Taj Mahal “Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home”

First I must admit, I have never been a big fan of the blues. I love good songwriting, interesting chord progressions, and sparingly used solos – all things the blues mostly avoids. It’s this deficiency of mine that’s unjustly prevented me from discovering artists who successfully managed to fuse pop, rock, country, and soul with the blues and deliver music that could poke anybody’s sweet spot. Luckily, I’m currently loving this little gem from the incomparable Taj Mahal.\
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It’s the title track’s delicate, sparse mood I can’t hear enough. Taj transforms the Monkees hit composed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin into a relaxed and gorgeous rural roamer – his soulful vox moving all over the miles-beyond-blues chord changes. And though Giant Step isn’t completely free from the old I-IV-V, just let the feedback harmonica moan from Give Your Woman What She Wants hook in you in, the toe-tapping Cajun feel to Need Somebody On Your Bond ride you home, and overpowered blast of Six Days On The Road stamp it down, then see who cares about changes anymore. Inventive production touches abound: the childlike piano tittering on Good Morning Little School Girl, metronomic banjo strumming on Farther on Down the Road (the only original song on the record and an instant classic at that). The final track, Bacon Fat, is a standard blues originally penned by The Band, and here a slow jam for everybody’s last licks.\
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downhome grooves, a soothing mood, and plain fun record.\
Jesse Ed Davis on lead guitar\

Giant Step

I ‘ve never been a huge blues student. I go for more complicated songwriting, interesting chord progressions, and short, snappy solos – things from which the blues typically stray. Until lately, this deficiency has unjustly prevented me from discovering artists who successfully managed to fuse pop, rock, country, or soul with the blues and deliver music that falls right in the sweet spot. Finally, and thankfully, I’m currently loving this little (giant) gem from the incomparable Taj Mahal.

Along with Ry Cooder, Taj was a founder of the legendary Rising Sons, and went on to release two stripped down delta-blues classics in 1968. Giant Step, released concurrently with a raw collection of solo recordings called De Ole Folks At Home in 1969, would be his third, and personal favorite to many.  It’s the title track’s delicate, sparse mood I can’t stuff in my head enough. Taj transforms the Monkees hit, composed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, into a relaxed and gorgeous rural roamer – his muddy vox rolls all over the changes, miles beyond blues. And though Giant Step isn’t completely free of the old I-IV-V, just let the feedback harmonica moan from Give Your Woman What She Wants hook you in, the toe-tapping Cajun feel to You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond take you along, and overpowered drive of Six Days On The Road stamp it down, then see who cares about chord progressions anymore.

The most fun comes from inventive production touches: childish piano tittering on Good Morning Little School Girl, metronomic banjo rapping on Farther On Down The Road (one of two originals on the record and an easy classic), ace country guitar leads all throughout provided by Jesse Ed Davis, here accompanying Taj for the third and final record before embarking on his own solo career (releasing three solid records and sessioning with plenty of the greats). The final track, Bacon Fat, is a pretty standard blues originally penned by The Band, and here mostly a drawn out jam affording everbody last licks.

The album is actually 2 in 1, accompanied with De Ole Folks At Home, an acoustic solo set with Taj providing old-time steel-body slide picking, clawhammer banjo, harp, and hambone on traditional and classic numbers like Cluck Old Hen and Fishing Blues, as well as several originals. It’s like pulling up a hot seat on Taj’s front porch, who would pass? An excellent pairing, this record is essential on its own and along with Giant Step you can’t refuse. Downhome grooves, raw authentic performances, a plain fun record that got me rethinking the blues. “Take a giant step outside your mind.”

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“Take A Giant Step”

:D CD Reissue | 2003 | MSI | 2fer | buy at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl |  1969 | Columbia | search ebay ]
Spotify link | listen ]


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4 Comments.

  • W. Stacy

    This album isn’t really considered a masterpiece by most fans but I cherish this recording—it often shows up on my desert island list. For many years this was only one of two early Taj records available on cd so I wore out a few copies since then and I am still waiting on a proper reissue of both on cd (the other being Mo Roots). It is fair to say that Giant Step wouldn’t have been the album I would have gravitated toward had more of his catalog been available in the 1990s, as it has no immediate hook (I would have probably worn out Natch’l Blues or the debut instead). Upon first listen I can’t say any tracks stood out to me—perhaps Fishin’ Blues made the most impact. But as it turned out, this being about all you could get of early, non-best-of compilation Taj, it got played a lot and as a result became my favorite of all his records.

    This album sort of stands on its own, not sounding exactly like his earlier, more bluesy records nor the reggae-world-caribbean albums that followed. But its got a little funk, a good bit of country-blues, and a lot of laid back rock ‘n’ roll typical of the stuff being made in Southern California in the late 60s/early 70s. And if you’re a Jesse Ed fan this recording is a real treat.

  • Jason

    I think Taj’s first three album’s (this included) are by far his best – much of his reputation rests on these albums, along with the Rising Sons’ recordings. The Rising Sons’ material is also very good – check out their version of Giant Step – Taj is on vocals and they rock out pretty hard, with a cool early guitar psych solo by Ry Cooder (who was also in the band).

  • Len Liechti

    The thing about the blues, Brendan old son, is that it’s a bit like cricket – or baseball? – in that the rules are simple but there’s endless opportunity for variety in the nuances the artist applies to that simple framework. And blues today is far from the traditional twelve-bar, I-IV-V changes and “When I woke up this morning” lyrics of old. If it’s interesting chord sequences you want, try some jazz-inflected blues a la Duke Robillard: more than three chords there, I assure you. In this postmodern age when genre boundaries have become increasingly fuzzy the blues has taken aboard many other types of music to produce a fine stew – country, soul, metal, even hip-hop. Try Robert Cray, for example: a fine mix of rhythm’n’blues, Memphis soul and funk.

    When a workmate of mine asked me for an introduction to the blues I put together a blues history CD package for him: Robert Johnson; a Chicago blues compilation including Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Little Walter et al; John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton; and Robert Cray’s best-of. He listened to it and said it was OK but he wanted something with more variety, then went back to his collection of Metallica, Slipknot, Linkin Park and Napalm Death. Hmmm.

    Have you ever heard “Dead Man’s Blues”? The first line goes “I didn’t wake up this morning” . . .

  • I always thought this album was just ok, but the live album The Real Thing, with a lot of the same material, is absolutely friggin brilliant. Just an amazing, amazing album…one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, I’ve been listening to it since I was a kid.

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