2014 – Forty Below Records
By Phillip Smith; July 26, 2014
A mainstay in the blues and rock world for nearly fifty years, John Mayall is proof; the blues rests for no one. Mayall, when just a few weeks shy of his eightieth birthday, headed to Entourage Studios in North Hollywood to record his first album in five years, A Special Life. Accompanying this legend in the studio for this timeless eleven track album were guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, and drummer Jay Davenport.
Mayall summons the spirit of New Orleans, covering the late “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier’s creole-flavored “Why Did You Go Last Night”. Special guest C.J Chenier, Clifton’s son, jams out on accordion and kicks in on vocals to makes this cut stand out even more, as Mayall cuts loose on the piano. While still on the subject of Louisiana Blues, it’d be a huge mistake to not mention “Speak of the Devil”. Rocky Athas on guitar sounds absolutely amazing on this one originally recorded by Louisiana native Sonny Landreth. I’ve been an Athas fan since his stint with Black Oak Arkansas, and think his style blends with Mayall’s very nicely. Athas also stands out on Jimmy McCracklin’s “I Just got to Know”, handing out lush riffs and tasty licks, as Rzab lays down a cool baseline for him to follow.
Putting the covers aside, Mayall goes deep with a few originals of his own. Singing about the current state of the world, in the thought-provoking, “World Gone Crazy”, Mayall calls out the governments and religions of the world as the contributing sources of global insanity. Performed in a boogie style on piano with a side of harmonica, and a cool little drum intro from Davenport, this song hits the spot. Slow and easy, like life in the Mississippi Delta, is how title track, “A Special Life” is delivered. Mayall dishes out a sweet harmonica melody meticulously poured over a retro bluesy rhythm, as in the fashion of Quincy Jones.
One couldn’t ask for a better bunch of musicians to back the legendary John Mayall, and this album confirms that. Chock-full of flawlessly performed blues, rock, and boogie, A Special Life is an album to treasure.