Forty Below Records (label)
19 May 2014 (released)
18 May 2014
The godfather of British blues returns with his first studio album in over five years, plus a mega tour that currently sees him performing in the US. And he is sharing these events with fans and colleagues by celebrating his 80th birthday. A special life indeed!
With a career spanning several decades, the former Bluesbreaker collaborated with the finest (ranging from Eric Clapton to Mick Taylor and John McVie), and influenced countless other artists.
As 2013 came to a close, blues veteran John Mayall took to a studio in North Hollywood together with his band of seasoned musicians that include Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums). Add special guest and accordion legend C.J. Chenier and co-producer/engineer Eric Corne, all of whom contributed to what was to become one of Mayall’s finest and most personal albums of his entire career.
The album is an intoxicating mix of blues, blues-rock and Americana, and is further testimony to Mayall’s seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm for the genre.
Opening with ‘Why Did You Go Last Night’ (written by Grammy-award winner Clifton Chenier) the number is an upbeat and intoxicating mix of Cajun-inspired rhythms, neatly tied together courtesy of son C.J. Chenier’s accordion play and boogie-woogies piano.
‘Speak Of The Devil’ grows horns thanks to fuzzy guitars, an overall fast and punchy beat that is more rock orientated, and blistering solos.
A sizzling mix of traditional blues-rock and rockabilly is ‘That’s All Right’, complete with catchy hooks and harmonica. ‘World Gone Crazy’ starts out with a drum solo before piano, bass and harp work joint miracles and turn this ditty about religion, fanatics, bad politics, and bombs in Iraq into one of the finest tunes on the album, albeit with heavy lyrical content.
Albert King’s ‘Flooding In California’ here get’s a more fast-paced makeover, more blues-rock than roots rock, however, the result is a damn fine cover version for sure, with stretchy Hammond interludes and guitar solos.
Another excellent cover is Eddie Taylor’s ‘Big Town Playboy’ – here delivered in lively honky-tonk fashion and dominated by superb piano and harmonica play by the maestro himself, John Mayall.
Title track ‘A Special Life’ in contrast is a slow-burning reflection on Mayall’s life so far, and he invites us to join him on this special life of his, but not arriving too late. It’s a song about the ups and downs he experienced, once again a strong harmonica element is at the forefront while Mayall expresses his emotions with the right balance of enthusiasm, regret and curiosity about things still in store for him.
The pulsy, country-infused ‘I Just Got To Know’ sets a contrast to the mellow and laid-back mood of ‘Heartache’, while ‘Like A Fool’ is another beast unleashed with wailing guitars, punctuated wah-wah organ, and an altogether driving rhythm which screams ‘glorious 70’s’ all round!
Closing track ‘Just A Memory’ takes the listener back to classic Deep South blues territory, the distinct piano play (sometimes seething, sometimes restrained, sometimes epic even), combined with brooding vocals, make his my favourite of the album.