We’ve been fortunate to hear quite a bit from John Mayall in the past four to five years, between several new studio albums (A Special Life, Find a Way to Care and Talk About That) and two volumes that captured Mayall fronting a brief, late -1960s line-up of his Bluesbreakers that featured Peter Green on guitar, Mick Fleetwood on drums, and John McVie on bass just before the three of them ventured off to form Fleetwood Mac. On Three for the Road (Forty Below Records), we’re treated to a much more timely live recording of Mayall’s work, following the veteran bluesman’s decision to trim his band to a trio with “The Godfather of British Blues” joined by longtime bandmates Jay Davenport on drums and Greg Rzab on bass.
Recorded live in Dresden and Stuttgart, Germany, in March of 2017, many of the nine tracks on Three for the Road are ones that fans of Mayall’s more recent albums are likely to recognize, including A Special Life‘s “Big Town Playboy” (Eddie Taylor), Find a Way to Care‘s “I Feel So Bad” (Lightnin’ Hopkins), and Talk About That‘s swaying “Don’t Deny Me” as well as “Streamline” and “Ridin’ on the L&N” off the 1967 live compilations, although they won’t have heard them quite like this, focusing, as these do with the elimination of the guitar, a bit more on Mayall’s own work on both keyboards and harmonica.
Mayall spoke to that change in line-up in the album’s press materials: “Naturally, my playing is featured quite a lot more than usual in this format…I found that the interplay and dynamics [of the trio format] have created a more personal upfront sound in my live performances.”
We also get to hear the band revisit a handful of other great songs, including a jazzy cover of Curtis Salgado’s “The Sum of Something” that offers up a little something extra with its delightful interplay; 9+ minutes of simmering slow blues in “Tears Came Rolling Down” (Henry Townsend); the quiet, xylophone-like tones of “Lonely Feelings”; and the uptempo, New Orleans-flavored “Congo Square” (Sonny Landreth).
While everything we’ve heard from Mayall in recent years has been solid, we’ve probably enjoyed the live recordings most, with Three for the Road proving that Mayall and his two pals still very much have their stuff and that these old road dogs are still quite capable of delivering some new tricks.
Just don’t get too accustomed to the slimmed-down band… Mayall has already promised to bring back the guitar on his next album, commenting: “I shall still be exploring the talents of guitar players who will be pretty well-known to all lovers of rock and roll. They will be strongly featured on the next studio album.”
If it’s coming from these three, we’ll be sure to get ready.