Music Keeps Me Together

by: Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal had displayed a keen interest in African and Caribbean music along with the country blues that was the foundation of his sound on his first several albums, so it was no great surprise that he'd become enamored of reggae by the mid-'70s, and Music Keeps Me Together found him working with Earl "Wire" Lindo, the keyboard man and arranger who had accompanied the likes of Bob Marley, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Burning Spear. The tough but sensuous pulse of Jamaican music certainly makes itself felt on Music Keeps Me Together, but Mahal seems reluctant to dive into it headfirst -- "My Ancestors" and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" are both skank-heavy, but "Further on Down the Road" fuses reggae with blues and funk until all the elements have been diluted too far, and the title cut (written by Lindo) sounds curiously indecisive about its stylistic direction. Elsewhere, "Why?...and We Repeat Why?...and We Repeat!" plays more like fusion jazz than anything else (with all the lack of bite that description implies); "Roll, Turn, Spin" (a Joseph Spence cover) bears faint echoes of Afro-beat; and "When I Feel the Sea Beneath My Soul" feels more like calypso, though with the energy brought down to the level of a quiet ocean breeze. The diversity of Mahal's music has always been a key element of his recordings, but Music Keeps Me Together goes in plenty of directions without sounding especially engaged with any of them, and the polished performances only add to the aimless tone of this album. This music may keep Taj Mahal together, but it doesn't do that much for his listeners. ~ Mark Deming

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