Decades before Corey Harris
, Guy Davis
, and Keb' Mo'
wed the Delta blues to various folk forms, there was Taj Mahal. Almost from the very beginning, Mahal provided audiences with connections to a plethora of blues styles. Further, he offered hard evidence connecting American blues to folk styles from other nations, particularly, but not limited to, those from the West Indies and various African countries, bridging gaps, highlighting similarities, and establishing links between many experiences of the African diaspora. The ground floor of all of it lies in the recordings he made for Columbia Records. The Complete Columbia Albums Collection
is massive; it contains 16 discs. Sony reissued some of Mahal's recordings in expanded editions in the early part of the century, but this set includes them all. In addition to the 11 albums he cut between 1968 and 1976, are two more: The Rising Sun Collection
-- from the band featuring Mahal and Ry Cooder
that cut tracks between 1965 and 1966; 2012's The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal
, that contains a live disc from a Royal Albert Hall concert from 1970, and another with a series of rare cuts recorded between 1969 and 1973. The bonus tracks contained on previous editions have been preserved here. In the case of the live Fillmore recording, The Real Thing
, where "You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff" had been edited for CD by over six minutes, the nearly 19-minute album version has been restored. Each album is packaged in its own mini LP sleeve -- the doubles are preserved as such, the sound is rich, warm, and natural, and complete discographical information is supplied in the booklet. In this part of the 21st century it is easy to hear Mahal's internationalist strategy at work, but this wasn't always so. Mahal's blues weren't so well-received by some critics: they considered him to be a revival act at best, and at worst, a man who employed negative stereotypes in black music from the early part of the 20th century. Obviously they were wrong: the albums were the initial proof, and his live shows cemented the truth globally. Mahal's music has always been part of a much larger world view; he weathered the ignorant criticism until his view was understood and embraced by the culture at large. Taken as a whole, this set offers a welcome, even necessary hearing of genius at work. Mahal is one of the most important musicians to come down the pipe in 100 years, and The Complete Columbia Albums Collection
proves it. The price for a set of this size is actually a bargain, to boot.