Etta Baker with Taj Mahalby Etta Baker
There really isn't much Taj Mahal on this album, but that's OK, since Etta Baker is a national treasure all on her own. Baker has been playing guitar since she was three years old, and is now well into her ninth decade doing it, which is amazing in itself, but what makes the jaw drop here is her total command of the instrument. Arguably the last of the true Piedmont blues guitarists, Baker may have slowed a bit over the years, but not much, and her new version of her trademark "Railroad Bill" included here is only a half step behind her famous 1956 recording of it (which is also included), and the precision and tone of her playing on the piece is still breathtaking. This is sort of a patchwork album, with six new recordings featuring Taj Mahal as an accompanist stitched in with six songs of Baker recorded solo by her friend, Wayne Martin, and rounded off with the original seven tracks she made for folksinger Paul Clayton back in 1956, the tracks which introduced her to the world. The sequence still moves fairly seamlessly, though, and shows off Baker's versatility, as she tackles slide on "John Henry," electric guitar (don't worry, it works) on "Madison Street Blues," and banjo on a vigorous version of "Cripple Creek." Any Etta Baker album makes a fine introduction to her enduring art, since she has never taken a day off on guitar in her life, but having the original Clayton tracks gathered together with more recent recordings makes this one feel a bit like a retrospective, and it shows that this amazing lady has been awfully good for an awfully long time.
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- Cd Baby
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