Forty Below Records FBR 018
9 songs – 60 minutes
Sometimes, even the best recorded music comes about by chance. That’s the case with his new, live set from British blues legend John Mayall. He was all set to kick off a tour in Europe last March when his plans were derailed.
Weather problems cancelled plane flights and kept his longtime guitarist Rocky Athas back home in America when the rest of Mayall’s band were in Dresden and Stuttgart, Germany, all set to lay down a follow-up to his star-studded 2017 studio release, Talk About That, for Eric Corne’s Forty Below Records imprint.
“We opted for recording in East Germany purely as a convenience and availability of a company (All Orange Music) that specialized in live recordings,” Mayall says. Instead of scrapping his plans, he decided to go ahead as a three-piece with John on vocals, harmonica and keyboards and backed solely by rock-steady Chicagoans Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums.
Far less formal than his prior release, which included Joe Walsh, and a full horn section, this CD, the 66th album in Mayall’s illustrious career – not counting compilations – delivers a polished, but laid back set of the Blues Hall Of Famer’s favorite songs: two of his own and others culled from the catalogs of old-timers Eddie Turner, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Henry Townsend and Lionel Hampton as well as 21st Century superstars Gregg Allman, Sonny Landreth and Curtis Salgado.
It’s actually a new chapter of his recording career, which began with a live LP, John Mayall Plays John Mayall in 1965 after a fistful of singles, because the alignment forced him into the spotlight far more than in normal performance. A brief introduction brings him to the stage as he launches into Taylor’s biggest hit, “Big Town Playboy,” accompanying himself on harp, delivering runs in his own style rather than the upper-register lines laid down by Jimmy Reed. He turns to the keyboard for a mid-tune solo and finishes the tune in instrumental duet with himself.
Hopkins’ “I Feel So Bad” is up next with Mayall filling the vocal breaks with techniques on the ivories he picked up after studying the work of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis, doubling down on harp and keys in the extended break, displaying far more energy than most folks his age.
A silky smooth keyboard intro kicks off Salgado’s “The Sum Of Something” and shines throughout as John makes the tune his own, giving space for Rzab and Davenport to put their talents on display during the break. The familiar Mayall anthem “Streamline,” first recorded with the Bluesbreakers in 1967, is up next with John at his funky best on the organ. An unhurried, traditional cover of Townsend’s “Tears Came Rollin’ Down” follows before a rock-steady version of Hampton’s big-band era classic, “Ridin’ On The L&N.”
Mayall’s back on organ for the Allman mainstay, “Don’t Deny Me” – penned by Jerry Lynn Williams – before covering “Lonely Feelings,” a song John first recorded in the ‘80s, and launching into an 11-minute version of Landreth’s “Congo Square” to bring the show to a close.
There have been so many high points in Mayall’s career that it’s all but redundant to claim another. But Three For The Road is special in its own right, giving listeners ample space to appreciate his skill as a keyboard player, something that’s often lost in the mix in full-band set-up. Available wherever fine music is sold, and a disc guaranteed to keep you grooving from the jump. This one’s most definitely going to go down as one of the top live-performance CDs of the year.