audiotrack Señor Blues

reviewed by Jill Hill

Published in Issue No. 17 ~ October, 1998

Señor Blues won a 1998 Grammy, and of course it was given out during the day so the evening awards could be saved for the likes of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion (you know the poor thing, according to USA Weekend, has irregular periods). I waited until this month to acquire Señor Blues. I can’t say why as I have been a fan of Taj Mahal for some time. As soon as I heard “Queen Bee,” the first track, I thought, this is a toe-tappin’, head-bobbin’, booty-shakin’ dirty sort of thing: “honey in the honey pot and / your pot is hot.”

Every track is a standout, but “Queen Bee,” “Think,” the title track “Señor Blues,” “I Miss You Baby,” and “Mind Your Own Business” are, for lack of a better term, super standouts. Taj Mahal’s voice can be as smooth and soft as a silk shirt, as when she sings the Freddy Simon’s 1953 song “I Miss You Baby,” or it can be as hard and scratchy as new denim pants, as it is on the tracks “Think” and “Queen Bee.”

Most of the songs on this album are covers, with the expectation of “Queen Bee” (written by Taj Mahal), “Oh Lord Things Are Gettin’ Crazy Up In Here” (John Cleary), and “21st Century Gypsy Singin’ Lover Man” (Cleary and Taj Mahal). Many of the songs have an early rock-n-roll feel to them, perhaps for the obvious reason that they were written in the 50’s and early 60’s. He even lets go with a few Little Richard-styled shouts on “Irresistible You” and “At Last (I Found A Love).”

The title track “Señor Blues” is a blend of styles and influences that range from blues and jazz to Latin music. The Texacalli Horns made up of Darrell Leonard and Joe Sublett provide red hot punctuation. The vocals by Taj Mahal are silky and sensuous. Jon Cleary’s piano playing is as fine as a summer day throughout the album, but he calls down God on “Señor Blues” and his own song “Oh Lord Things Are Gettin’ Crazy Up In Here.” The old Hank Williams song “Mind Your Own Business” is done up in a bluesy country way that reminds the listener of why Hank’s a legendary songwriter and boozer:

if I wanna honky tonk around till 2 or 3
now brother that’s my headache
don’t you worry `bout me.

The CD ends with “Mr. Pitiful,” a song co-written by Stephen Lee Copper and Otis Redding. The song signals the trip is over and it is time to take it home.

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Jill Hill lives with some kids, some dogs, writes, and manages a restaurant where she tries out her new CD's. She listens to a variety of music, from Classical to Blues, but tries to stay away from most rap. In her words: "I am always on the look out for a new band or singer/songwriter that I will like. I like a CD that does not grow old and weary sounding, which mean I don't want buy a CD that can be found on the used CD sale table a month later. One of my favorite CD's is Neal Young's Everyone Knows this is Nowhere. My favorite writer is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and my favorite novel of his Of Love and Other Demons. X-Files is about the only TV I watch. I do not watch sitcoms and do not like music inspired by sitcoms. I'd rather listen to a sampled rap version of the Jetsons theme song."