It’s the best of two in the blues world.
Two iconic and successful musicians have joined forces to produce a unique blues sound called TajMo. The collaboration of Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ brings out the finest qualities in both artists, with the pair merging their distinctive voices, personalities and guitar styles to create vibrant music that is firmly rooted in tradition yet ruled by a playful sense of adventure.
It all played out Saturday, June 24, at MontBleu Theater at Stateline, Nevada.
It took 2 1/2 years to complete the album that features 11 songs and guest appearances by Sheila E., Joe Walsh, Lizz Wright and Bonnie Raitt. As full-time musicians working with other bands, Taj and Keb’ could only work on the project between tours.
“We wanted to do a real good record, but we did not want to do the record that everyone expected us to do,” said Taj Mahal, 78, who is also known as Henry Saint Clair Fredericks.
However, it has been a 48-year musical journey from the first time they played together until they released the album this year. Backed by a full band, TajMo toured the United States and, next, Europe. The band includes background vocalists and sisters Zoe and Deva Mahal, bassist Stan Sergeant, drummer Marcus Finnie, keyboardist David Rodgers and horn players Dana Robbins and Quentin Ware.
Taj Mahal met Kevin Moore (Keb’ Mo’) in 1968 when Keb’ was junior in high school and performed at a student assembly. They first played together the following year in Compton, California. Taj, who is 13 years older, even helped Keb’ land his first record deal. This collaboration has made them even better friends.
Taj Mahal, has been playing his version of country blues since 1964, when he moved to Los Angeles to form the band Rising Sons with fellow blues musician Ry Cooder and Jesse Lee Kincaid. The two-time Grammy winning singer, songwriter, film composer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist received a Lifetime Achievement for Performance award at the 13th annual Americana Honors and Awards in 2014.
Mo’s unique version of the blues features a distinctive slide guitar and rich vocals. The versatile 65-year-old musician and songwriter was born Kevin Moore but did not experience major success until he shortened his name to Keb’ Mo’ in 1994. Moore has released 11 albums and won three Grammy Awards since that time. He has also won 11 Blues Music Awards and six BMI Awards, five for his theme song written and performed for the hit television show “Mike and Molly.”
TajMo played a solid two hours, delivering 21 excellent tunes. Taj showed his incredible versatility by employing a wide assortment of guitars as well as the banjo, ukulele and harmonica to complement his rich voice. Keb’ was equally efficient on a variety of acoustic and electric guitars along with the harp.
Taj wore his distinctive cowboy hat with a Hawaiian shirt. Keb’ was attired in a button-down, long-sleeved shirt with a tie and vest with a sharp hat.
TajMo opened with a great jam song, “Senor Blues,” with Taj seated on stage singing lead and playing the harp. Keb’ guided his trademark guitar in perfect harmony with Taj. It was like they were always destined to play together.
The second song was “Don’t Leave Me Here,” the first of five selections from the TajMo album. Taj and Keb’ exchanged knowing glances during the playful lyrics. Taj Mahal’s two daughters, Zoe and Deva, both dressed in black and wearing large hats, added deep backup vocals on “Government Cheese.” Taj strapped on his guitar and sang in perfect harmony with Keb’.
Taj played a bright red guitar that appeared to be made out of a 1-gallon gas can for “That’s Who I Am,” another track from their album. The two changed guitars again for “Queen Bee.” Taj went acoustic and told a funny story about one of his teachers who was nice and smelled good. Keb’ also played the harp, first using a neck brace while he also played guitar and then getting down on it with both hands. Then they broke into “Life Is Beautiful.” Taj played a ukulele while Keb’ and the backup singers belted out the vocals.
The rest of the band left the stage as the dynamic duo sat side-by-side and doled out “Diving Duck Blues.” Keb’ strapped on his vintage Nashville Resonator steel guitar and used finger picks and a slide. When the song was over, Keb’ asked the audience, “Have you ever done something really cool that you just had to call your friends and tell them? Well guess what? I am playing with Taj Mahal!”
Taj returned the compliment.
After several more songs, and with the full band returning, TajMo closed the concert with “All Around the World” as the two blues stars danced off stage to a standing ovation. They returned for an encore of “Soul” that had everyone in the crowd dancing, as well.
June 24, 2017, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
Don’t Leave Me Here
That’s Who I Am
Life Is Beautiful
Diving Duck Blues
Am I Wrong
Lovin’ In My Baby’s (Band and crew introduction)
The Worst Is yet to Come
She Caught the Katy
Om Sweet Om
Gimme Me What You Got
You Don’t/Don’t Try
Paint My Mailbox
All around the World