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Taj Mahal — Savoy
(Stony Plain SPCD1470, 2023, CD)

by Henry Schneider, Published 2023-05-20

Savoy Cover art

Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr was born in Harlem on May 17, 1942 and raised in a musical family. His mother was a member of a local gospel choir and his father was an Afro-Caribbean jazz arranger and piano player. When Henry was around 17 or 18, he had dreams about Mahatma Gandi, India, and social tolerance that led him to adopting his stage name Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal has had a long musical career starting with his first self-titled album released in 1968 up through 2023 with the release of Savoy. Over his decades-long musical career, Taj has pushed the envelope of American roots music forward by incorporating elements and sounds from the Caribbean, Africa, traditional blues, and jazz. He has earned three Grammy Awards, been inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association. With his new album, Savoy, Taj embarks on a new musical journey by exploring a collection of blues-tinged big band and swing music from his youth, paying homage to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, where his parents met. On the introduction to the first song “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” Taj regales us with the story of his parents meeting for the first time during the initial run of Ella Fitzgerald with the Chuck Webb Band in 1938, accompanied by female background singers evoking the Andrews Sisters. He then begins to sing and throw in some scat. The remaining thirteen songs are a loving throwback to the music he was exposed to as a youth when the composers were still alive and performing. Over the course of the album, he integrates New Orleans jazz, big band, bluesy jazz, swing, boogie woogie, and electric blues, reminding me at different times of Dr. John, Cab Calloway, and Louie Armstrong. He is especially bold in covering “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Maria Muldaur, given the song’s recent controversy. At 80 years of age, Taj’s vocal and musical chops are top notch. Savoy is one fun album and a beautiful tribute to the music of the 40s.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): Taj Mahal

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