Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Taj Mahal 'Labor Of Love' liner notes

The blues live on because the blues give people life, not the other way around. Talk about the blues with Taj Mahal or Tim Duffy—founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation—and you will quickly understand how deeply they grasp this. Both men are devoted to tradition, but not a museum kind of tradition. They’re devoted to living tradition; tradition that is not only “viable and vital”—as Taj puts it—but tradition that is life-giving and life-sustaining.
When Tim recounts his first experiences hearing Taj play live in the early 1980s, he describes a performer who rumbled with the echoes of ancestors and forefathers as he created a sound that was completely relevant in the present moment. Taj was not a revivalist. He was a medium for the blues’ reviving power.
            Tim and Taj first connected in the mid-1990s. Tim, just getting the Music Maker Relief Foundation off the ground, had released A Living Past, a book and CD set featuring artists he was working with. When this collection found its way to Taj, it stopped him dead in his tracks. For a long time, he had nurtured a belief that there were musicians out there playing traditional blues with life and vigor; musicians who didn’t simply remember the music, but who got life from it. And here they were. Taj describes hearing their music as “deeply personal,” something that illuminated things about his own musical roots he had intuited before but now came to understand more fully. Taj was also was fascinated by Tim. Unlike so many folklorists of the past, Tim seemed to understand that preserving tradition did not simply mean sticking photographs and recordings into an archive. Preserving tradition was “all about taking loving care of these older artists.”
Taj brought Tim out to L.A. and introduced him and his new foundation to folks like B.B. King, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. Tim invited Taj to his place in rural Pinnacle, North Carolina where the celebrated musician slept on a palette on the floor and hung out with several Music Maker artists. He loved how they played and sang, but he especially loved “getting to know their lives and how they made things work.”
            Taj says he wanted to “give whatever [he] had” to Tim’s foundation, and he figured maybe his name had “some kind of cachet.” Things fell into place, including a sponsorship from Winston cigarettes, and in 1998 a group of Music Maker artists set off on a mammoth 42-city tour with Taj as the headliner. Talk to anyone who was involved and it’s immediately clear that this was a special time. Artists who had spent the previous decades playing in drink houses and juke joints were lighting up audiences on high-profile stages across the country, rising to ever higher heights. The bigger the show, the better they played.
Taj was tearing it up too, of course. But he was also soaking it in. He was hanging out with artists like Cootie Stark, Neal Pattman, and Beverly “Guitar” Watkins. He was listening to them and learning from them. And he was reconnecting to music he had been hearing and playing since he was a kid. But now he was grasping it in a new way, going “deeper.” Nothing was drastically different, he says, it just felt like he was getting “closer to the source.”
Tim—sensing the incredibly rich musical possibilities in the air—hoped to catch something on tape. In addition to shepherding a motley assemblage of senior citizen bluesmen and women through a never-ending series of unfamiliar cities and settings, Tim was lugging around high-end recording equipment that he had recently acquired from the legendary audio wizard Mark Levinson. He set it up in hotel rooms in Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas—wherever—hoping he could get Taj to do an impromptu session. But it never seemed to work out.
Then one night in Houston, the daughter of Katie Mae was hanging around—the Katie Mae, the woman immortalized in the Lightin’ Hopkins classic “Katie Mae Blues.” Hopkins, with his highly-original cut-to-the bone poetry and raw elegance, is an Olympian figure of the blues, and Taj, being steeped in the blues’ American mythology, couldn’t miss the chance to meet this woman face-to-face. So, a few bluesmen and Tim and Taj and Katie Mae’s daughter hung out together in this Houston hotel room. After a while, Taj picked up an acoustic and started whipping out classic tunes—“Stack-O-Lee,” “Walking Blues,” “Fishing Blues”—merging his reinvigorated feeling for tradition with his inimitable personal style. The tape was rolling.
            Around the time of the Winston tour, Taj often visited North Carolina, first coming to Pinnacle and later to Music Maker’s new headquarters in Hillsborough. Tim had “tapped into a full-on living scene,” Taj says, and he was reeling with a sense of incredible good fortune that he was getting to be a part of it. He regularly sat in on recording sessions (usually long hang-out-and-barbecue sessions with some recording thrown in). When the music got going, Taj would play some piano, bass, harp, banjo, mandolin, whatever was needed. “It was fun. Really fun to get to use all my chops like that,” Taj says, “but I never got in just because I could. If I didn’t have something to say, I shut up.” He overflows with feeling when he talks about playing with these folks; singular artists like John Dee Holeman, Cool John Ferguson, Cootie Stark, and Algia Mae Hinton.
            Tim loved the sounds that were getting recorded. The players were letting loose, digging in, coming alive as the music came through them. This was it, that place where tradition becomes “viable and vital” in the present. He wanted to put this stuff out—these North Carolina sessions and the Houston hotel recordings. But the time wasn’t right. Taj had just released a string of great studio albums with a throwback R&B flavor, and there was a new 3-disc retrospective of his work on the market. There really wasn’t any commercial space for Taj Mahal versions of “Hambone” and “Shortin’ Bread.” So the recordings just sat around.
            For about two decades now, Taj and Tim have nurtured their friendship and partnership. They have incredibly nice things to say about each other. Both men credit the other with enriching their respective life, career, and musical journey. Tim says that, “having Taj Mahal be a champion for Music Maker has been one of the greatest joys of my life.” He goes on, “Without Taj, Music Maker would not be what it is, it would be something else; something different.” Taj’s spirit, it seems, infuses the whole enterprise.
In 2015, Tim’s foundation turned 21 years old, and Taj, born in 1942, was settling into his eighth decade of life. Both men were looking back and reflecting. They returned to these recordings made during that magical time in the late 1990s. In them they heard what Albert Murray, the great African American cultural critic, claimed to be the essence of blues style, “a unique blend of warmth, sensitivity, nonsense, vitality, and elegance.” These tracks needed to be heard. Taj wanted to do a vinyl-only release and Tim thought that “was really groovy.”
So here they are, on a piece of solid wax. Comb through all the dozens of Taj Mahal albums released in the last few decades and you won’t find a more intimate portrayal of his stripped-down traditional blues style, nor a better representation of Taj as a freewheeling, fun-loving, always in-the-pocket sideman. “When I listen to this,” Tim says, “it just shows how good the music really is. His version of ‘Shortin’ Bread’ with Neal Pattman is, you know, it’s just amazing. It’s as good as anything that was on wax in the 20s and 30s.” And it is, precisely because you don’t get any sense that Taj was trying to recreate some old record. He just sounds like he’s having fun. The album might be a Labor of Love (and the labor is there, no doubt), but when the needle hits the grooves, what really comes across is the love: the love of the budding friendship between Taj and Tim; the love of the blues; the loving care that is the essence of real preservation; and, especially, the love of being in the moment, playing, creating a sound that gives you life. I asked Taj what he wanted the record to say to people. “Hrmmh,” he grunted, diverting attention from my too-serious question, “just enjoy it.”

-Will Boone

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Jalopy 10th anniversary celebration poster


Taj Mahal bio

Taj Mahal

In September 2014, some 50 years after moving to Los Angeles to form the band Rising Sons with fellow blues musician Ry Cooder and Jessie Lee Kincaid, Taj Mahal hightailed it to Nashville to receive an honor he called “one of the most powerful and wonderful things that could ever happen in my life.” Celebrating decades of recording and touring that have nearly singlehandedly reshaped the definition and scope of the blues via the infusion of exotic sounds from the Caribbean, Africa and South Pacific, the two-time Grammy winning singer, songwriter, film composer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist was feted with the Lifetime Achievement for Performance Award at the 13th Annual Americana Honors and Awards.
“I’ve been performing for over 50 years, and to be recognized for the road I’ve traveled means the world to me, says Mahal, who during the show performed “Statesboro Blues” – which he first recorded on his eponymous 1968 debut album – on dobro with a band that included Cooder and Don Was. “I could not have done this without the audience that has been so supportive of me throughout my musical journey. It was a fantastic night and I was thrilled to be there and celebrated among such other outstanding American musical treasures like Jackson Browne and Flaco Jimenez, whose music and talent I am a fan of. It certainly represented a diversity of musical styles and culture. That’s what I’m talking about essay help!”
The night at the legendary Ryman Auditorium capped another extraordinary year for Mahal, which began with a performance at the Gregg Allman Tribute Concert in Atlanta and included playing on the entire Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas album; performing as part of the Bonnaroo Superjam on a bill featuring Derek Trucks with Chaka Khan, Eric Krasno from Soulive,  renowned R&B/blues session drummer James Gadson, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos and Susan Tedeschi; and playing and recording with Van Morrison in Dublin.
“What inspires me most about my career is that I’ve been able to make a living playing the music that I always loved and wanted to play since the early 50s,” Mahal says. “And the fact that I still am involved in enjoying an exciting career at this point in time is truly priceless. I’m doing this the old fashioned way and it ain’t easy..”
Since the release of 2008’s Maestro, his most recent studio recording which received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Mahal has been busier than ever touring and recording at a whirlwind pace with old friends and fellow musical sojourners. In 2010, after being nominated for Entertainer of the Year by the Blues Foundation, he joined Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night studio band The Roots as a special musical guest on the Rolling Stones classic “Shine a Light.” He also opened in Lake Tahoe for Bob Dylan. One of the highlights of the following year as performing a special opening solo set for Eric Clapton and Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center; Mahal also performed several songs with his two fellow legends. The concert was recorded and released as a CD and CD/DVD entitled “Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play The Blues – Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center.”
After starting 2012 producing and performing (vocals, guitar and banjo) on Vusi Mahlasela’s live album Say Africa, Mahal joined the critically acclaimed Experience Hendrix tour for a three week run that included performances by everyone from Buddy Guy, Dweezil Zappa and Robby Krieger to Robert Randolph, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Keb’ Mo’ and Living Colour. Energized anew after the Sony Legacy release of two collections celebrating the riches and rarities of his musical legacy – the two disc set The Hidden Treasures of Mahal Mahal 1967-1973, featuring a full live 1970 concert from Royal Albert Hall, and The Complete Columbia Albums Collection box set, featuring all of his LPs from 1968-1976 – the bluesman enjoyed a wildly productive 2013.
That spring found Mahal singing and playing harmonica on “Further Down the Road” from Clapton’s Old Sock album, and performing as a featured guest at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival at MSG (NYC) where over 30 of the world’s greatest guitarists played sidemen to each other over two nights. Mahal jammed with The Allman Brothers Band featuring David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos and in a special unplugged acoustic set with Keb’ Mo’.
That June marked the release of the all-star soundtrack album to “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” a supernatural blues n’ roots musical featuring music and lyrics by John Mellencamp, a libretto by author Stephen King and production by T-Bone Burnett. Mahal appeared on “Home Again” with Sheryl Crow, Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin, in addition to “Tear This Cabin Down” and “What Kind of Man Am I.” He later performed on “Vicksburg Blues” on actor/recording artist Hugh Laurie’s album Didn’t It Rain and a new rendition of his song “Winding Down” on the Sammy Hagar & Friends recording. He capped the year with “An Evening with Taj Mahal” at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
Mahal’s career has been full of and defined by colorful twists and turns, unexpected whimsical ventures and a commitment to a muse that has long preferred freewheeling innovation to conformity. So there’s always the challenge of finding the right words and phrases to capture just what he’s meant to American music over the past half century. Miles Mellough, who wrote the stark and honest, no holds barred liner notes for The Complete Columbia Albums Collection, captures the complexities perfectly on several posts he penned on his blog Birds with Broken Wings after the box set came out.
“Here’s the thing, plain and simple,” he writes. “Taj Mahal has always been a conundrum; a man who is capable of mirroring many things to many people, and the reason why is because he’s an enigma — an alchemist and a contrarian…Through his music he’s been a dirt farmer, a man of gentry, and a Mississippi riverboat gambler. He’s played the role of the pious country preacher of old South camp meetings to a chain gang prisoner breaking rocks in the hot, midday sun. He’s been a hard-boiled harp player with a gold tooth and process blowing gritty on the South side of Chicago to a West Indies fishing boat captain sipping Banana Daiquiri’s with a St. Kitts woman…Like the blues tree with its many roots, Mahal has become the sum of many parts. But if you were to strip him of the elements that have come to define him publicly, you’d no doubt find that beneath it all he’s really just a simple man with a harp, a steel guitar, and a banjo in his rucksack; a man making music with a whole hell of a lot of heart and soul.”

Thursday, September 8, 2016

KINGSLEY FLOOD – 'ANOTHER OTHER'


For much of his childhood growing up in suburban Boston, Naseem Khuri didn't even realize he was Palestinian. Though his name was a little unusual and his family's Thanksgiving dinner came with a side of hummus, he always thought of himself as a privileged American kid. It was only later that he learned that his mother and father had both been born in Palestine and fled to Lebanon as children; only later that he started to notice walls going up and suspicious glances being cast his way at bars and in airports; only later that he found people considered him—a Massachusetts native—"Middle Eastern," with all the implicit bias and baggage those two words entail; only later that he realized he'd never truly be seen as a "regular" American, despite this country being the only home he'd ever known.
That tension - between growing up comfortably in a nice suburb and existing on the margins as an ‘other’ - lies at the heart of 'Another Other'—the new album from Kingsley Flood, the rollicking, literate, five-piece rock and roll band Khuri fronts—and sets the stage for an exploration of identity and race and class that plays out over thirteen exhilarating tracks.
"What makes you belong somewhere in the first place?" Khuri muses over a beer in Washington, D.C., where he's lived for the past few years with his wife, a speechwriter for President Obama. "At the end of the day, I'm American. The only Arabic words I know are foods and swears. It's just that much more jarring to somehow always be labeled 'an other' when you don't even see yourself that way."
That kind of questioning has pushed Khuri to tackle big-picture issues with his music ever since the band released their debut album, 'Dust Windows,' in 2010. Upon that record's release, NPR raved, "Take some rough and raw vocals akin to Tom Waits, mix in heavy doses of Bob Dylan, add melodies that send you back to a bygone era and push you forward with rock 'n' roll urgency, and you get Kingsley Flood." The band followed it up with a 2011 EP, 'Colder Still,' and a 2013 full-length, 'Battles,' which earned them a main stage spot at the iconic Newport Folk Festival and widespread critical acclaim, including love everywhere from Rolling Stone and Esquire to Paste and American Songwriter. They broke out from their native Boston, where they were championed by both the Globe and the Herald, and hit the road for national touring, sharing bills with Grace Potter, Lucius, Langhorne Slim, Angus and Julia Stone, Brett Dennen, and more along the way.
When the dust had settled and it was time to head back into the studio in 2015, the band decided to take an unusual approach. Rather than record a single batch of songs in one long session for an album, they'd hit the studio every few months to record smaller collections of EPs, resulting in a steady stream of new music throughout the year for their fans and a solid framework for a new full-length LP to follow. In order to fund the approach, they launched a successful, year-long PledgeMusic campaign, in which their fans could act as patrons and enable the band to take the time they needed to hone in on the ever-evolving sound that would become 'Another Other.'
"We've always been an independent band, and as far as the model for how a band survives these days goes, it's just the Wild West," says Khuri with a laugh. "We know we have very dedicated fans, so we wanted to create a model in which they could play an active role in helping to create the kind of art that they wanted to enjoy for a sustained amount of time. And we wanted to give them the ability to interact with us in a personal way and nurture that connection, which is really important to us."
The resulting album is the band's finest work to date, blending the energy of The Clash with Springsteen's keen eye for the experiences of those living on the margins of society. Produced by Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Pixies, Portugal. The Man), 'Another Other' draws its roots from Khuri's childhood memories and works its way to the present.
"When I was in high school and escaped my nice suburb to venture into Boston," he remembers, "I was always warned not to go past this one particular bridge, which cleanly separated two very different parts of town. I began to understand that 'It’s not safe there' actually meant 'They're not like us.' Later, when I was living in Boston, I'd spend many nights in that exact neighborhood I'd been warned about, sleeping on a friend's porch on hot summer nights and marveling at the hypocrisy of it all. On the one hand, I came from an affluent suburb and enjoyed a life of privilege. On the other hand, I was still seen as 'an other' because of my name and heritage. I felt like I fit in both places and neither place at the same time."
Khuri sets that context with album opener “The Bridge,” which centers on that suburban boundary he had been warned not to cross as a child and grapples with the fear of unintentionally perpetuating the same social divisions he grew up with. It sets the stage for what's to come, laying out a vision of a modern American society still sharply divided along lines of race and class. On songs like "Cavalry" and "To The Wolves," which plays like a 21st century answer to "Fortunate Son," Khuri examines why change is so hard to come by, while unflinchingly implicating himself and other good-intentioned souls for maintaining the status quo in the punk-leaning "On My Mind," which features stand-out slide work from guitarist George Hall.
"I thought of that tune after being stuck at a red light in Cambridge and seeing a guy begging for money," remembers Khuri. "Here I was, comfortable in my car, feeling bad for the guy but not actually rolling down my window to help. I had to put a mirror up to my 'armchair activism' because I was going on stage talking all sorts of talk about trying to change the world. What’s any of it worth if I’m not willing to roll down my window?"
The question of what responsibilities those with privilege owe to those without turns up throughout the album. Keyboardist/horn player Chris Barrett's jazz-noir trumpet line hints at Khuri's barely suppressed revulsion on "Tricks," a song inspired by the political ladder-climbing and empty lip-service he witnessed after relocating from Boston to DC, while the sweeping, string-led "Thick Of It" (the album features fiddle contributions throughout from Eva Walsh and Jenée Morgan Force) looks at the ways personal comfort can reduce our investment in activism. "Good Old Wind" is an infectious, fiddle-led rocker that was inspired by a bigoted convenience shop owner in a changing neighborhood from Khuri's youth. Perhaps the album's musical and emotional centerpiece, though, is the title track, a "Guns Of Brixton"-esque earworm propelled by a deep groove from bassist Nick Balkin and drummer Travis Richter.
"I had this complexity growing up because I could look white, but I also knew I wasn't totally white," says Khuri. "'Another Other' came out of a night at a bar when some news about a terrorist bombing came on TV, and the people I was with put it together that my heritage is from that part of the world. A wall was put up in the blink of an eye. I wasn't doing anything differently, but suddenly I was cast as 'an other.’ I grew up thinking I had the power to define my own identity, and suddenly I didn't.”
Ultimately, 'Another Other' doesn’t offer any easy answers, but it does reflect on some basic truths. Change is hard to come by on a broader level because it's hard to come by on a personal level. Those with power and wealth are often more invested in preserving those elements for themselves than divvying them up amongst others. Racism and classism aren't inborn instincts, but rather learned biases. It's easier to fear differences than search for commonalities.
By the end of the album, though, one thing is certain: in Kingsley Flood's America, to be 'Another Other' is a badge of honor. It's the hallmark of those courageous enough to embrace their heritage and the ways it contributes to the fabric of a society that was itself founded by men and women considered to be others. As Khuri sings in the final verse of the title track, 'Thank God I'm not the same."
- Anthony D’Amato

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

GRAMMY-WINNING PRODUCER PAUL KOLDERIE PROPELS KINGSLEY FLOOD’S SOUND FORWARD ON NEW ‘ANOTHER OTHER’ (OCTOBER 14)

Kingsley Flood – the Newport Folk Fest alums – have propelled their sound forward on new album ‘Another Other’ (October 14) with the help of GRAMMY-winning producer Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, The Pixies, Joe Jackson, Portugal. The Man., Dinosaur Jr.). Kolderie said, “I love this band and I had a blast making this record. Great songs, great people, and we had a lot of fun making it. I think that comes through in the recording. Plus we got to work in an old Masonic temple with shadowy Egyptian gods on the wall.”

Frontman Naseem Khuri recalls, “One of the best traits of Kolderie is his demeanor; he can stay calm through a warzone. He saw us all duking it out over the timing of a trumpet solo, and using very few words, resolved it. He just said quietly, ‘hold on,’ turned around, messed with the board, and played both tracks on top of each other, a few bars apart. [Keyboardist and trumpet player] Chris [Barrett] then did a real take of that second part, and we had our solo with dueling trumpets.” He also suggested layering three different fuzz bass textures on “To The Wolves.” Bassist Nick Balkin adds, “It always a heavy song, but he made it crushingly heavy.”

Kingsley Flood Fall Tour Dates

October 21 – New Haven, CT – Café Nine
October 28 – Gloucester, MA – Rhumb Line
October 29 – New York, NY – Mercury Lounge
November 18 – Cambridge, MA – The Sinclair
November 19 – Washington, DC – Rock N Roll Hotel