Monday, February 25, 2019

Album Review: John Mayall - Nobody Told Me

John Mayall's talents as a musicologist have always eclipsed his talents as an actual musician. As a singer, guitarist, keyboard player and songwriter he might not be in the same league as the artists whose song he has covered or the musicians whose talents he has harvested, but as a talent scout he’s unrivalled: the musicians that have passed in his ranks speak for themselves. He also knows a good song when he hears one, and on this set he’s chosen seven good blues numbers and written three that amount to ten tracks of a very good, well-produced record that sounds fantastic and warm, with inspired performances from his usual backing band (including new axe-woman Carolyn Wonderland) and five ace guest guitarists lending a hand.

What Have I Done Wrong is a great start for the record. John Mayall’s voice is uncharacteristically strong and the funky horns are a nice touch. I’m usually not a big fan of Joe Bonamassa’s canned blues, I've always though he was best when playing more rock-oriented material than the straight blues he’s required to play here but on this occasion he gives a very inspired performance, full of restraint and taste. His tone and vibrato are delightful.

The Moon Is Full features the lightning-fast tumbling guitar of Larry McCray who displays fantastic phrasing over a great bass riff and organ accompaniment courtesy of John Mayall.

The biggest surprise of the record is Rush’s Alex Lifeson’s reverent take on the blues in Evil And Here To Stay, where is mean guitar tone is the perfect foil for John Mayall’s hard-edged harp playing.

Todd Rundgren also plays it straight on That’s What Love Will Make You Do, and on this occasion one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had cut loose a little. The commitment to the form is commendable, but a little genre-bending would have put more colour into the project, especially since John Mayall has often experimented with fusion and psychedelia in the past. Mayall’s voice does get a little shaky here but it’s still a great Memphis-style funky number with horns and a cool organ line.

Distant Lonesome Train is a cover of Joe Bonamassa’s dark, slow blue number and Carolyn Wonderland plays great evocative slide. This is a very moody piece with Carolyn’s great crescendo solo building up to a very satisfying release. It is also the best track on the record.

Delta Hurricane again features Joe Bonamassa slaying it on the guitar, playing against a cool funky bass line and horns. John Mayall’s voice is very strong on this one again.

The Hurt Inside is a Gary Moore tune which is a shrine for Larry McCray’s centrepiece solo and another great vocal performance by Mayall.

It’s So Tough features a cool, fuzzy, epileptic guitar by “Little” Steven Van Zandt. The bass pulses and Mayall’s electric piano make this one of the set’s stand out tracks.

Like it Like You Do is a by-numbers blues rock number, not unpleasant but unoriginal. John Mayall’s voice is not that good either but the track is saved by Carolyn Wonderland’s rocking solo.

She’s also the best thing about the last song, Nobody Told Me, a slow blues with a ham-fisted piano line and a cool smoky atmosphere. Her guitar punctuations throughout the song are fantastic, her saxophone-like phrasing perfectly accentuating Mayall’s delivery. Her solo is also the best on the record, no small feat in the middle of such fantastic guitar luminaries.

The album is a little repetitive but is short enough that it never bores. In fact, the guitar player changes help keep the listener engaged throughout. While on one hand it would be great to see more of their personalities shine through, it’s also great to hear them tone down their styles and just play the blues. Carolyn Wonderland has made a name for her in some circles but this record is this reviewer’s first exposure to her playing and she’s a great discovery. Hopefully this album will act as a springboard for her career, as ultimately this is John Mayall’s greatest legacy: the incredibly talented musicians he’s helped find their voice and launch into the world.

Join Apple Music HERE to listen to the entire album below

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