Album Review: The Taj Mahal Sextet, ‘Swingin’ Live at the Church in Tulsa’

In his introduction to the opening song on this live album, Taj Mahal urges his audience to gather ‘round him. His words stretch out, wrapping his listeners into a warm embrace and inviting them into a community that celebrates his music with him. Recorded at Leon Russell’s former studio and office for his label Shelter Records, Swingin’ Live at the Church in Tulsa traverses the many musical styles which Taj Mahal inhabits—from blues and folk to Cajun and Hawaiian slack-key—and makes his own with instrumental and vocal flourishes. Along with Mahal playing everything from guitar and ukulele to banjo and piano, his Swingin’ Sextet includes his long-time bassist Bill Rich, drummer Kester Smith, and guitarist and Hawaiian lap steel player Bobby Ingano, as well as special guests guitarist and vocalist Trey Hensley and dobro player Rob Ickes.

The album opens with the slowly striding blues ballad “Betty and Dupree,” a song written by Chuck Willis that tells the tale of Frank Dupree, whose love for Betty drives him to rob a jewelry store and, in the process, kill a security guard; he receives the death penalty by hanging for his crimes. “Mailbox Blues” is a jumping country blues that features Ingano’s searing lead riffs on the instrumental bridge. The reggae-inflected “Queen Bee” opens with crisp guitar notes before taking off into a loping celebration of the sweetness of Mahal’s “queen bee” that’s punctuated by Ickes’ soaring dobro licks.

On the moving “Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes”—which sonically resembles Clarence Carter’s “Patches”—Hensley’s soulful baritone plays call and response to Mahal’s gruffer vocals, creating an affectionate tribute to love. The spacious instrumental “Waiting for My Papa to Come Home,” with its unfurling lap steel leading the thematic way, recalls Ry Cooder, while the languorous instrumental “Twilight in Hawaii” floats along a glittering symphony of Hawaiian slack key guitar and Hawaiian lap steel. The album closes with Mahal and his band’s electrifying take on the blues classic “Mean Old World.”

Swingin’ Live at the Church in Tulsa celebrates Taj Mahal’s enduring artistry, inviting us into the audience of this memorable live performance.


 Swingin’ Live at the Church in Tulsa is available HERE


Music & Merch

Follow at:


Supported By