John Mayall – A Special Life (2014)

John Mayall has, of course, shared stages and albums with a series of future legends, typically guys with a guitar slung around their necks. His new project is different.

Mayall’s A Special Life, due May 13, 2014 via producer Eric Corne’s Forty Below Records, finds him collobrating on a couple of tracks — including the album’s stomping opener, Clifton Chenier’s “Why Did You Go Last Night?” — with Zydeco scion C.J. Chenier on accordion and vocals. The younger Chenier also returns for “I Got To Know,” but not before Mayall’s swampy stroll through “Speak of the Devil,” from Lafayette, Louisiana gunslinger Sonny Landreth — taking this project well off the beaten path of your typical blues album.

In between, they offer gritty recapitulations of a few classic cuts, along with a string of fresh sounds, all of which underscore the 80-year-old multi-instrumentalist’s enduring grasp of blues and rock.

His new group, together now since Tough from five years ago, doesn’t have the star power of the old Bluebreakers lineups — which, after all, have included Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce before they split to form Cream; the pre-Fleetwood Mac trio of Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie; Andy Fraser before Free; Mick Taylor before the Rolling Stones; and modern stars like Walter Trout and Coco Montoya. Still, guitarist Rocky Athas proves to be a worthy foil, and even contributes (along with bassist Greg Rzab) a tough new song in “Like a Fool.” The current Mayall lineup is rounded out by drummer Jay Davenport.

Mayall adds four spirited new songs of his own, including the title track, but deserves just as much credit for this record’s welcome sampling of lesser-known cover songs — including Albert King’s “Floodin’ in California” and Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy.” Mayall was 30 before the Bluesbreakers took off, having already established himself as a career man in graphic design. And so, he’s able to complete this worthy addition to the Mayall catalog by handling both the art and cover design for A Special Life, as well.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.