200 Gram Vinyl Record
|No. of Discs:||2|
|Note:||33 1/3 RPM|
Previously unreleased late 1990s recordings!
200-gram vinyl pressed at Quality Record Pressings!
Mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio from original 44.1kHz/16-bit session recordings
Taj Mahal, loose and casual in informal recording sessions with peers
Taj performs with guest artists: John Dee Holeman, Cool John Ferguson, Cootie Stark and Algia Mae Hinton
"Great package, mind-blowing sound!!" — Taj, on receiving his copy of Labor of Love
Hear an exclusive stream courtesy of Billboard and SoundCloud here.
"Labor of Love began to become an audiophile reality when the founder and CEO of Analogue Productions, Chad Kassem, visiting his father in Raleigh, North Carolina, met (Tim) Duffy (of the Music Maker Relief Foundation) and heard the tapes. Nearly 20 years later, a deal was struck, a DAT arrived at Kassem's home base of Salina, Kansas, and Labor of Love, pressed on two 200-gram LPs, was born. 'The great thing is that we got to do it with Chad Kassem, Acoustic Sounds, and he did a wonderful job," Mahal says. "The record itself — the packaging, the 200-gram vinyl, and the sound — is just immaculate." — Robert Baird, Stereophile magazine, May 2017
"It's delicious stuff. Mahal was miked up close, allowing every crisp nuance of his voice and guitar to be recorded cleanly and clearly; that guitar work, especially, is so in-your-face that you'll feel like you're sitting at the artist's feet. Some of the material will be familiar to anyone who's followed Taj Mahal, or at least his brand of acoustic blues, for any length of time. The opening number, 'Stagger Lee,' is given a reverential traditional treatment, and 'Fishin' Blues,' regardless of how many times he's cut it, still delights. Mahal takes lyrical and rhythmic liberties with 'Walkin' Blues,' presented here in a bare-bones rendition even starker than the familiar Robert Johnson version; and Mississippi John Hurt's' 'My Creole Belle' is sweet and tasty. The duets, for the most part, are enjoyable as well-the slide guitar on 'John Henry,' with Etta Baker, is sharp and sleek-but in the end, you may end up wishing that the entire set could've been just pure Taj and nothing but Taj." — Jeff Tamarkin, Relix, April 11, 2017. Read it all here.
"What we have here is magic: classic blues tunes — 'Stagger Lee,' 'My Creole Bell,' 'Mistreated Blues,' 'Zanzibar,' 'John Henry' and more — treated with such love and wit and heartache and (to use a tired term that's appropriate here) authenticity. Few field-hand recordings are drenched with this much sweat. And none of those field-hand recordings (few live or studio recordings, period) sound so vivid." — Fred Kaplan, Stereophile.com, March 6, 2017 Read the whole review here.
"Of course this music and this project is at the core of what Analogue Productions' Chad Kassem has been about since he began producing vinyl reissues so it was only natural and fitting that these two LPs have been released on the Analogue Productions label, lacquers cut by Kevin Gray, pressed at QRP and housed in gatefold 'Tip-on' Stoughton Press jackets festooned with evocative black and white session photos. Even if you know these chestnuts like 'Creole Bell,' 'John Henry' and 'Hambone' by heart, you'll experience them here with fresh life breathed into their musical arteries. ... Among my favorites is Taj's instrumental 'Zanzibar,' but really, every track is a treasure. ... Don't be a fool and let the resolution stop you. These are probably the best sounding damn "field recordings" you're likely ever to hear and the stripped-down music is transportive and magical." — Music = 9/11; Sound = 9/11 — Michael Fremer, AnalogPlanet.com. To read Fremer's full review, click here.
"The solo acoustic tunes rank among some of the most relaxed and intimate that he has recorded in the latter part of his career. Even on 'Fishin' Blues' — familiar territory that he has traversed countless times in a career — Taj sounds spontaneous and genuine, often improvising quick guitar fills that substitute for words in some of the verses. ... A noteworthy album by any measure, the stripped-down vibe of these recordings also makes Labor Of Love a nice counterpoint to Taj's last (and more stylistically diverse) full-length studio release, 2008's Maestro." — Roger Gatchet, Living Blues Magazine, February 2017
"Taj Mahal has been tapping into his traditional blues roots since the '60s, but these intimate acoustic sessions from the mid '90s, released here for the first time (and on 200-gram vinyl-only format to boot) are something special. ... The audiophile presssing makes a big difference too: if you've ever longed to have Taj Mahal in your living room this is as close as you're likely to come." — Jim Allen, CultureSonar.com, December 2016
"Labor of Love is a time capsule. Even if 1998 doesn't seem that long ago, it was. Stripping down a record to voices and acoustic instruments will cause anyone to think throwback, yet few can pull it off as genuine and procure it quite like Taj Mahal and friends. Proof positive that all it takes is a soul with something to say and a way to catch it on tape to light that fire in the listener. If you're akin to the blues, God bless you. If you're not, let this be your easing in, you'll find that at the heart of any Labor Of Love there's a definitive true blues." Read the whole review here. — Glide Magazine, January 2017
"Music Maker Foundation founder Tim Duffy has managed to capture Mahal at his most skeletal on this vinyl-only release, culled mostly from Duffy's archives of off-the-cuff performances recorded in 1998 on a 42-city Music Makers tour with Mahal headlining. Some of the cuts were recorded after the shows, late at night in hotel room jams, and some were taped at Duffy's Pinnacle, North Carolina, Music Makers studio/residence. ... Music Maker Foundation releases are always special, but this one should be on your Christmas list and receive your attention all year long. It's a gift that keeps on giving." — Grant Britt, nodepression.com. Read the entire review here.
"Mahal's 47th (no, not a typo) album, Labor of Love, features some of the blues musician's greatest tunes. It consists of solo favorites from almost twenty years ago, and collaborations with the Music Maker Relief Foundation artists. ... He's a storyteller who incorporates his deep musical history in every note that's played. "Stack-O-Lee" is timeless, really... talking about that "bad man." Collaborations on Labor of Love include "John Henry" with the late Etta Baker. Baker's Piedmont blues experiences flood the listeners with a chilling journey into the Mississippi Delta. This stripped down release matches that photo of Taj Mahal on his website — laid back, at ease, welcoming listeners to pull up a chair and leave their cares at the door." — Brenda Hillegas, Elmore Magazine, January 2017
"The album is Taj Mahal's 47th. On it are six solo performances by Taj and seven more duets recorded with Music Maker Relief Foundation artists. All of the songs are previously unreleased performances recorded in 1998. ... Taj states that he enjoyed getting to know the musicians lives and "how they made things work" while getting "closer to the source." — Richard Ludmerer, makingascene.org
The blues live on because the blues give people life, not the other way around. Talk about the blues with Grammy winning singer-songwriter and composer Taj Mahal, or Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, and you'll quickly understand how deeply they grasp this. So it's no surprise that their shared love of blues has created a special vinyl-only album release that's got the loose, easy feel of a porch-sitting guitar strum, sipping sweet tea on a warm summer day.
It is, as Taj himself exclaimed upon receiving his copy of this exquisite album — a "great package, mind-blowing sound!!"
Labor of Love comprises recordings made by Duffy, hanging out with Taj and other artists in a Houston hotel room and during visits to the Music Maker Relief Foundation headquarters in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
Taj and Tim first connected in the mid-1990s as Tim was establishing the foundation. The foundation is dedicated to preserving Southern roots music by directly supporting senior artists in need, while documenting their music and sharing their stage and recording talents with the world.
A CD collection released by the foundation featuring Music Maker artists caught Taj's attention. Tim invited Taj to his place in rural Pinnacle, N.C., where he hung out with several of the artists. Taj loved how they played and sang, but he especially loved "getting to know their lives and how they made things work."
Not much time passed before a performing tour was launched, with Taj as the headliner. Meanwhile, Tim, sensing an incredibly rich opportunity, was hauling along with the tour, high-end recording gear. He set it up in hotel rooms hoping to capture an impromptu session. One night in Houston, magic happened. A few senior bluesmen, Tim, Taj and the daughter of Katie Mae, immortalized in the Lightin' Hopkins classic "Katie Mae Blues" hung out together in a hotel room in Houston. Taj picked up an acoustic guitar and started in on classic tunes — "Stack-O-Lee," "Walking Blues," and more. The tape was rolling.
During the time of the tour, Taj was also visiting during hang-out, barbecue and recording sessions at Music Maker's new North Carolina headquarters in Hillsborough. When the music got going, Taj would play some piano, bass, harp, banjo, mandolin and whatever else was needed.
Now is the time for these immortalized sessions to be heard. So here they are on a solid piece of wax. And what wax it is — a full-on 200-gram vinyl Analogue Productions masterpiece plated and pressed at Quality Record Pressings, maker of the world's best-sounding LPs. Packaged in a Stoughton Printing tip-on gatefold jacket. You won't find a more intimate portrayal of Taj as a freewheeling, fun-loving, always-in-the-pocket sideman.
"Once again, the legendary Taj Mahal dives in knee-deep in the folk blues waters, and rises to the surface with a musical document that chronicles and ties the past to the present. And what a present this is-to each and every true folk blues fan. This double disc rarity finds Taj Mahal spreading his wings and sharing the wealth of his talents with unsung musical heroes of North Carolina-his multi-talented gifts on vocals, banjo, 6-string acoustic, 12-string guitar, piano, and upright bass are all on display here, and the results are breath-taking.
"For starters, Taj treats us to a rare and refreshing take on the classic "Stagger Lee," weaving his rich voice with his "Ting-a-Ling" guitar picking like only the Maestro can. Mahal then casually switches it up and frails on the banjo while veteran Neal Pattman wails on vocals and harmonica for "Shortening Bread."
"Taj uses his gorgeous tenor vocals to great effect on "My Creole Belle," along with what I naturally assumed was his mastery of the delicate Piedmont guitar fingerpicking style. "Not exactly!" says Maestro, correcting me, his pupil. "It combines Mississippi John Hurt's fingerpicking style with that of Elizabeth Cotton and Mrs. Etta Baker, both from North Carolina, but all are influenced by the West African pickin' of the Mandinka!"
"Algia Mae Hinton's regional Carolina-inflected voice permeates the arrangement of "I Ain't The One You Love," with Hinton playing 12-string acoustic and Taj strolling with the leisurely two-step acoustic bass line underneath.
"Of course, this collection would not be complete without a fresh version of "Fishin' Blues." Its probably his most well-known and often-performed piece, and it never gets old-mainly because Taj finds a new way to deliver the lyrics, injecting real feeling, passion, and humor into each rendition.
"Taj continues to display his virtuosity by switching to feverish honky-tonk piano as he accompanies John Dee Holeman's wicked vocal delivery of "Mistreated Blues."
"A special treat for followers of Mahal's career comes in wonderful sparse arrangement of "Zanzibar," an original tune that has appeared on a few previous recordings in ensemble setting but has never been heard as a solo guitar feature until now.
"Taj's whining harmonica solo "So Sweet" With Cootie Stark who sings in a vocal style that can only be ripened with age, experience, and wisdom.
"The opening of Maestro's "Spike Drivers Blues" is delivered in an intense-yet-sultry "talkin' blues" style quite different from Leadbelly's standard version, which is better known as "Take This Hammer." And it is here that Taj gives me yet another mini-history lesson. "I along with Alhaj Bai Konte (kora master of the Gambia) toured and played separately and together over a period of weeks back in the mid-70's, and there is a recording on Flying Fish label of Bai Konte and his son Dembe and I playing ‘Take This Hammer.'"
"Listeners get transported to "a cabin in the pines" with the tune "Hambone," featuring Dee Holeman's smooth delivery on vocals, and Taj providing complimentary body percussion-the two of them both slappin' and clappin' their hands, chests and thighs, perfectly synchronized against the rhythms and rhymes of the lyrics.
"Mahal then offers "Walkin' Blues," best known by the "crossroads" legend Robert Johnson-but this time it's done in the inimitable Taj Mahal manner, with his words tumblin' out like he's kickin' a rolling rock down a Mississippi dirt road. The Maestro does more than just conjure Robert's spirit; he transforms it, transcends it even.
"The sole offering with Mrs. Etta Baker on this double disc set is "John Henry" which finds Baker playing her classic guitar slide style, with Taj playing accompanying guitar.
"The final bonus, "Song For Brenda," is an amazing performance that the listener is simply not ready for! Cool John Ferguson has George Benson-like chops that are breathtaking-not to mention the double stops and rhythmic riffs that remind you of the legendary Phil Upchurch! It's a bit alarming when one realizes that Ferguson plays single-note runs on his National steel string with greater ease than most guitarists can handle on their electric Fender or Gibson-it's an impressive change of pace in the song cycle and a great way to close the album.
"These thirteen tracks compiled here are a stunning achievement-not only for the excellent artists and performances gathered throughout, but also for the determined and indefatigable founder of the Music Make Relief Foundation, Tim Duffy, whose unwavering efforts cannot be overestimated or ignored. The notion that these gems have sat on the shelf unreleased is almost unbelievable-it's such a great treasure trove for us listeners to discover, and we have Tim to thank for that.
"Duffy has-in one fell swoop-turned back the hands of time, and, like magic, simultaneously reset the clock twenty years forward and backwards, chronicling a series of most auspicious occasions that stretched from Houston to Hillsborough. Indeed, these wonderful musicians-led by griot Taj Mahal-came together to remind us that the very best music in the world is, in a word, timeless." — Dr. Wayne Everett Goins, University Distinguished Professor and Director of Jazz Studies, Kansas State University. Dr. Goins is the author of the forthcoming book "Maestro: The Life and Music of Taj Mahal," published by University of Illinois press.
|2. Shortnin' Bread (with Neal Patman)|
|3. My Creole Belle|
|4. I Ain't The One You Love (with Algia Mae Hinton)|
|5. Fishing Blues|
|6. Mistreating Blues (with John Dee Holeman)|
|7. African Wysie|
|8. So Sweet (with Cootie Stark)|
|9. Klondike Gold|
|10. Hambone (with John Dee Holeman)|
|11. Walking Blues|
|12. John Henry (with Etta Baker)|
|13. Song For Brenda (with Cool John Ferguson)|
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