FAME Review: John Mayall - A Special Life
John Mayall - A Special Life

A Special Life

John Mayall

Forty Below Records - FBR 006

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

D'ya know what bruxation is? It's the condition of grinding one's teeth, usually in sleep, as a result of frustration but also in broad daylight, as when a critic has to read the goddamned English language abused so horrifically by PR people and asshole critics who can't seem to exercise one iota of common sense or restraint. Take the word 'legendary' as just one example. It's now endowed on anyone and everyone regardless of prolificity or dearth of actual musical acumen, history, and contribution. Makes me want to yank my own arm off and heave it at passersby! On the other hand, there are those who richly deserve the sobriquet, and John Mayall, I am more than happy to say, is definitely one of 'em.

I used to catch him every so often at The Whiskey on Sunset in the 70s, and the grand master always had a great band with him. I also saw him in larger venues like the Hollywood Bowl and elsewhere, and he never turned in less than an illuminating blues experience. Then, of course, there was the short span in which what would soon be the Pure Food & Drug Act was his supporting cast and, Lord God Almighty, was that ever a time! Lagos, Mandel, Taylor, and Mayall…phew! I get flashbacks just thinking about it. Well, here he is into his…Christ!, is this correct?, it's now past 50 years he's been doin' us right? Where the hell did the time go??? Well, regardless, after hearing Eric Corne's engineering work for Walter Trout lately, John asked him to do the honors for his own set of new comps. Forty Below Records signed on for it and now A Special Life becomes the first studio gig he's emitted in five too long years.

Not only is the esteemed musician OBE (Order of the British Empire) but this is his somewhere around his 60th album—take that, Tony Bennett!—and the venerable blues lion's responsible for the rise of many greats, including about the best blues guitarist ever, Peter Green, then Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and a list far too long to detail but basically a Whos' Who of rock cognoscenti. At 81 years of age, John still has fire in the belly, as World Gone Crazy evidences lyrically and as the entire disc emblazons sonically. He's always been exceptionally aware politically and ecologically, and neither of those virtues are absent from the repertoire here. Floodin' in California, an Albert King tune, keeps the latter tradition alive, and I have no doubt that when John finally kicks the bucket—what, 100 years from now?—his passing will be accompanied by a nasty paean to the monsters who run the world and a healthy birdflip as his body is laid in the ground (probably next to a redwood tree).

For this outing, Mayall chose a gritty but sparkling band—does he ever not?—and guitarist Rockey Athas just burns the place down every time he steps out, note perfect, burning in soloing, chords solid and oft innovative (catch Big Town Playboy). Greg Rzab anchors the ensemble in solid bass groundwork, and Jay Davenport is about as good a drummer as John's ever had, keeping the rhythms cooking with personality. C.J. Chenier guests on two cuts, and Mayall's harp and vocals are as insistent and grooving as they were in the 60s. In fact, in truth, John doesn't really even need to be reviewed 'cause no matter what he chooses to release, you know it's quality…which makes my job kinda redundant, but, man o man, do I ever have a good time going through the motions!

Track List:

  • Where Did You Go Last Night (C.J. Chenier)
  • Speak of the Devil (Sonny Landreth)
  • That's All Right (James Lane)
  • World Gone Crazy (John Mayall)
  • Floodin'' in California (Albert King)
  • Big Town PLayboy (Eddie Taylor)
  • A Special Life (John Mayall)
  • I Just Got to Know (Jimmy McCraklin)
  • Heartache (John Mayall)
  • Like a Fool (Greg Rzab)
  • Just a Memory (John Mayall)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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