John Mayall – The Sun Is Shining Down
Over half a century has passed since John Mayall became an iconic figure in early British rock that emerged from the blues. He became a household name with his Blues Breakers band, featuring artists like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandell, Rick Vito, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, Rocky Athas, and now Carolyn Wonderland, and these were just some of his guitar players. Born in 1933, he doesn’t tour anymore but he still can write, perform and turn out fantastic music.
His band here is his great backline of Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums along with Texas guitar slinger Carolyn Wonderland on rhythm and lead guitar. Mayall handles the vocals, harp and all the keyboard instruments. Guest artists Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers), roots rocker Marcus King, Buddy Miller (an Americana icon), Scarlett Rivera of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Chicago guitarist Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro (Hawaiian ukulele). Other guest artists include Ron Dziubla on sax, Mark Pender on trumpet, Richard A. Rosenberg on trombone, and Eric Corne and Billy Watts adding rhythm guitar on a total of three tracks between them. Recorded at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitude Studio, this is his fifth studio album with Forty Below Records, a partnership since 2014.
Stinging guitar by Melvin Taylor and a big production open the album on “Hungry and Ready.” Horns blare and the band moves things along smartly as Mayall sings like a younger man. Taylor excels here and Mayall still can make his harp sound great. Marcus King guests on “Can’t Take No More” and wails on his guitar in this uptempo piece. The band is ready in support and does another great job as Mayall again nails the vocals. The Bobby Rush tune “I’m As Good As Gone” gets Mayall’s take on it as he sings about leaving his woman. Here we get to hear some good Buddy Miller on his guitar laying out some deep and heavy licks. Scarlet Rivera appears on the original track “Got To Find A Better Way.” Her fiddle is sublime in this jazzy and slick number that is quite cool. Mike Campbell graces the Bernard Allison cover of “Chills and Thrills.” Things are funky and rocking here and it’s another fun ride through the music. The organ and guitar work are really nice.
“One Special Lady” begins the second half of the album and Jake Shimabukuro joins the fray and trades his uke for an electric guitar on this bouncing cut with more great vocals, guitar and organ. Tinsley Ellis’ “Quitter Never Wins” gets a fine cover with some cool harp by Mayall to appreciate. Mayall give it his all on vocals and does another fine job. Mayall’s own “Deep Blue Sea” is next and Rivera returns with more super fiddle to add to the mix. A midtempo number that opens with her on the fiddle and then John comes in to front the band smartly and offer some interesting piano, too. Melvin Taylor returns with more wicked guitar on Roosevelt Sykes’ “Driving Wheel” as Mayall and company gives us some great Chicago blues to savor. Taylor is expressive as hs runs up and down the fretboard on this one. Carolyn Wonderland finally gets her time for some solos in “The Sun Is Shining Down.” She really nails it in this, the final and title track of the album. As Mayall’s latest Blues Breaker and exceptional solo artist, Wonderland is quite the asset to the song and album. Mayall gives another well done performance in this final original piece.
Mayall will be 89 this year and it’s amazing that he is still in his musical prime. Half of the songs are his originals and all the songs are outstanding. It amazes me that Mayall still brings the thunder to his music, delivering another fine album for his fans and the world to enjoy. He keeps delivering exemplary albums to us that we need to add to our collections. Well done!