Friday, January 28, 2022

John Mayall - The Sun Is Shining Down

“It’s been a long, long journey, and I ain’t got time to quit,” sings John Mayall on the title track of his new album.  Which seems like a pretty good summation of where this British stalwart of the blues is at nowadays.  His “epic road hog days” may be over, as he puts it, but The Sun Is Shining Down shows there’s recording life in the old dog yet.
Both the ideas and the delivery here brim with vitality.  The opening pair of tracks, ‘Hungry And Ready’ and ‘Can’t Take No More’, are in turns bright’n’bouncy, and swingin’n’snappy, with horns aplenty adding punch and colour.  Melvin Taylor does a zesty guitar turn on the former, while
John Mayall - still grooving after all these years
Pic by David Gomez
Marcus King guests on the latter with a sizzling solo, underpinned by some great bass playing from Greg Rzab to follow his nifty walking blues groove on the opener.  Mayall’s voice may be a tad more wizened than on his 2019 release Nobody Told Me, but hell, the guy’s 88-years old – and he’s still got the pipes to produce some fun harp breaks on ‘Hungry And Ready’.  There’s more vibrancy too with ‘Chills And Thrills’, on which Mayall’s regular guitarist Carolyn Wonderland supplies a booty-shaking riff as the foundation for Mayall to express – with good phrasing and feel - how he has the hots for a particular woman, and for Mike Campbell to add some squealing lead.
But there are also the twists that are thrown into the mix to keep things fresh.  Buddy Miller turns up to add baritone tremolo guitar (it sez here) to the palette on ‘I’m As Good As Gone’, over more ear-catching bass from Rzab, making a Bobby Rush song sound most unlike Bobby Rush, I imagine.  And violinist Scarlet Rivera turns up to give a different slant to both ‘Got To Find A Better Way’ and ‘Deep Blue Sea’.  On the former she slips and slides around gracefully over the offbeat, putter-pause rhythm from drummer Jay Davenport, while Mayall adds warm and subtle electric piano.  And while that’s a low-key tune, ‘Deep Blue Sea’ has a more upbeat, jazz-tinged vibe, with her fiddle providing different hues – part folkie, part jazzy – and an excellent solo interleaved with Mayall’s piano break, showing that she totally gets what the song needs.  On the other hand I’m not convinced that Jake Shimbakuro’s ukulele adds anything distinctive to the jump-bluesy ‘One Special Lady’ – largely because you would scarcely guess its pinging sound is a uke rather than a guitar.  That’s a relief to these ukulele-hating ears, mind you, even if Mayall’s Wurlitzer solo isn’t really to my taste either.
The slow blues of ‘A Quitter Never Wins’ is another matter though, with Mayall’s pensive, meditative harp to the fore right through to an impressive solo, while Wonderland complements washes of Hammond B3 with restrained, sensitive guitar fills.
Wonderland gets her own showcase on ‘The Sun Is Shining Down’ itself, a strolling, “life is good” reverie, laying down a conversational guitar commentary to match Mayall’s understated, swirling organ, over a lazy, easy-going groove from Davenport and Rzab.  Gotta say, while the guest guitar dudes might be good for marketing purposes, Wonderland has plenty enough quality in her own fingertips to merit a higher profile.
In fact the whole of Mayall’s core band deserve a heap of credit for making this album such an enjoyable listen, along with sympathetic production once again from Eric Corne.  The guest artists are really just icing on the ensemble cake.  But it’s John Mayall’s name that’s on the cake tin, and while The Sun Is Shining Down is no game-changer, it is still very much, as he sings on the title track, “not bad for some old Brit”.
The Sun Is Shining Down is released by Forty Below Records on 28 January.

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