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Mahal, Keb’ Mo’ join for ‘uplifting’ blues – Blondie updates sound

This cover image released by Concord shows ‘TajMo’, a release by Taj Mahal and Keb Mo. (AP)

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, “TajMo” (Concord)

The first collaboration by Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ — the trailblazer and his by-now experienced partner — is an easy listen.

It’s as a blues album when “TajMo” sounds best, like Mo’s resonator guitar on Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues,” Billy Branch’s harmonica on opener “Don’t Leave Me Here” and the gruff vocal combination on “She Knows How to Rock Me.”

Mo’s songs often take the music in other directions. “Om Sweet Om” features exquisite guest vocalist Lizz Wright and a refrain with a sunny, James Taylor-like disposition, while “All Around the World” has Quentin Ware’s trumpet solo to accentuate its optimistic outlook, also anchored in pop sounds.

“Soul,” the sole exclusive Mahal-Mo’ co-write, has an indestructible beat inspired by African rhythms and lists enough global locations to assemble a geography bee. Among the detours, The Who’s “Squeeze Box” has lead and rhythm accordions, while Bonnie Raitt hits an unintentional home run on John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change,” with her backing vocals placed way, way, way back in the mix.

Mahal is a golden musical reservoir who also helped Mo’ (born Kevin Moore) get his first recording contract, while Mo’s roots as an acoustic bluesman are part of a musical identity where pop and other sounds also get their due.

“TajMo” is an apparent contradiction in terms, mostly uplifting blues. If there’s a follow-up — perhaps “Keb’Mahal”? — there are plenty of other bluesy moods left to explore.

Blondie, “Pollinator” (BMG)

Blondie updates their sound of recent years on “Pollinator” by returning to some familiar and successful foundations.

Joan Jett joins the band on opener “Doom or Destiny,” one of the few tracks written by Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein, but its thump sets the right tone.

Justified

“Long Time,” penned by Harry and Devonte Hynes (Blood Orange), is a “Heart of Glass” offshoot and mentions the Bowery, the home of club CBGB where Blondie was an early performer along with the Ramones, Patti Smith and Television, to name a few. The nostalgia is justified, “running circles round a night that never ends.”

“Already Naked” also evokes classic Blondie vibrations circa 1979, while Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio contributes “Fun” whose Nile Rodgers-like guitar and disco chorus sounds ripe for a Scissor Sisters cover, should they return.

“When I Gave Up on You” is a perfectly fine ballad marred by The Gregory Brothers’ Auto-Tune shtick, but actor and comedian John Roberts’ input, along with a surging horn section, boosts the merriment on “Love Level.”

Closer “Fragments” starts and ends in a cloud of gloom but the band, propelled by drummer Clem Burke and Harry’s passionate vocals, pulls out the stops during a vigorous middle section. At nearly seven minutes long, there’s plenty of time for the mood changes and it should be a highlight of their shows.

Blondie emphasizes energy, excitement, New York vibes and solid beats on “Pollinator.” The rest is up to you, pistils and stamens.

Rap mogul Jay Z was confirmed Monday to play several upcoming festivals, adding to hints of a return to music after years focusing on his business empire.

The husband of pop superstar Beyonce — who canceled at last month’s Coachella festival in California as she is expecting twins — has not released an album since 2013’s chart-topping “Magna Carta ….”

Hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz fueled speculation of new music over the weekend when he posted on Instagram a picture of himself with Jay Z and wrote: “Album Modezone.”

On Monday, The Meadows — one of the growing number of festivals in New York — announced the lineup for its second edition, to take place on September 15-17, with Jay Z as a headliner.

The announcement came shortly after news that Jay Z will headline the Austin City Limits festival in Texas in October as well as the Made in America festival in Philadelphia, which Jay Z founded.

The rapper, a strong supporter of former president Barack Obama, said some proceeds from the Sept 2-3 festival in Philadelphia would go to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been on the frontlines of legal challenges to President Donald Trump.

Upstart

Jay Z — whose net worth together with Beyonce is estimated at $1 billion — had concentrated in recent years on his business projects, most notably the upstart Tidal music streaming service.

He has returned to music intermittently since his last album, including contributing a verse last year to a remix of Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s hit “All the Way Up.”

Rapper Snoop Dogg says he wants to create a music festival in his father’s hometown so he can perform in Mississippi.

“We always stop in New Orleans but we never book a show here. We might as well do it ourselves because my booking agent just won’t do it,” he said during a weekend stop in Magnolia, a south Mississippi city of about 2,400 near the Louisiana state line.

The rapper born Calvin Broadus stopped in Magnolia on his way to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where he performed Saturday, to discuss his plans for “Snoop Fest” with the mayor, the McComb Enterprise-Journal reported Monday.

“We want to try to get it done this year, but if not, we will definitely do it next year,” Mayor Anthony Witherspoon said.

He said Magnolia is a great venue because it’s 90 minutes from Jackson, Hattiesburg, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

It’s about 17 miles (27.4 kilometers) north of the Louisiana state line and just a few more from Britney Spears’ hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana. (Agencies)

By Pablo Gorondi 

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