Forty Below Records – 2015
12 tracks; 47 minutes
Despite turning 82 this year John Mayall shows no sign of slowing down. It is barely a year since his “A Special Life” album and in that period he also issued the “Live in 1967” set which featured the short-lived version of The Bluesbreakers that spawned Fleetwood Mac. “Find A Way To Care” again features his road band of Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums with John playing mainly keys with some occasional harp. Indeed, part of the intention here was to feature John’s keyboard skills which are often under-appreciated. On three tracks the band is augmented by the horns of Richie Rosenberg on trombone, Mark Pender on trumpet (both ex-Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes) and Ron Dziubla on sax and the album was recorded in Encino, California in early 2015. The material consists of five songs written by John, one in collaboration with Greg Rzab, one from fellow expat Brit Matt Schofield and six covers from some of the greats of the blues such as Muddy Waters, Percy Mayfield and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
The album opens with Don Robey’s “Mother In Law Blues” with a burst of harp, rolling piano and a typical John Mayall vocal. Percy Mayfield’s “The River’s Invitation” is a frequently covered tune but John finds a way to give it a new twist with a punchy horn arrangement and his own organ work leading the way on an excellent version. The first original “Ain’t No Guarantees” also features organ on an uptempo groove with some interesting drumming from Jay. Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “I Feel So Bad” rocks along well with John sounding a little like Ray Charles on electric piano and the horns again providing great support. The horns stay on board for the title track which has some terrific guitar from Rocky, John reflecting on his life: “I appreciate the things I can do, I ain’t got time for feeling blue. Looking back where I’ve been I’m still following my dream.” Muddy’s “Long Distance Call” is stripped back to the basics in a sparse arrangement with John on piano and minimal backing from the band. In contrast Lonnie Brooks’ “I Want All My Money Back” is a full-blooded affair with John contributing both organ and piano over the busy rhythm section, Rocky providing the central solo in fine fashion.
Greg and John’s collaboration “Ropes And Chains” is a gentler affair musically though lyrically it’s strong stuff as John seems to be lured by an attractive female and determined to make her his: “Hey baby, you’d better be free ‘cos ropes and chains won’t keep you from me”. “Long Summer Days” seems to be autobiographical as John recalls scenes from his youth, including reference to his well-documented time living in a treehouse, the piano and cool accompaniment matching the mood of the lyrics. Charles Brown’s “Drifting Blues” is another tried and tested blues and John plays it pretty straight, another slow blues with John’s piano supported by some gentle, laidback accompaniment. Matt Schofield’s “War We Wage” is one of the highlights here with John’s organ underpinning the serious lyrics and Rocky producing some sweet guitar fills; Rocky does not get a lot of solo space on this particular album but his solo here is worth waiting for. The closer “Crazy Lady” is in sharp contrast to the previous track as John tells the story of a girl he met in 1972, accompanying himself on solo boogie piano.
As with “A Special Life” last year John Mayall has again produced an album that is equally as good as those he made many years ago. Well worth checking out.