Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' were not necessarily looking to make political or social statements on their new TajMo collaborative album, coming out May 5. But the wake of last year's charged political campaign and the early days of the Trump administration have certainly added resonance to tracks such as "All Around the World," "Soul" and a cover of John Mayer's "Waiting On The World To Change," featuring Bonnie Raitt and premiering exclusively below.
"We made the album before the campaign, so this record had nothing to do with the current political climate," Keb' Mo' tells Billboard. "It was just songs that were cool. Then, when everything played out all of a sudden the timing of the record started to take on its own significance. Now it really has great purpose, not just an ego collaboration between the two of us to see what we could do together. It has relevance in a big way."
TajMo is hardly about egos, of course. The 11-track set -- which the duo began working on three years ago, recording mostly in Nashville, where Mo' lives, and a bit in Mahal's home burg of Berkley, Calif. -- is the culmination of a longtime desire for both musicians, each a standard-bearer in the genre-blending world of roots, folk, blues, soul and Americana.
"We were in Atlanta doing the Gregg Allman tribute and Taj asked me about doing some recording together," Mo' recalls. "So I said, 'Yeah' and we just made a plan. It was a lot of traveling, a lot of working in-between tours, but we got it done and it was just fun. It was almost like the album made itself. We worked our asses off, but neither of us noticed it."
"Waiting On The World To Change" joins a cover of the Who's "Squeeze Box" (featuring Joe Walsh) on TajMo. "I thought it would be great to have some covers that everybody knows," Mo' explains. In the case of the Mayer hit, the duo "wanted to have a song that would scoop up time. I thought that was bringing in something from a contemporary artist who was respected and a song that really means something. I thought it was an important song to all generations."
Raitt joined the track when the duo was recording in Berkley. "We just called her," Mo' says. "She was rehearsing with her band for her tour and she dropped by the studio, just came to hang out, really, and was listening to the record and when 'Waiting On The World To Change' came around we were like, 'Want to sing a little background?' 'Sure!' It's a tasteful guest spot, not an in-your-face Bonnie Raitt guest spot. You know it's her, but it could take a second if you're not listening."
In addition to Raitt and Walsh, TajMo also features appearances by Sheila E. and Lizz Wright.
TajMo will be hitting the road to support the album on May 30 in Fort Collins, Colo., with dates currently booked into October. "I'm looking forward to getting to play 'Paint My Mailbox Blue' with Taj," Mo' says with a laugh, adding that, "I'm looking forward to the hang, really. Just making the record with him we got so much closer. He's such a nice guy. I'm looking forward to learn and engage and just share these songs and stories with him and the audience, and hopefully people will leave happier than when they came in." Mo' says he and Mahal have no plans for a TajMo sequel, however.
"We did it as a one-time deal," he says. "Unless it gets out of hand and people want it so much, we're just gonna do this. I think if we tried to do it again, it would be insincere. I feel really happy about what we did, though. I've heard this thing so much I should be sick of it, but I'm still like, 'Wow, I like this record,' which is a great thing."