Here are a few more recent releases we just couldn’t let go unmentioned before the new year, from two of the biggest names in the blues!
John Mayall, Find a Way to Care (Forty Below Records)
Even after all these decades, John Mayall continues to churn out some remarkably good material, particularly on this latest album, Find a Way to Care. Never mind that several of the songs here are ones you’ve likely heard a time or two before, from such greats as Muddy Waters (“Long Distance Call”), Charles Brown (“Drifting Blues”), Lightnin’ Hopkins (“I Feel So Bad”), and Percy Mayfield (“The River’s Invitation”). That doesn’t make them any less of a delight to hear from “The Godfather of British Blues” and his crack band, along with covers of a few other classics such as Don Robey’s “Mother in Law Blues” (Johnny Winter, Junior Parker, James Cotton) and lesser-known tracks that include Lonnie Brooks’ “I Want All My Money Back” and young UK guitarist Matt Schofield’s “War We Wage”, as well as a handful of new originals.
“Every time I make an album, I always feel I owe it to my fans to come up with fresh and varied interpretations of the blues. With this in mind, I chose an assemblage of songs that includes perhaps some slightly lesser-known bluesmen, and that all had either different beats or special instrumental treatments,” said Mayall in the album’s press materials. Backed by the familiar faces and talents of guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, and drummer Jay Davenport, along with the addition of a horn section on several songs, Mayall treats both the new and recycled material with equal affection, making for a truly inspiring and unparalleled set.
One area that certainly helps to set Find a Way to Care apart is Mayall’s keyboard playing, something co-producer Eric Corne of Forty Below “really wanted to feature” on this record, and that early on helps to remind us of just how good Mayall is in this regard. In addition to his work on vocals, piano, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, and clavinet, Mayall also takes turns on both guitar and harmonica throughout the program, including some strong blowing on the opening “Mother in Law Blues”.
In the end, Find a Way to Care is a nice mix not only in terms of covers and originals, but also in its range of sounds, from the slow and bluesy “Long Distance Call” and “Drifting Blues”, and quiet, creeping “Ropes and Chains” with its subdued harmonica and Spanish-style guitar, all the way to the deep, haunting organ and driving bassline of “Ain’t No Guarantees”. In between, you’ll also find a rich variety of other tunes, from the funky horns and keys of “I Feel So Bad”, to the breezy, swaying title track and a swinging “The River’s Invitation”, to the midtempo grooves of “I Want All My Money Back”, with Mayall finishing the album on the boogie-woogie piano of “Crazy Lady”.
If there’s a blues fan on your shopping list this holiday season, this CD is one you’ll definitely want to find a way to share!
Joe Louis Walker, Everybody Wants a Piece (Provogue/Mascot Label Group)
Fresh off his jump to the Mascot Label Group from a two-record stint on Alligator Records, guitarist and singer Joe Louis Walker delivers another blues-rocking gem in Everybody Wants a Piece. Along with the label move also comes a change in producer, from one Grammy Award-winner – in Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy) – to another – in Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter) – with the result being an even more solid outing for the Blues Hall of Famer this time around. Not that those previous recordings really left all that much room for improvement, but one area where Walker seems somewhat more in his comfort zone here is his vocals, while his guitar also continues to do plenty of talking of its own.
After kicking off on the rocking title track, Walker turns to harmonica for a fiery, charged-up cover of Taj Mahal’s “Do I Love Her”, followed by a Hambridge co-written, old-time rock n’ rolling “Buzz on You”, one of several songs on the album to feature – in addition to Walker’s Chuck Berry-style guitar riffs in this instance – some terrific playing from pianist Phillip Young. The stinging “One Sunny Day” is another of those tracks, just before Walker and his band take us to church, first with the slow, spiritual grooves of the instrumental “Gospel Blues” and then with a slightly quickened, organ-drenched take on the traditional “Wade in the Water” that includes producer Nelson on rhythm guitar and may be the funkiest version of the song you’ll ever hear. Also worth checking out are a horn-laced cover of Buddy Guy’s “Man of Many Words” and a rootsy, shuffling “Young Girls Blues” that credits the whole band for its writing.
Now more than a half-century into his musical career, Walker is showing no signs of slowing down, only getting better, with this latest album being one that everybody will indeed want a piece of.