Personnel: Taj Mahal (vocals, whistling, guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, National guitar, dobro, fife, harmonica, piano, Fender Rhodes piano, upright bass, finger cymbals, hand claps); Taj Mahal (mandolin); Jesse Ed Davis (guitar, electric guitar, piano); Ry Cooder (guitar, mandolin); Denny Freeman, Eric Clapton, Etta Baker, Abdul Wali, John Hall, John Porter, Johnny Lee Schell (guitar); Hoshal Wright (electric guitar); Mike Campbell (12-string guitar); Sonny Rhodes (lap steel guitar); Toumani Diabat‚ (kora); Michael Barretto (baritone ukulele); Rudy Costa (saxophone, kalimba); Joe Sublett (tenor saxophone); Howard Glover "Johnny" Johnson (baritone saxophone, flugelhorn, tuba, hand claps); Howard Johnson (baritone saxophone, flugelhorn, tuba); Darrell Leonard (trumpet, French horn, trombone); Earl McIntyre (bass trombone, tuba); The Texacali Horns (horns); Jon Cleary (piano); Mark Goodman (electric piano, synthesizer); Merl Saunders, Mick Weaver, Rob Hyman (organ); Kim Jordan (keyboards, synthesizer); Earl Lindo, Wayne Henderson (keyboards); Jennifer Acosta (synthesizer); Gary Gilmore (electric bass); Ozzie Williams (drums, drum programming); Mark Singer, Greg Thomas , Andy Kravitz, Richie Hayward, Tony Braunagel (drums); Kwasi "Rocky" Dzidzornu, Ralph MacDonald, Bill Summers, Kwasi "Rocky" Dzidzournou (congas, percussion); Myrick Guillory (rub-board); Daryl Hall, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Tommy Henderson, Melody McCully, Pamela Vincent, Joyce Wilson, John Oates (background vocals); Eric Bazilian (lap steel guitar); Bob Stewart (trumpet, flugelhorn, tuba); Joseph Daley (trombone, tuba); John Simon (piano, electric piano); Al Kooper, Bill Payne (piano); Kester Smith (drums, percussion); Chuck Blackwell , Sanford Konikoff (drums); Babatunde Olatunji (congas, djembe, shekere, percussion); Larry McDonald (congas, percussion); Robert Greenidge, Andy Narell (steel drum); Merry Clayton, The Pointer Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Claudia Lennear (background vocals).
Liner Note Author: Tom Surowicz.
Recording information: Athens, GA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); Burbank, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); Encino, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); Hollywood, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); Kauai, HI (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); Los Angeles, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); North Hollywood, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); Pinnacle, NC (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); San Francisco, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); The Fillmore East, NY (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); The Mint, Los Angeles, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999); Van Nuys, CA (08/17/1967-04/??/1999).
Photographers: David Gahr; Marc Norberg; Sam Emerson Loew; Al Vandenberg; Chris Felver; Amalie R. Rothschild.
Arrangers: Taj Mahal; Etta Baker.
An impressive two-disc compilation, THE ESSENTIAL TAJ MAHAL lives up to its name by charting the path of the acclaimed blues guitarist/vocalist's career from 1967 to 2004. Though always rooted in the blues, Mahal has incorporated other styles into his distinctive sound, including folk, R&B, and reggae. Proceeding in chronological order, this set begins in the late '60s, presenting tunes such as "The Celebrated Walkin' Blues," a spare song that features Mahal accompanied only by his former Rising Sons bandmate Ry Cooder on mandolin; and the gentle, lilting "Take a Giant Step." The second disc finds Mahal easing into a potent version of Bob Marley's "Slave Driver," while "The New Hula Blues" is a deft Hawaiian slack-key/blues hybrid, revealing the breadth of his stylistic range. As a relatively concise yet remarkably thorough overview of Mahal's decades-spanning catalogue, this 36-track compilation is absolutely indispensable.