When we told you about John Mayall‘s Three for the Road album last spring, you might recall our noting that Mayall’s next studio album would be one that, according to Mayall, “strongly feature(s)…guitar players who will be pretty well-known to all lovers of rock and roll”. Mayall, of course, has a long history of working with some great guitar players — Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Walter Trout, and Coco Montoya, among them — and, while none of these musicians makes a return appearance on Mayall’s newest album Nobody Told Me (Forty Below Records), several other well-known rock and blues guitarslingers do join the Godfather of British Blues for a track or two, from Todd Rundgren, “Little Steven” Van Zandt (E Street Band), and Alex Lifeson (Rush) to Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray, and Mayall’s current guitarist Carolyn Wonderland. The result is one terrific song after another, resembling the studio equivalent of one of Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals.
Mayall comes out swinging with a slick, horns-accented version of Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong”, one of two songs on which he’s joined by Bonamassa, who returns a bit later on a “Delta Hurricane” that just oozes with grooves, with Mayall also throwing in a more distant and lonesomer take on Bonamassa’s “Distant Lonesome Train” than the original, Mayall’s version featuring some gritty slide work from Wonderland.
McCray also appears on two tracks, helping to drive the hard-hitting blues of “The Moon is Full” and old-school soul sound (though still with stinging guitar) of “The Hurt Inside” (Gary Moore). Lifeson joins Mayall on the lightly rocking “Evil and Here to Stay” (Jeff Healey), on which we also get to hear Mayall on harmonica in addition to his usual vocals and keyboards; Rundgren on a patient, funky version of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do”; and Van Zandt on the swaying Mayall original “It’s So Tough” that’s tough all around, from its guitar and vocals to lyrics that include “we’re runnin’ out of ideas/ crazy guy’s in charge/ and he makes you kinda’ wonder, how the problems got so large/ It’s so tough/ there must be somethin’ we can do/ think more about your neighbor ‘cuz now it’s up to me and you” and “forget about tomorrow, what’s you gonna do today?”
Wonderland helps Mayall finish out the disc with two more terrific originals, the breezy rocker “Like It Like You Do” and the slow, smoking blues title track on which Mayall offers such observations as “Nobody told me that a life could move so fast”.
At 85 years young, Mayall continues to impress, sounding as energized by the parade of talented guitarists joining him here as he did decades ago by the likes of Clapton and Green. Not that we didn’t also really enjoy the live scaled-down trio format (featuring bass guitarist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport) of Mayall’s last album, but with its mix of covers and originals, rotating guest appearances, and an abundance of horns, Nobody Told Me — again co-produced by Forty Below’s Eric Corne — provides a much fuller and diverse sound that captures Mayall at, or at least very near to, his all-time best. Don’t say nobody told you!