Though presented in the blues idiom, Taj Mahal’s music over the past 30 years has embodied the mixing of musical styles from the U.S., the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and India. Phantom Blues finds Mahal fronting a band, playfully exploring the complexities of the R&B groove. The disc opens with an original country blues, “Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes,” reminiscent of material from his acoustic albums of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The album then shifts gears to feature electric performances with guest appearances from Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, and “Sir” Harry Bowens and “Sweet Pea” Atkinson of the late Was (Not Was). Highlights include covers of Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue,” Chuck Willis’ “What Am I Living For?,” and Fats Domino’s “Let the Four Winds Blow.” Mahal succeeds because his fusion of disparate genres enables him to interpret familiar tunes from unexpected angles. Mahal brings humor and joy to his songs, signifyin’ on Howlin’ Wolf’s vocal lines and demonstrating the ways in which Caribbean vocal phrasing relates to the gospel and blues voicings in R&B. More than any other blues performer, Taj Mahal has respectfully popularized world roots music while entertaining and educating his audiences. Unlike most contemporary blues releases, Phantom Blues encourages listeners to make connections between forms of expression, providing a great point of departure for listeners to explore the recordings of musical giants from Joseph Spence to Ray Charles.—Matt Watson