The Godfather of British blues is back. At 80 years young, Mayall has nothing left to prove to anyone. It has been that way since his legendary Bluesbreakers albums set the blues and rock worlds on their collective ears, beginning in 1965. Like a fine wine, Mayall’s music gets better with age. He could have chosen to rest on his laurels at many points along the road he has traveled in the blues, and no one could have faulted him for that. Instead, Mayall is always making music that inspires his peers, his fans, and most of all, himself.
John Mayall’s A Special Life on Forty Below Records, is a culmination of the education and experiences of a journey in blues that has spanned over six decades. This is a truly sumptuous album, and from the first few notes, we are reminded yet again why we love his music so. The music is here is economical, and yet, generously expressive. The band really grooves, having worked together since 2009’s Tough album. Personnel are Texas guitarist Rocky Athas, and from Chicago, Greg Rzab on bass, and Jay Davenport on drums. Of course, there is Mayall, and master accordionist CJ Chenier joins the band for a couple of tracks as well. Eric Corne serves as producer and engineer, having been recruited by Mayall after working with him when Mayall guested on Walter Trout’s upcoming album, The Blues Came Callin’, set for release in June. Production values, sound quality, and mix are all exceptionally good on A Special Life, lending an inviting intimacy to the music.
Our favorites include “Why Did You Go,” with it’s enticing accordion accents, great beat, and tight, relaxed performance from the band. Wailing guitar, a pulsing rhythm section, and perfect Hammond B3 fills drive “Speak of The Devil” along quite nicely. “That’s All Right” is lighter and faster, and the harp and guitar lines give it a distinct ’50s feel. “World Gone Crazy” begins with drums and bass laying down the groove, and when everything else enters at 0:09, it’s absolutely perfect. The piano and harp lines here are exceptional. “Big Town Playboy” has been played by Eddie Taylor, Omar Dykes, and so many other great artists. Here, the guitar carries listeners along, while the harp and piano runs really add a honky-tonk ambiance. The title track is slow, with Mayall singing about the special life he leads and the freedoms that come with it, and what those freedoms cost. “Heartache” has a pleasant jazz inflection, and “Like A Fool” is utterly dazzling.
Mayall is at the top of his game here, and the band comes together nicely, serving up some of the finest fare we’ve heard in a while. This music draws listeners in, and engages them on so many levels! The more we listened to A Special Life, the more we wanted to hear it. Superbly crafted and performed, it is at once earthy, elegant, and soul stirring. Listeners will wear this album out. Experience it soon on a turntable or iPod near you.