Last week, we told you about new albums from two real-life sons of the blues, Mud Morganfield and Bernard Allison, also promising to visit upon one from an offspring of Grammy Award-winning musician Taj Mahal soon.
We’ve had the chance to hear Deva Mahal a few times live: first, as part of a duo (Fredericks Brown) that opened for her father a few years back, and then, more recently, as one of the background vocalists for Taj and Keb’ Mo’ during a TajMo show. Although both appearances gave a nice taste of Deva’s talents, it turns out they were really just the tip of the iceberg, judging from Deva’s debut album Run Deep (Motéma Music).
While not strictly a blues album, blending R&B, pop, soul, rock, gospel, and more, there’s plenty on Run Deep‘s dozen tracks that will appeal to blues and an array of other music fans, from the powerful R&B pop of the fiery opening “Can’t Call It Love” (which you can check out below) and a “Snakes” that the New York Times says has “a hand-clapping, piano-pounding, call-and-response buildup with a melody that harks back to field hollers”, to the groovy title track with its fighting lyrics such as “nobody can stop me, yea/ cuz’ I gather my armor and I’m ready for battle/ I’ve got my weapons drawn, taking the road less traveled” and rapping from Deva’s sister Coco Peila, to the raw, work song-like “Superman (Interlude)” with its hand-clapping and percussion that we really wish there were a few minutes more of.
“Wicked” is a funky, flowing call-to-action with a techno/dance vibe, followed by the slow, breathy ballad “It’s Down to You” that nicely showcases the passion and range of Deva’s voice, accompanied by some tender guitar and organ. That makes it a perfect lead-in to the album’s closing track, a beautifully soulful cover of Carole King’s “Take a Giant Step”. Also previously covered by her father, we heard Taj and Deva sing this song together during the TajMo show we caught at last summer’s Heritage Music BluesFest in Wheeling, WV, and, while that version will forever be hard to beat, this one from Deva may do just that.
Together, it makes Run Deep a confident, impressively diverse debut that’s sure to make the elder Mahal proud, with Deva at times coming across like a female version of 2017 contemporary blues Grammy Award-winner Fantastic Negrito and at others like one of music’s biggest female pop stars. Now let’s just hope Deva receives the same kind of attention they have.