Taj might take top billing – but make no mistake (seriously – don’t make the mistake!) this is a Keb Mo’ album with one or two moments where Taj Mahal’s gravelly voice adds something slightly less manicured.
So the story goes, these two have known each other for years, Taj is to thank/blame for Keb Mo’ getting a record contract after he failed as Kevin Moore and took a decade-and-a-half off releasing records in order to “rebrand”. The cappuccino bluesman made Starbucks-roots music for the last 20 years, even covering Robert Johnson and one or two other ‘real’ blues artists in an attempt to fake an authenticity – but all the while serving it up as white and bland and safe and nice, to people who – by and large – were white and bland and safe and nice.
Here he, presumably, repays the favour owed to Mahal by taking Taj on tour and making a record with his name on it.
It might introduce a few people to Mr Mahal – and wouldn’t that be nice? But they’re going to have to sit through more of that safe/nice nonsense Mr. Moore/Mo’ has been making – including the insufferable ballads like Om Sweet Om and a frankly ludicrous cover of The Who’s Squeeze Box.
There are some cameos from well-meaning friends (Bonnie Raitt here, a guitar solo by Joe Walsh there) but the only track that even suggests any fire is the nicely smouldering She Knows How To Rock Me; a good ole double-entendre, but Keb Mo’s backing vocals practically have him crooning “Mammy” – it’s that insulting. Still, the guitars do a lovely dance around the campfire and we get to hear Taj in that way that only he can truly nail gruff.
The biggest problem here is the worry that they simply came up with the name for the album – TajMo – and that’s as clever as it got, and the sum total of ‘work’ done. It has a feet-off-the-pedals feel, and that’s not just a pun on the acoustic nature, nor is it any sort of compliment.
In fact most of the album is close to embarrassing – with several flashbacks, for me, to the daze of music retail on Lambton Quay; built for the brand of polish that Keb Mo’ guzzles then regurgitates all over any song. “What a spectacular finish!” the musical-furniture expects might say. Well, the only thing that’s good about this is when it – finally – finishes, forty-five minutes never seemed so long nor sounded so slick-sickening.