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Album Review: Savoy
Taj Mahal
Cover image of the album Savoy by Taj Mahal
Savoy
Taj Mahal
2023 / Stony Plain Records
59 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Savoy is a new release from the legendary Taj Mahal, an artist I loved seeing in concert several times in the SF Bay Area back in the late 1960s and 70s. I still have some of his early albums on vinyl, but once my focus changed to piano music, I lost track of Taj and his then-building career. When the opportunity arose to preview this new album from the now 80-year-old Taj Mahal, it sounded like a fun way to catch up. Little did I know just how much catching up there would be to do, as Taj Mahal has been incredibly active all these years, exploring many avenues of "roots" music, composing movie soundtracks (and acting in a few movies, too), winning a very impressive number of prestigious awards along the way. (Steve Yip's preview of Savoy here on MainlyPiano.com goes into more of Taj's history.)

Savoy is a collection of fourteen standards from the era of the Savoy Ballroom (1926-1958) in the heart of New York's Harlem. Known at the time as "The World's Finest Ballroom" and "The Home of Happy Feet," it is also where Taj Mahal's parents met while listening to Ella Fitzgerald and the Chick Webb Band (Taj explains this in the first track before launching into "Stompin' At the Savoy"). All fourteen songs are jazz/swing classics, performed with Taj's gravely voice and harmonica backed with a dynamic band that includes Danny Caron (guitar), Ruth Davies (bass), John Simon (piano) and Leon Joyce, Jr. (drums) as well smooth background vocals and additional instrumentation. Maria Muldaur appears in a wonderful duet with Taj singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The album was recorded at 25th Street Recording in Oakland, CA and has apparently been in the works for several decades. I'm so glad all concerned were able to make it happen!

Savoy begins with "Stompin' At the Savoy," along with Taj Mahal's spoken word intro, which really sets the mood for the music to come. It's obvious from the very beginning that this is an album that stays true to the music's roots while fully utilizing the tremendous improvements in modern recording processes; the sound quality is incredible! "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" is a slow blues song with some great piano as well as guitar, horns and drums. "Summertime" is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I love Taj's version! Horns, sax, electric guitar, bass and percussion keep a groove going whether in the background or taking a solo. Great stuff! Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" has a slow, easy groove with female backing vocals, piano, saxes, horns and more. "Sweet Georgia Brown" is a real toe-tapper with jazz violin (Evan Price), swinging bass and piano behind Taj - there are some great solos in this one, too! The duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" overflows with charm - especially realizing that both singers are now in their 80s! "Caldonia" is full of fun with a great boogie-woogie rhythm on piano, soulful harmonica, sax and horns, bass, and Taj's raspy "Caldonia, Caldonia, what makes your big head so hard?" The album closes with an 8+ minute version of "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)," a song popularized by a long list of singers including Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and many others, but Taj Mahal makes it his own with the perfect ending to a great album!

Savoy is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats from Amazon, digitally from Apple Music/iTunes, and on streaming sites including Spotify. I don't review a lot of vocal albums, but this one is spectacular! Don't miss it!
April 13, 2023
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Cover image of the album Savoy by Taj Mahal
2023
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