The Essential Taj Mahal pulls together the bluesman's Columbia, Warner, Gramavision Private Music, and Hannibal labels' recordings, making it the first truly cross-licensed compilation of his work. Given the depth and breadth of this set (it covers four decades), the listener gets not only a cross-sectional view of the artist, but also his innovative and idiosyncratic journey through the blues: Mahal has not only kept the tradition alive, he's expanded it and deepened it, tracing its roots and developments through the course of American, Caribbean, and African cultures. While there is no unreleased material here, there doesn't need to be. The sheer adventure in these recordings reveals the wealth of the contribution Mahal has made not only to the blues, but to popular culture both present and past. This is a comp to own, to be moved by, and to ultimately enjoy. Columbia issued a three-CD set earlier, but there were things there that needed to be trimmed. This leaner and meaner version is superior.