It’s always a good sign when the venue staff are clapping their hands and boogieing from table to table in time to the act on stage. Taj Mahal’s easy mix of soul, jazz, country and blues – typified by opener Good Morning Miss Brown – has an immediacy and warmth that’s certainly pleasing to this Saturday night crowd.
Now 73, bearded and sporting a white Stetson, he remains precariously seated throughout the show. There are some slightly awkward tussles with guitar straps when changing instruments, and he continually talks too low and too far away from the mic when telling stories between the songs. We catch the odd nugget about “blues Nazis”, being too much of a nice guy to get noticed by girls and how the young Taj was treated as a fledgling recording artist, but his wonderfully husky delivery is best saved for the hits such as Fishin’ Blues, Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue and She Caught The Katy. Beside him, drummer Kester Smith and bassist Bill Rich keep the tempo chair-dancingly smooth, but at times the pace is so gentle and familiar that you crave a little more kick – say John Henry’s bounce over Satisfied ’N Tickled Too’s sleepy reggae groove.
Banjo Blues is a spark of liveliness before Slow Drag’s expert sauntering. Disappointingly there’s no Statesboro Blues in the setlist– maybe it’s being saved for the late show still to come – but a finale of TV Mama lifts the whole venue, with one overexcited and champagne-fuelled sexagenarian nearly stage-diving (but then, thankfully, settling for much sat-down arm-waving alongside his lady friend, much to Bill Rich’s amusement and that of the impressed young men at the adjacent table).
A respectable show, with much to like, but more spice like TV Mama wouldn’t have gone amiss.