Taj Mahal and John Mayall, musicians who helped sustain the blues revival on both sides of the Atlantic in the '60s, performed right around the corner from each other Sunday.
Mahal's afternoon concert at Blues Alley turned out to be an ingratiating one-man show. As a guitarist, Mahal has always been something of a traditionalist. Playing a hollow-body electric guitar, he borrowed Mississippi John Hurt's gentle alternating bass arrangement for "Stagolee" and used a "dropped D" tuning to give "Fishing Blues" an authentic country flavor. On other songs Mahal merely outlined the chord progression on the bass strings, adding concise fills and bold exclamations when necessary.
Each of his songs was enlivened by his growly, unmistakable baritone, and the liberties he took with some of the lyrics constantly tickled listeners. He closed the set by playing several boogie-based numbers on piano, including an outlandish retelling of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster."
Mayall, on the other hand, played at the Bayou Sunday night with a quartet -- yet another edition of the Bluesbreakers. The current band doesn't rank with some of Mayall's previous ones, but it's a solid group nonetheless, sparked by two fiery lead guitars. The veteran British blues man, alternating on harmonica, rhythm guitar and keyboards, was at his best retrieving tunes from some of his earlier albums, such as Mose Allison's "Parchman Farm." Some songs, including several new ones, seemed rather faded and derivative, but when the group latched onto a classic like "Room to Move," the Bluesbreakers had no difficulty living up to their name and reputation.