Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Taj Mahal returns for a Sunday visit, Halloween shows around town

Blues master Taj Mahal stops in Lexington on Sunday, on his way from New York to Chicago, to perform at the Lexington Opera House.
Blues master Taj Mahal stops in Lexington on Sunday, on his way from New York to Chicago, to perform at the Lexington Opera House.

Taj Mahal

7 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. $46.50. (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000. Lexingtonoperahouse.com.

There is a wonderful video circulating on YouTube — a seemingly sanctioned one, at that — that beautifully captures the ageless roots-music aura of Taj Mahal. It depicts the 72-year-old blues-and-more giant jamming backstage with members of the Tedeschi-Trucks Band and dobro giant Jerry Douglas on a cross-generational version of Leavin' Trunk. Take a wild guess which performer became a sort of a de facto conductor for the proceedings.

The summit was part of a September stay by Tedeschi-Trucks at New York's famed Beacon Theatre, where Mahal sat in to play on the blues classics Diving Duck Blues, Everybody Got to Change Sometimes and Rollin' and Tumblin'. But those shows were just a part of Mahal's season of celebration. On Nov. 19, he will join Gregg Allman, Patty Griffin and Grace Potter at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago for a performance honoring gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples on her 75th birthday.

Between those two all-star gatherings, Mahal returns to Lexington. A regular of the Troubadour Concert Series, the guitarist, vocalist and world-music journeyman will be back in town Sunday for a concert at the Lexington Opera House.

A commanding blues stylist, Mahal has devoted his life to multiple forms of roots-directed music, whether it was from the West Coast blues he generated with Ry Cooder during the 1960s in The Rising Sons, or a long line of wildly diverse blues-driven solo albums for the Columbia and Warner labels in the 1970s and '80s. There also are more recent career triumphs, including the exquisite 1999 album Kulanjen with the great Malian kora player Toumani Diabate, and records and tours with his Phantom Blues Band that touched on everything from the jazz-based bop of Horace Silver to the jubilant rhythm-and-blues of Otis Redding.

Mahal hasn't released a new recording since Maestro in 2008. But a 2012 Sony/Legacy collection titled The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 is a brilliant two-record set of unreleased material that examines the singer's early music for Columbia. The second disc in the set is devoted exclusively to an April 1970 performance at Royal Albert Hall, highlighted by a juke-joint reimagining of Oh Susanna that grooves on for more than 10 minutes. It's a riotous presentation of early Taj at his most rambunctious.

Devine Halloween

Lexington hip-hop entrepreneur Devine Carama will be in a decidedly un-frightening mood this Halloween. Known nationally for music that embraces family, social consciousness and positivity over rap music's more violent, self-glorifying and misogynistic tendencies, he will again accentuate the upbeat with the seventh anniversary of his live local hip-hop showcase program, Brown Sugar, on Friday night at Al's Bar, 601 North Limestone (10 p.m., $5).

But the performance has other business to tend to, as well. It will be a release party for Carama's fifth solo album in 10 years, Believing in Forever. Among its highlights is a respectful and touching tribute to Maya Angelou titled A Phenomenal Woman.

Believing in Forever is also the latest in a series of nonprofit projects by Carama. Profits from the recording will go to Believing in Forever Inc., a newly registered children's nonprofit organization. His work with those projects has included performances and presentations at more than 20 middle schools and high schools.

For more information on Believing in Forever, go to Devinecarama.com.

It's costume season

Having Halloween fall on a weekend night offers an invitation to transform the standard club or theatre show into a costume ball of sorts. A perfect example came in 2006, when the North Mississippi All-Stars took to the stage at the Singletary Center for the Arts dressed as ZZ Top.

Adhering to that custom will be a Halloween tradition at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue, called Come As You Aren't where the music, in essence, gets costumed. Participating this year will be a pack of Lexington all-stars, including vocalist Coralee, guitarists Duane Lundy and J. Tom Hnatow, bassist Blake Cox and drummer Robby Cosenza. The quintet will perform all of the Guns N' Roses epic 1988 album Appetite for Destruction.

Need more Halloween fun? Then come early, when Bear Medicine takes a time-out from promoting its fine new album, The Moon Has Been All My Life, to perform a full opening set of Ramones covers (10 p.m., $10).

For more info, call (859) 309-9499 or go to Cosmiccharlies.com.

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