Saturday, September 13, 2014

John Mayall - A Special Life

John Mayall returns with his first album in 5 years, “A Special Life” (Forty Below Records) with Rocky Athas on guitar; Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums with C.J. Chenier singing on two tracks and playing accordion on one. There are three new Mayall originals along with one of his older compositions and one by Rzab, to go along with covers of songs from Clifton Chenier, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Sonny Landreth, Albert King, and Jimmy McCracklin.

While one might be hard-pressed to call myself a Mayall follower, I found this recording enjoyable with several real fine performances here. The CD opens with C.J. joining Mayall on a solid rendition of Clifton Chenier’s blues Where Did You Go Last Night.  C.J. plays his piano accordion to go  with Mayall’s piano  on this performance played at such a nice tempo. The rendition of Sonny Landreth’s Speak of the Devil is more in the vein of blues-rock in its execution and Athas’ guitar playing although crisply played is in this vein. Mayall’s cover of Jimmy Rogers classic That’s All Right is taken a bit faster than normal (although not rushed or frantic). Mayall's  harmonica and Athas’ guitar accompaniment are effective in its simplicity and restraint. World Gone Crazy is an original about the madness we experience throughout the world as we are “guilty living in our crazy times.”

Mayall is on lead guitar (and contributes the organ backing) on a cover of Albert King’s Floodin’ In California, and takes a nice solo, if somewhat generic sounding one. He picks up the harmonica as well lay down some rollicking piano on a reworking of Eddie Taylor’s recording of Big Town Playboy (Little Johnny Jones had recorded it first) that is one of the best selections here with its peppy (not frenzied) shuffle groove. The title track is a reflective look back at the good fortune he has enjoyed with a refreshingly understated backing. C.J. Chenier joins to help on the vocal for McCracklin’s I Want To Know. Like a Fool by Athas and Rzab is a nice slow original with Mayall singing that it ain’t right his woman toys with his affections and left him feeling like a fool.

The closing Just a Memory is a wistful Mayall original reflecting about a past love and closes this release on an enjoyable note. John Mayall’s music might not make my best of 2014 list, but there are more than enough pleasures to enjoy in A Special Life.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the opening track Where Did You Go Last Night. The youtube post includes a link to purchase this on amazon.

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