Review: Octogenarian John Mayall’s blues continue to shine

John Mayall
The sun is shining
(Forty below the records)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

It’s been a long, long journey/And I don’t have time to stop/It’s been so good so far/Not bad for an old Brit, sings blues legend John Mayall on the title track of his new album. It offers a positive perspective on a career that few people have the chance to pursue so late in life.

Retirement? The word is not in Mayall’s vocabulary. He’s a lifer.

The godfather of British blues, now 90, has been constantly releasing music or touring since his debut in the mid-1960s when he was already an elderly statesman at 30. Stars like Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Coco Montoya and many more have been members of his revolving door band over the decades.

With over 50 albums under his belt, he’s been slowing down live shows (recently swearing to work on the road), but as this solid ensemble proves, the legendary bluesman remains as fiery as ever in the studio. It’s his fifth release since 2015 and while there are no surprises or twists, Mayall delivers a typically competent, sometimes feisty, collection of Chicago-style hard blues.

Six of the 10 tracks are originals (“Deep Blue Sea,” is an older track refreshed here) and, as is the trend, guests are invited to join his tight trio to add power and sound changes. . From Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell ripping Bernard Allison’s mid-tempo “Chills and Thrills” to Buddy Miller providing the pumping baritone vibrato on Bobby Rush’s “I’m as Good as Gone” and even young ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro working subtle hip licks to an original Mayall shuffle, the player infusion keeps the vibe cracking, even if these tunes don’t stray from standard blues tropes.

Mayall never had a commanding voice and his fine voice doesn’t get any stronger with age. But, like BB King who also toured into the late 80s, he delivers these songs with an emotion and joy that belies the many candles on his birthday cake. Inviting young musicians such as the aforementioned Shimabukuru and guitarist Marcus King on the enhanced electric horn flag “Can’t Take No More” says a lot about Mayall trying to stay fresh over the years.

The octogenarian does not call him either. He blasts fiery harmonica over Tinsley Ellis’ “A Quitter Never Wins” and gives a spirited vocal performance on the classic “Driving Wheel”, enhanced by more brass. Fiddler Scarlet Rivera, best known for her work supporting Bob Dylan on Desire, appears for two tracks that benefit from the raw country vibe it brings.

There aren’t many musicians from Mayall’s later years who still record new music and fewer who still sound as energetic and dynamic. It’s not his best work, but fans won’t be disappointed either.

Everyone should be this vibrant and lively in their ninth decade.

Hal Horowitz

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