Music » Critics' Picks

Taj Mahal and the Phantom Band

Wednesday, April 24; Mississippi Nights


Taj Mahal is one of those bluesmen who doesn't like being called a bluesman. And in fairness, his repertoire has stretched over the years to encompass rock, soul, gospel, folk, reggae and other "island" music. He's even experimented with the traditional music of India. Still, it's the blues for which he is best known, and it's arguably what he does best.

When Taj Mahal and the Phantom Band swing into St. Louis next week, they'll serve up a spicy mix of these musical styles and a few others to boot. Within the blues, the band covers all the bases, veering from hypercharged Chicago-style workouts to raw Delta classics, from sweet acoustic Piedmont blues to the urbane brass-heavy blues of the West Coast. The band's original material largely sticks to a blues format peppered with healthy doses of Caribbean percussion. It's an exciting and unconventional approach to roots music that stops short of being irreverent.

A giant of a man who favors Hawaiian shirts and mesh hats, Taj is a commanding physical presence. Ultimately, though, it's the energy of his performance rather than the vibrancy of his wardrobe that's most captivating. For those who have forgotten that blues music was meant for dancing, Taj and company will provide a much-needed reminder.

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