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Music Review: John Mayall – Tough

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It’s doubtful that Murray Mayall could have imagined in 1933, when his son John was born, that he would one day be appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. As a guitarist he might have imagined his son becoming a musician but it is doubtful he could have conceived his progeny becoming one of the legendary rock/blues artists in music history.

John Mayall is now in his mid-seventies and over half a century into his career. His Bluesbreakers have included such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Peter Green, and a host of others. His current aggregation consists of guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, drummer Jay Davenport, and keyboardist Tom Canning. Mayall continues to supply the vocals in addition to playing the harmonica, organ, and guitar.

The albums publicity states that this is his 57th studio album and I will assume that it correct. Through that vast catalogue of releases he has always kept the faith as a rock/blues fusion artist. His work in the sixties was unique and cutting edge and opened up new possibilities for future generations of musicians. In many ways he can be considered the Godfather of the British Blues.

His new release is titled Tough and while it breaks no new ground, it covers the old very well. His vocals may not be as strong as several decades ago but he can still sing the blues as well as anyone and age has added an authenticity and emotional feel to his delivery. He is still a good organist and guitarist but it is his harmonica playing that provides many of the instrumental highlights of this album. It forms the heart and soul of his music and presents the blues at their best.

Mayall only writes three of the eleven tracks but they are the strongest. “Slow Train To Nowhere” is a slow and smoky number that uses his organ as the foundation. He sings with passion about the partying and boozing of his past. “Tough Times Ahead” is another moody number with commentary about the state of the world’s economy. “That Good Old Rockin’ Blues” is a hard driving number. It sums up his life long commitment to the blues and is joyful music at its best. Just roll down the car window and turn up the volume.

There are a number of other tasty treats that are included. “Nothing To Do With Love” uses a guitar solo with his harmonica playing on top of the sound. “An Eye For An Eye” includes a Booker T type of organ sound mixed with a heavy bass line to drive the song along. “Train To My Heart” cranks up the guitar sound as Rocky Athas shows off his virtuosity as the latest in a long line of Mayall lead guitarists.

Only mortality is going to stop Mayall from playing the blues. Tough proves that talent and passion can win out over age every time and that is good and comforting news for those of us who have aged with him.

About David Bowling