveal a free-wheeling, unpredictable side to Taj Mahal and his music that doesn’t always shine through in the shorter, polished format of his late-’60s studio albums. That’s not to say that his self-titled 1968 debut is anything other than an essential classic of the period – bridging the gap, as it does, between the old-school delta blues canon and modern blues-rock – but you don’t need to know this to get a rise out of an unreleased gem like “Yan-Nah Mama-Loo,” with its sassy swamp-funk backbeat, or the bawdy 16-minute shuffle “You Ain’t No Streetwalker, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff.” The same holds true for the collection’s second disc – a live set, in its entirety, from an April 1970 appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. With a locked-tight band behind him that includes guitar hero Jesse Ed Davis, Mahal tears through the barrelhouse “Bacon Fat,” “Diving Duck Blues” and a hot-footed version of “Oh Susanna,” his voice soaring with a Redding-like energy. If you’re looking for a fresh point of entry into Taj Mahal’s rootsy heyday, you can’t do much better than this.
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