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Blues artist staying true to self

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Taj Mahal does not need a gunshot wound to sing the blues.

Nor does he need any other marketing angle, be it flashy clothes or a bubble gum backbeat, to continue to craft his musical smorgasbord. The only necessary thing for Mahal, who will perform Thursday at Red Butte Garden, is to keep playing, wherever and whenever possible.

"There really isn't a heck of a lot of other alternatives," Mahal said during a telephone interview from San Diego. "I'm not a 19-year-old rapper who's been shot four times, thinking I've only got two months to prove myself to the world."

Unlike the manufactured, gone-by-next-year pop music machine, both Mahal's music and his attitude reflect his determination to stay true to himself, even if it has not meant extravagant commercial success.

"I may not sell the records that they do, but they would love to have the longevity of my career," he said, referencing not only current music-business darlings, but the hundreds of one-hit sensations he has seen during his four decades as an artist.

Mahal's career can be favorably compared to Dave Brubeck, Willie Nelson and B.B. King, all artists who have often successfully worked against the contemporary musical grain, and who continue to play decades after humble beginnings.

Throughout his 40-plus albums, the one consistent theme for Taj Mahal has been a desire to incorporate new flavors into his songs. Starting as a straight blues artist in Minneapolis — where he formed the Rising Sons with guitarist Ry Cooder — Mahal has included stylings from around the world, ranging from country to African to children's music.

"I'm showing the connectivity of the human spirit, the human culture in the world," he said. "Music is an intergalactic language."

On his current tour and latest album, "Hanapepe Dream," Mahal has once again teamed with his Hula Blues Band. The new music, as well as the new interpretations of such classics as "All Along the Watchtower" or "Stagger Lee" has a laid-back, blues-infused Hawaiian feel perfect for an evening of roasted pig and Chi-Chi's.

His show will carry that same feel, Mahal said, because of the presence of the Hula Blues Band.

As for the crowd, he hopes they come ready to do more than simply enjoy his music. "One of the things people like is that we come to play, we've got energy and it makes them want to dance. We're showing them it's OK to do what they want to do."

If you go

What: Taj Mahal

Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheater

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

How much: $24

Phone: 325-7328

Web: www.ticketmaster.com

E-MAIL: jloftin@desnews.com