John Mayall – Nobody Told Me
Forty Below Records – 2019
10 tracks; 49 minutes
John Mayall surely needs no biographical introduction after his 50+ years making influential blues albums. Now in his 80’s John shows little sign of slowing down and, despite some health issues last year, he plans to tour extensively in support of this new album. After operating for a spell as a trio, John has returned to having a lead guitarist and Carolyn Wonderland will have the distinction of being the first female to take that role, following in the footsteps of Clapton, Green, Taylor, Mandel, Montoya, Trout, Whittington and Athas.
Carolyn plays on three tracks here, the others featuring guests Joe Bonamassa and Larry McCray who play on two tracks each and Steve Van Zandt, Todd Rundgren and Alex Lifeson who play on one cut each. Chicagoans Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums continue to provide a rock solid rhythm section and are brilliantly recorded by Eric Corne so that every note can be heard clearly. John himself is heard on piano, organ and harp and Billy Watts does a sterling job on rhythm guitar behind the ‘stars’. The horn section from The Late Show With Conan O’Brien beefs up four tracks: Ron Dziubla on sax, Mark Pender on trumpet and Richard ‘La Bamba’ Rosenberg on trombone (the latter two both one-time members of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes). There are three Mayall originals and an interesting selection of covers.
The album opens with a great take on Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong” with the bass pushing the tune along and the horns embellishing superbly as Joe B adds some leads which evoke Sam in a modern style. John’s vocals are convincing and it’s a great start to the album. On “Delta Hurricane”, a song normally associated with Larry McCray, Joe plays some exciting guitar against Billy’s background slide, the horns again adding to what is one of the standout tracks. Larry himself does a good job on Gary Moore’s “The Hurt Inside”, a slower song, again with horns, but rather overplays on a heavy version of “The Moon Is Full”, a song associated with Albert Collins. Talking of over-playing, Rush’s Alex Lifeson’s histrionic guitar solo almost overwhelms John’s harp/piano on Jeff Healey’s “Evil And Here To Stay”. John usually covers the likes of Freddie King, Albert Collins or Otis Rush so it is a little unusual to hear him taking on a Little Milton classic in “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” but he does a great job, very much helped by a splendid horn chart, his own soulful organ playing and a solo from Todd Rundgren that is just kept to the right side of tasteful.
Steve Van Zandt plays very well and in proper blues mode on the first of three Mayall compositions that close the album. “It’s So Tough” sets out John’s view of the world’s problems and offers a solution rooted in the philosophy of the 60’s: “It’s so tough, there must be something we can do. Think more about your neighbor ‘cos now it’s up to me and you”. Carolyn plays some fine rock and roll guitar on the immensely catchy and fun “Like It Like You Do” and shows her abilities on a slow blues on the title track “Nobody Told Me”. Carolyn takes her time as she develops a subtle, restrained solo while lyrically John is reflecting again on “all these crazy changes, as the days and nights go by” as he reaches old age, his vocals sounding convincingly careworn. The track clocks in at 7.23 but never outstays its welcome. Earlier on the album Carolyn plays some great lap steel slide on “Distant Lonesome Train”, a Joe Bonamassa song from his 2016 album Blues Of Desperation, thereby completing the loop of people playing on songs associated with other guitarists on the album.
Those who missed the guitar element of John’s music last time around will love this one. There are several standout performances and Carolyn Wonderland’s excellent contributions bode well for the next chapter of John Mayall’s amazing career.