In order to make it in the music industry for over four decades, an artist must be doing something right. On his new release "Along for the Ride," journeyman John Mayall breaks off more of his gritty blues with the support of a number of notable guests, ranging from newbloods Jonny Lang and Shannon Curfman to the legendary Otis Rush. Perhaps one trait that has aided Mayall's continued success is versatility. In addition to handling nearly all of the album's vocal chores, Mayall plays half a dozen different instruments. It seems that Mayall was careful to allow his guests to leave their marks without letting them dominate the album. In fact, he afforded only Shannon Curfman and Jeff Healey the privilege of both sharing the lead vocals and playing the lead guitar.
"Along for the Ride" starts off with the catchy "A World of Hurt" featuring blind Canadian guitar ace Jeff Healey. Healey's searing lead licks are a painful reminder of how long it has been since his last studio release. ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons accompanies Mayall on the Walter Trout (former guitar player for Mayall's Bluesbreakers) penned Texas-style shuffle "Put it Right Back." Gibbons also gets my vote for coolest liner-notes photo.
Mayall best showcases his adeptness at accommodating the styles of his guests on his efforts with young blues-rockers Jonny Lang and Shannon Curfman. Their songs ("That's Why I Love You So" and "Testify," respectively) each feature a full sound with piano, organ, backup vocals, and upbeat rhythm guitar behind their lead fretwork. Interestingly, Curfman's tone and style bear a striking resemblance to Lang's sound. Each of these musicians promises to be a force in the blues genre for decades to come in much the same way as "The Father of British Blues" himself has been.
The album's two high points are its two slow blues numbers, one featuring Gary Moore and one featuring Otis Rush. "If I Don't Get Home" is dominated by Moore's burning lead riffs and masterful fills, along with Mayall's fat-toned harmonica. "So Many Roads" seemed an appropriate choice to sing with Otis Rush, since Rush originally recorded it and Mayall later covered it. One would be hard-pressed to find a more soulful vocalist than the grossly under-recorded Rush. His natural vibrato complements sorrowful numbers like this one perfectly. Interestingly, Rush did not pick up his upside-down guitar to play one of his signature tunes. Fortunately, the song did not suffer at all as current Bluesbreaker lead Buddy Whittington turned in his finest performance of the album, playing the harrowing licks to a tee. His solo seamlessly combines lengthy, sustained notes with lightning quick runs. Mayall's band has done for axemen what the Muddy Waters Band did for harp players- ushered them to stardom (Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Coco Montoya, and Walter Trout to name a few.) Whittington's work on "Along for the Ride" stands up to the lofty standards set by his predecessors. The jazzy "California" is the album's weakest track. Mayall's voice is not a great match for this song, which he wrote. The song is laden with excessive percussion and in-your-face organ, while the band meanders through a too-lengthy jam.
Mayall himself said that he has wanted to work a project like "Along for the Ride" for quite some time, but contractual agreements, travel arrangements, etc. have prevented it. He succeeded in making the most of the opportunity now that he finally received it. Of course, when making an "And Friends" album, it certainly helps to have the friends that Mayall does!
Contact: Mark Pucci
Mark Pucci Media
This review is copyright © 2001 by Preston Ackerman, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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