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Published: 2003/07/28
by Brian Ferdman

Hanapepe Dream – Taj Mahal and the Hula Blues

Tone-Cool / KANDU Records 751 173-2

Over his lengthy career, Taj Mahal has re-invented himself almost as many
times as Madonna. His latest incarnation finds him in the unique role of
hula bluesman, a role that is not entirely unfamiliar to him, having been a
resident of Hawaii from 1981 until 1996. Teaming with the backup band Hula
Blues, the combination is a winning blend of the blues, reggae, and
Pacific-Caribbean Island music.

Most of the songs on this album are either covers or remakes of classic Taj
Mahal tunes. "Stagger Lee" excels in its new island shuffle feel with nice
bouncy fills and solos from the saxophone integrating with Taj's guitar.
Conversely, the smooth saxophone turns "All Along the Watchtower" into a
toothless adult-contemporary yawner. Thankfully, the smooth sax work gives
way to a lazy clarinet on an old-time front-porch picking cover of
Mississippi John Hurt's "My Creole Belle."

The most enjoyable track on the album is undoubtedly a remake of "Black Jack
Davy" (originally recorded by Taj in 1974) The bright reggae sounds combine
beautifully with the slack-key guitar, and colorful flute and marimba lines
make for some tasteful underscoring. The lead vocals are delivered in the
boisterous style that has come to be synonymous with Taj Mahal, and the
product is an overwhelmingly positive and luminous piece of music.

The Hula Blues Band provides excellent backing for the majority of this
album, and their influence runs rampant throughout most of the music. With
excellent slack-key guitar and ukulele work combining with silky vocals, the
band has no problem evoking the breezy sounds of Hawaiian beaches. In fact,
gentle ballads such as "Moonlight Lady" and "Livin' On Easy" could easily
serve as effective tourism commercials for the island paradise.

Once again, Taj Mahal has found another excellent format for his unique
music. Setting his signature blues songs and covers in a Hawaiian context
creates a warm feeling that permeates throughout Hanapepe Dream,
resulting in an album that is perfect accompaniment for a summer day.

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