John Mayall is a legend in the world of the blues. Without him, the British Blues scene might not have ignited when it did and that could have set things back years.
But I’m not reviewing his legacy, I want to look at his most recent album FIND A WAY TO CARE, now available on 40 Below Records. After all, the man is still putting out good material and I get the feeling that he wants to be judged as to the current project, and not his career of over 50 years in the business.
It’s going to be hard to separate the two as his legacy gives him a certain bulletproof position. It’s also going to be tough, because he keeps turning out good strong material that stands on its own.
On this latest album, he once again taps the musicians he’s been working with, Rocky Athas on guitar; Greg Rzab on bass; and Jay Davenport on drums. These are the same musicians he tours with (yes, tours at the young age of 82. I’m many years younger and I don’t like to go to the supermarket, let alone a multi city tour). As a result, you can spot the chemistry between them and that’s what leads to the trust and experimentation that helps the album succeed.
He does mix in a horn section sparingly to fatten up the sound to great effect.
Mayall mixes originals with some great covers of Don Robey’s Mother in Law Blues, Percy Mayfield’s The River’s Invitation, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ I Feel So Bad, Long Distance Call from Muddy Waters, Lee Baker’s I Want All My Money Back, and Drifting Blues from Charles Brown.
The album starts off with the well-known Mother In Law Blues. Mayall’s version is faithful to the original while still staying with his signature sound. Here, he’s shouting and calling and is in good voice already.
The horn section takes the spotlight and then slips behind Mayall’s keys on The River’s Invitation. The feel is pure Chicago style bliss. The jam on the break is exciting and it’s hard for me to believe that Mayall is a 50 plus year veteran and not a fresh faced kid trying to make a name for himself.
The band slows the tempo just a smidge on Ain’t No Guarantees, but amps up the power. It’s got a solid backbone and Mayall’s vocals once again take over. While Mayall does spend a little time on guitar and harp on the album, it’s his keyboard work and vocals that really get the workout.
The guys get to rocking on I Feel So Bad, the Lightnin’ Hopkins classic. The horn section gets a few riffs in and the keys get a good workout. This song is one that Mayall and Company play while out of tour and give it a real high energy treatment. It’s a fun song and really gets the audience worked up.
The title track, Find A Way To Care, gives the horn section another workout. Mayall is in a reflective mood for once and reminds us that we need to find a way to bring our own spirit to the troubles of the world. It’s a good song and his voice is very expressive.
After the horn section taking control of the previous track, Long Distance Call strips the sound down and gives it that late night bar sound. It’s definitely old school. Athas’ guitar and Mayall’s piano blend nicely and Davenport’s quiet drums (brushes?) give it that jazzy feel.
Mayall and the band step things up a notch with I Want All My Money Back, a swinging number that gives Mayall’s shouting voice a workout. Don’t worry, he’s more than up to the task. Athas’ lead is strong and assured and trades off with Mayall’s keys.
The tempo slows down for Ropes And Chains, and Mayall punctuates the song with his harmonica playing. It has a more languid feel to it, almost a country feeling. It’s a lovely song.
We’re back into jazzy blues territory with Long Summer Days. This one has kind of an early Traffic feel to it, and that’s just a testament to Mayall’s influences from over the years. Listen to him for a while and remember who he worked with and you see an almost perfect cross pollination with every British act from the 1960’s to now.
The very slow Drifting Blues perfectly captures Charles Brown’s spirit. Once again Mayall uses his voice and piano to great effect. The song is stripped down to its quietest essentials to give it that drifting feeling.
The organ opens the first bonus track, War We Wage. It has a darker sound than any of the previous songs – a little 1960’s activism perhaps? Of course, we are currently experience a resurgence to people standing up to outside forces, so maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s a good number and Athas’ guitar really gets a workout.
The album ends with Crazy Lady, a nice ragtime style bouncy number. It’s fun and takes us out feeling good.
Mayall is in good voice and is obviously still having fun with the music. At this stage in his life, it would be very easy to just kick back in a lounge chair sipping his beverage of choice and yell at kids to stay off his lawn.
It seems like he’s surrounded himself with more talent and giving us all a ride through the blues. If you’re interested in what his concerts look like, here’s a review I posted of his appearance at the Tin Pan in Richmond, VA. You can find it here, or here.
Of course if you want to check out more about this historic artist who is still kicking ass and taking names, be sure to check out his website at http://www.johnmayall.com/ and you can see where he’s going to be touring, and even where I “borrowed” a picture or two.