John Mayall’s New Album is a Sizzling Late Career Blues Gem

They don’t call John Mayall “The Godfather of British Blues” for nothing. If you’ve paid attention to the blues legend, which I admittedly haven’t as much as I probably should have as somebody who digs the blues, you realize the now-88-year-old has been on an incredible late-stage career roll. Between 2014 and 2019, Mayall has released four albums and just came out with yet another one. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not only about quantity but more importantly, it’s about quality. In my book, Mayall sure as heck continues to deliver on both!

The Sun is Shining Down, which appeared last Friday, January 28 via Forty Below Records, is Mayall’s close-to-70th record overall, including his releases with The Bluesbreakers. Even if you leave out the live and compilation records, you still easily get to 50-plus albums, which have come out over a 57-year recording period. The picture below taken from Mayall’s website captures his remarkable catalog.

Sure, The Sun is Shining Down, is blues and there are only so many ways you can play the blues. While as such it’s fair to say Mayall doesn’t reinvent the genre, he still has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, which I will get to when taking a closer look at some of the album’s tracks. Mentioning the guest artists may give you a hint or two: Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera, Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro.

Mayall (vocals, keyboards, harp) is also backed up by his longtime Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), along with Austin-based guitarist Carolyn Wonderland who has been part of Mayall’s band since April 2018. And let’s not forget about the neat horn section featuring Mark Pender (trumpet), Richard Rosenberg (trombone) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone). I’d say ’nuff with background and let’s get to some music, and it’s going to be great!

John Mayall and his core band (clockwise from top left): John Mayall, Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport

Here’s the album’s first track, Hungry and Ready, one of six tunes written by Mayall. The remaining four songs are covers. Mayall couldn’t have picked a better opener, which features Chicago blues guitarist Melvin Taylor. The title says it all. Mayall and his backing band clearly were ready to play some sizzling blues, and it all sounds incredibly fresh. The vibe of the tune is somewhere between Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and the soulful Sweet Home Chicago, Blues Brothers-style. If you dig the blues, how can you not love this!

Since I previously wrote about the excellent Can’t Take It No More featuring rising roots and blues rocker Marcus King on guitar, I’m skipping it here and go right to I’m As Good As Gone, one of the aforementioned covers. Written by Bobby Rush, the tune was first recorded for his 2011 studio album Show You a Good Time. Mayall’s rendition features Americana artist and guitarist Buddy Miller. Nice!

Next, let’s get to something you don’t frequently hear when it comes to the blues – a tune featuring a violinist playing fill-ins commonly provided by a guitar. And we’re not talking any violinist here, we’re talking Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976 concert tour. Among others, she played that great violin part on Dylan’s Hurricane. Here’s Got to Find a Better Way, another Mayall composition. The title surely doesn’t refer to the music- check out how cool a violin can sound playing the blues!

Another highlight on the album is Chills and Thrills, a tasty funky tune written by Bernard Ellison as the title track for his 2008 album. You can check out the original here. Now let’s listen to Mayall’s rendition. I think he wisely chose to stay close to the original – why mess with something that’s perfect! This cover features the talented Mike Campbell on guitar. This is some groovy shit with a great guitar solo!

I guess by now you’ve noticed I love this album and could go on and on. The last track I’d like to call out presents another surprise. How ’bout a blues solo played on an electric ukulele? Enter Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. The song is One Special Lady, another tune penned by Mayall. The ukelele solo action starts at around 2:14 minutes. The tune also showcases Mayall’s fine skills on keyboards. Amid all the first-rate artists he has played with throughout his career and, frankly, helped nurture, Mayall oftentimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a musician. My only criticism here is Shimabukuro should have been given a bit more room. That ukelele blues action is super cool!

Here’s the entire album pulled from Spotify.

The Sun is Shining Down was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mayall has lived since the late ’60s, at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitudes studio. And, yep, that’s the Robby Krieger who used to be with The Doors. The album was produced by Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records. According to his website, apart from Mayall, Corne’s impressive credits include Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (of Heart) and Krieger, among others.

“I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” said Mayall in a statement. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each one of these special guests brings something unique to the album and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music.” I couldn’t agree more!

Unfortunately but quite understandably, Mayall separately announced he will substantially scale back his touring schedule, citing the pandemic and his age. Fans will still be able to see him at local shows “and the occasional concert further afield.” Southern California is a bit far for me, but if Mayall will ever return to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tristate area or Philadelphia, I’d seriously consider seeing him – unfortunately, I never have. Heck, I might even return to Boston where I saw Neil Young solo in July 2018!

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mayall website; Eric Cone website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy New Year and welcome to my first post of 2022! Yes, as hard as it is to believe, apparently, some new music appeared yesterday (December 31). While I didn’t see anything that sufficiently excited me, the show must go on with other new releases that came out earlier in December. I think I got some good stuff here!

Corey Kent/There’s Always Next Year

Kicking off this first Best of What’s New installment of 2022 is some rock by Nashville, Tenn.-based country singer-songwriter Corey Kent. According to a bio on the website of his record label Combustion Masters, Music chose Corey Kent early in his life. At age 11, Corey was touring as the lead singer of a Western Swing band opening for legends like Roy Clark & The Oak Ridge Boys. By the time he could drive, he was playing weekly in his hometown of Bixby, OK. In December of 2010, Corey found himself on stage singing Milk Cow Blues with country music icon, Willie Nelson. By 17, he said goodbye to his family & moved out to Nashville, TN…Shortly after graduating with his business degree, Corey wrote his first #1 Hit (William Clark Green’s hit, “You Where It Hurts”). On December 28, Kent released what looks like his sophomore album ’21. Here’s There’s Always Next Year, co-written by fellow country artists David Garcia, Jameson Rodgers and Jonathan Singleton.

John Mayall/Can’t Take No More (feat. Marcus King)

John Mayall is 88 years old, but apparently, the Godfather of the British Blues ain’t slowing down. This is just amazing and makes me happy! Mayall is best known as the founder of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a band that featured some of the finest British guitarists, such as Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. ‘Is this for real?’, you might ask. It is, but wait there’s more. On January 28, Mayall is scheduled to come out with a new album. According to his website, on The Sun is Shining Down, he teams up with a stellar cast to deliver a funky soulful affair punctuated by brass, violins, harmonica and electric ukulele. Special guests include, The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, fast rising roots rocker Marcus King, Americana icon Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Chicago blues guitar mainstay Melvin Taylor and Hawaiian ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro. And, yes, apparently Mayall is planning to take this baby on the road starting in late February. Here’s the tasty Can’t Take No More, a soulful blues rocker written by Mayall and featuring Marcus King. The tune was released upfront on December 17. Man, this is so good I can’t take it no more to wait for the new album!

Best Coast/Leading

American rock duo Best Coast, comprised of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, was formed in 2009 in Los Angeles. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: Drawing inspiration from ’60s surf rock and girl groups, Best Coast’s noisy lo-fi sound gave a nod to contemporaneous acts like Hot Lava, the Vivian Girls, and Brilliant Colors. Best Coast’s first year saw a flurry of little releases: a self-titled 7″ single on Art F*g; a cassette tape release, Where the Boys Are, on the U.K. label Blackest Rainbow; a split 7″, Up All Night, on Atelier Ciseaux; an EP, Make You Mine, on Group Tightener; and a self-titled 7″ on Black Iris. Best Coast had become something of a sensation by the time 2009 came to a close. In July 2010, the duo released Crazy for You, the first of five albums that have appeared to date. Leading, co-written by Cosentino and Bruno, is Best Coast’s new single that came out on December 14 – a quite catchy rocker!

Tinsley Ellis/Beat the Devil

Wrapping up this first Best of What’s New of the new year is more sweet blues rock, by Tinsley Ellis. From his website: Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He acquired his first guitar at age seven, soon after seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. He took to it instantly, developing and sharpening his skills as he grew up. Ellis discovered the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream and The Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers. One night in 1972, he and a friend were listening to Al Kooper and Michael Bloomfield’s Super Session record when his friend’s older brother told them if they liked that, they should really go see B.B. King, who was in town that week. Tinsley and his friends went to the Saturday afternoon performance, sitting transfixed in the front row. When B.B. broke a string on his guitar, Lucille, he changed it without missing a beat, and handed the broken string to Ellis. After the show, B.B. came out and talked with fans, mesmerizing Tinsley with his warmth and kindness. Tinsley’s fate was now sealed; he had to become a blues guitarist. And the rest is history and a recording career of 40 years to date. Beat the Devil, penned by Ellis and released on December 6, is a single from his upcoming album Devil May Care set to drop on January 21 – another one I’m looking forward to. I really like how this new year starts!

And, I almost forgot, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; Combustion Master website; John Mayall website; Apple Music; Tinsley Ellis website; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan/Hurricane

Hurricane has been among my favorite Bob Dylan songs for a long time. I’ve always dug the amazing violin playing by Scarlet Rivera, which gives the tune a very distinct sound. And while the lyrics take some creative liberties, I think Hurricane represents excellent cinematic story-telling and is one of the most compelling protest songs I know.

Co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, Hurricane is the opener of Dylan’s 17th studio album Desire that came out in January 1976. The above clip is from Dylan’s appearance on the American live concert TV series Soundstage in December 1975.

Hurricane tells the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an American middleweight boxer who along with his friend John Artis was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder that occurred at a bar in Patterson, N.J. in 1966. After he had been sent to prison, Carter continued to maintain his innocence and, helped by a writer, published his autobiography in 1974. Knowing about Dylan’s civil rights engagement, Carter had a copy sent to Dylan.

rubin carter and bob dylan
Bob Dylan visiting Rubin Carter in prison in December 1975

Prompted by the autobiography, Dylan visited Carter in prison in December 1975. He and Levy wrote Hurricane thereafter, based on the book and news accounts. Dylan also raised money for Carter’s legal defense during two shows of his Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the time.

Following the autobiography’s publication, two of the prosecution’s key witnesses changed their testimony. In 1976, Carter’s and Artis’ convictions were overturned, but only a few months later, both men were found guilty again during a second trial. Appeals continued. Artis was paroled in 1981. In 1985, a U.S. district judge in New Jersey exonerated Carter, noting the prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.”

Carter was finally set free in November 1985, after 19 years in prison. He relocated to Toronto, earned Canadian citizenship and became an advocate for people who like him had become victims of judicial injustice. From 1993 until 2005, he was executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. Carter passed away from prostate cancer in April 2014.

After Carter’s second conviction, Dylan had moved on and never performed Hurricane live again. Apparently, Carter was still grateful for everything Dylan had done for him and did not hold the artist’s apparent lack of interest after his second conviction against him.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube