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John Mayall is Now as Then--A Special Life

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John Mayall is one of those British guys who liked American blues enough to try to replicate it in the UK. It may not be as well known as the return the US got on its exportation of rock and roll (Beatles, Kinks, Hollies etc.), but the States got back a lot from its exportation of its blues as well.  Keb Mo did a radio program on the roots of Led Zeppelin’s songs and it’s hard to listen to them after you hear what they owe to the blues, to specific songs especially.  This is so to a lesser extent for some other acts who straddled that blues-rock border back in the 60s and 70s, not so with John Mayall; John Mayall sounds like...John Mayall.

John Mayall released the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton back in 1966 and it is one of the best albums of all time. A lot has happened since then, including Mayall releasing over sixty albums in total over those years. Some of those are also some of the best releases of their time, like Jazz Blues Fusion, 70th Birthday Concert, The Turning Point, Blues from Laurel Canyon and on and on.  So where does 2014’s A Special Life fit on this list?

This Special Life

The guy can still play guitar as he did way back when and that does not mean flash and glitter either.  Mayall has a touch on the guitar, British accent and all, as recognizable as anything that has come out of Chicago or New Orleans by those other blues players you know.  So while “Like a Fool” may show off some of the chops he has nourished over these years, songs like “Just a Memory” may pass you by without the recognition it deserves.

If You Liked Mayall in 1971, You'll Like Him Now

Mayall has never been about breaking strings and posing under gel lights.  A Special Life is no exception and there is plenty of that old era sound on tunes like “Why Did You Go Last Night” and “That’s All Right”—complete with phenomenal blues harmonica throughout. And songs like “World Gone Crazy”and “Floodin’ in California” (Albert King) continue the global awareness he’s been known for from the beginning; there’s no shying away from the issues of the day here. As usual, too, he has surrounded himself with the best musicians and writers.

...Or If Your Grandfather Liked Him Back Then...You May Now

Mayall’s a solid bluesman and A Special Life is another in a long line of great albums.  There may be some crossover now and again when songs such as “A Special Life”(A Special Life) and “Double Life Feelings” (Spinning Coin) sound a little alike, though that may be on purpose (give them a listen back to back and see what you think). There’s a here’s-where-I-am-now feel to A Special Life and it’s a good place musically for Mayall, one of his best.


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