It’s not often I get a chance to review an album by a bona fide musical legend. However you look at it, Taj Mahal definitely fits that bill. He’s been around for ever, he’s influenced whole generations of blues players, collaborated with a host of well-respected players (Ry Cooder to name but one) and followed his own vision for over sixty years. During this time he’s also picked up four Grammy awards. Over the years, he’s pulled in various influences from a huge range of musical styles to spice up his own work, but never quite on this scale.

‘Savoy’ is a project that’s been simmering for almost twenty years between Taj and long-time collaborator and producer John Simon until they finally booked studio time for the project in 2022. ‘Savoy’ is Taj’s tribute to the music that his parents listened to in the swing era of the thirties and forties when they met at The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Taj sets the scene in the spoken intro to ‘Stompin’ at The Savoy’ leading in to a hefty fourteen interpretations of swing standards. The arrangements are more in a lounge jazz rather than a barnstorming big band style with all the players turning in relaxed, easy and underplayed performances. Even the solos (and there are a few of those, it is a jazz album after all) are beautifully laconic.

‘Savoy’ is a labour of love for Taj Mahal evoking his earliest memories of music that filled his childhood and started his odyssey through blues and its many associated styles. It’s pure nostalgia, and why not? Anyone who navigates the music business successfully for over sixty years is entitled to look over their shoulder now and again, particularly when it’s done with such subtlety and sophistication. In the best tradition of reinterpretations of classics, Taj Mahal puts his own stamp on the covers. ‘Summertime’ is switched up from ballad tempo to a swinging shuffle, while the album’s closing song, ‘One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)’ stretches out the smoky three AM vibe to a languorous eight minutes. And ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is exactly as you would expect with a guest appearance from Maria Muldaur.

All of the elements of thirties swing are baked in to ‘Savoy’; there are classic horn arrangements recreating the big band sound on a smaller, more mellow, scale; solos from across the instrumental range, including flute and harmonica and even a bit of scat singing from Taj. If you want an affectionate tribute to thirties jazz played by superb musicians, then look no further.

‘Savoy’ is out now on Stony Plain Records (SPCD1470/SPLP1470).

Here’s a clip of ‘Summertime’:

Twenty albums in twenty years; that’s not bad going, particularly when you have a day job fronting up for Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. You probably know that Ruby Turner has a fabulous voice, but she’s much more than the chanteuse with Jools Holland; Ruby Turner is a genuine British soul phenomenon with a career stretching back into the mid-eighties and some astonishing live and recorded performances (if you haven’t already heard it, check out her version of “Stay With Me Baby”). So, what’s the deal with Ruby’s latest album, “Love Was Here”?

A couple of things; this is mainly about Ruby recognising the influence of the people she listened to as she grew up and trying to create the feel and grooves of those artists without creating carbon copies. The second thing is that Ruby has pulled together a fabulous soul band (mainly from Sheffield, a very fertile ground for British soul musicians). The band is: Kat Eaton (backing vocals), Nick Atkinson (guitars), Joe Glossop (keys), Jeremy Meek (bass) and John Blease (percussion) – Google any one of them and see just who they’ve worked with. This is a quality outfit, and they do what quality outfits do; they create arrangements that support the song and the vocal perfectly without any fuss or showboating.

The songwriting team is Kat Eaton and Nick Atkinson and between them they pull off the very clever trick of creating a groove and style that suggests a particular artist while still sounding fresh and original. Of course they have a huge advantage in that the songs are being delivered by one of the UK’s finest soul voices. The songs and the arrangements pull in structural elements from the styles they’re emulating; there are a lot of examples of the old gospel technique of call and response, not just with vocals but also between instruments as well. The other technique that appears a lot is unison playing in various instrumental configurations.

You can listen to the songs yourself and work out which song is influenced by which musical hero; there are nods in the direction of Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, BB King and Ry Cooder mentioned in the sleeve notes but you’ll also find references to Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding (and probably many more if you dig deep enough). It’s a fitting tribute to the pioneers of soul.

“Love Was Here” actually started life as an EP with four or five songs, but gradually grew to full album status over a period of eighteen months. The songs hang together well and it’s generally a coherent piece of work, apart from the bonus track “Chasing Love” from the film “The Host”. It’s the only song that wasn’t recorded at The Foundry in Sheffield and it’s very different, featuring a haunting solo violin and orchestral backing. It’s not better or worse than the other ten songs; it’s just very different.

“Love was Here” is the sound of great musicians lovingly evoking their musical influences, fronted up by a great British soul voice and it’s out now.


Getting to Birmingham by boat is a bit of a struggle. You have to cover a lot of water the day you set out, as you have quite a few miles of ‘badlands’ to get through before you reach the ‘safety’ of the city centre and Gas Street Basin, which is extremely lovely. Not to mention a steep watery climb up to the summit almost underneath the city itself, which in heavy rain, constitutes something of a challenge. But it is extremely lovely in the way the BBC think ‘heritage’ is really lovely and consequently it is worthwhile getting slightly off the beaten track once safely moored up and in possession of your weekly spending money.

About 600 yards off said ‘beaten track’ stands The Prince Of Wales, an old-school city boozer selling pies, pints and on occasion, there’s a ‘turn’, often at slightly odd times of day and it is with some surprise we stumbled upon a spirited, reggaefied version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” pouring out of the door. Intrigued, in we went, to be confronted by a pretty much full house of late Sunday afternoon drinkers all giving it plenty and a six piece band (on average) grooving away in a most delightful way. Pete Hyde and The Vieillards may be past the first flush of youth – indeed ‘Vieillards’ are old folks, rather than some strange mythical wossname born on the bayou, but they are warm, sinuous and very much ‘alive’ live musicians. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching the living embodiment of the lyrics to Dire Strait’s “Sultans Of Swing” as this bunch weaved effortlessly through reggae to blues standards such as “The Thrill Is Gone”, classics like “Summertime” and some rock n roll standards, many illuminated with fine, fruity saxophone fills provided whilst said musician wandered off to the bar, almost as an afterthought whilst ordering a round. Indeed, at one point he was interrupted mid-noodle by someone who had just walked in off the street to enquire where the bogs were (note to person; if you’re going to creep into a pub to enquire the whereabouts of the rest room without purchasing a beverage, perhaps best not to broadcast this by interrupting a band member whilst about their business, even though your business may appear equally pressing) and evocative, rich keyboard work reeking of Booker T Jones at times, Dr John at others, shades of Georgie Fame also.

And not just the flipping obvious in the repertoire. As well as Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road” which is very easily played badly but in this case wasn’t, we are treated to his lesser known but equally lovely “Cleaning Windows”. And the crowning glory for me, Ry Cooder’s magnificent “Little Sister”, complete with that wonderfully ‘aged’ and rubbery guitar sound and fabulously complimentary harmonies.

One of those marvellously ‘accidental’ Sunday gigs where you really didn’t need a drink to appreciate what was going on – but it was very thoughtful of the management to provide some. Bit more Ry Cooder and perhaps some more Toussaint, and maybe some Lee Dorsey perhaps, would have been nice but they’re musicians, not a human jukebox. And between sets, how wonderful to hear Smokey, The Crusaders, The Temptations, etc., underlining the importance of the stuff played in and around a live band’s set to maintaining a groove. And they played for a couple of hours or more. Sultans of Swing, in very deed.

4 Stars and a bit.