It’s hard for some of those who remember the ’60s more or less to believe, but John Mayall is 80 years old. Yet he is still touring and recording. So it is appropriate that Eagle Rock Entertainment has released three of his most recent albums in a 3-CD package. These CDs are Stories from 2002, Road Dogs from 2005, and In the Palace of the King from 2007.
Mayall grew up in England and loved the blues from an early age. He has always been more famous for the musicians who played with him in The Bluesbreakers than for his own music. Former Bluesbreakers include Eric Clapton, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, and Peter Green. The Bluesbreakers on these albums do not include any of these well-known names, but they are proficient musicians who have been playing with Mayall for seven years. It is clear that Mayall still has a great eye for talent.
The first album, Stories, contains songs that were not written by Mayall, as well as classic blues songs such as Little Walter’s “Southside Story,” a pretty effective “Dirty Water” (one of the best tracks on the album), and a Bo Diddley style shuffle called “Feels Just like Home.” Mayall also covers Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo” and Walter Trout’s epic “I Thought I Heard the Devil.” The musicianship on all of these is stellar and Mayall’s voice, while not as powerful as that of most of the blues singers he so admires, certainly conveys his sincere love for the music and is adequate for the job.
Of his original songs on this album the best is “Kids Got the Blues,” which defends the younger generation of blues lovers. Another effective original is “Oh, Leadbelly!” Mayall writes a lot about the blues and his idols. He does a very good job of channeling Leadbelly on this one.
The next album Road Hogs , contains only songs that Mayall wrote, except for two, “Awestruck and Spellbound” and “Brumwell’s Boat,” which were written by members of the band. It is very autobiographical and you will feel that you’ve come to know Mayall very well when you have heard the whole album. There is nothing particularly inspiring about the album as a whole, but it stays true to Mayall’s blues rock style. The best track is probably the swampy “Road Dogs,” while “So Glad” will remind longtime listeners of the days when Clapton was a Bluesbreaker.
In the Palace of the King is this reviewer’s favorite of the three. It is a tribute to the late Freddie King. Only two of the numbers are by Mayall,”Time to Go” and “King of Kings.” They are not the strongest songs on the album. Those would be “Going Down,” with Buddy Whittington’s amazing guitar work, the rollicking “Big Legged Woman,” and the instrumental “Cannonball Shuffle,” which was written by Bluesbreaker Robben Ford and has some blistering harmonica work.
Technically, the sound on these recordings is excellent. Certainly every blues fan will find enough great material in these three offerings to make it well worth adding to any blues collection, even if some of the material may vary in quality.