Roadhouse album review: Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder revisit great old blues with the joyful “Get On Board”

Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder — “Get On Board” — Nonesuch Records

The album cover of the new release, above, with the original from 1952, below. Note the different songs.

Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal have finally created their second album together. Their first was in 1968, when Cooder played on Mahal’s solo debut, “Taj Mahal.”

This time, it’s a joyous tribute to some of their roots, which are deeply embedded in Americana, world music, folk and blues. They’ve re-created (with a few changes) the 1952 “Get On Board” album by the legendary folk-blues duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, purveyors of the classic Piedmont blues style.

They’ve recorded a few of the original songs, but then they dip into the Terry-McGhee catalogue for a fresh selection. This album has more of a joyous house party vibe, with just Taj and Ry holding forth in Cooder’s son Joachim’s house (he added bass and drums.)

Mahal, nearly 80, and Cooder, 75, are seasoned veterans, and they show their age and experience in the best possible way — with a relaxed confidence and exuberance that makes for an album of pure musical enjoyment.

Cooder plays guitar, mandolin and banjo; Mahal plays harp, guitar and piano, while they share the vocals, trading leads and background encouragement. Their enjoyment is contagious. Aside from a few overdubs, each song was done in “just one take, with live vocals”, Cooder says. That live approach makes for great listening.

Their style here is a little tougher than the originals, but just as fine in their own way. And you get the advantage of more modern recording, which, coupled with the living room setting, adds an essential and rewarding spontaneity.

One raucous take is the addition of the delightful, ever-popular, rock ‘n’ roll-flavored “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” not incidentally written by Granville Henry “Stick” McGhee, or Stick McGhee, Brownie’s younger brother.

My favorite track is the opener, not on the original, the hard-driving “My Baby Done Changed the Lock on the Door.” But every cut is good old-fashioned blues at its best. Cooder and Mahal are definitely showing their age with the talents it takes to make this kind of exuberant music.

Here’s an interview on “The Making of ‘Get On Board'”

Here’s a video of the song “Hooray Hooray”


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