With "Padlock On the Blues" John Mayall, the godfather of British Blues, has come up with his best studio album since 1993's "Wake Up Call." He's ably assisted by the most recent incarnation of the Bluesbreakers, and one of the elder statesman of the Blues (John Lee Hooker) lends a welcome hand on a couple of tracks.
"Padlock On the Blues" shows that the current Bluesbreakers have got what it takes. From the excellent combination of Santana-esque guitar and Ernie Watts superb sax on the opener, "Don't Turn Your Back," through to the driving beat of "White Line Fever," there's something here for just about everyone. While Mayall's voice may not be to everyone's taste--something he acknowledges on the title track--there is no denying his considerable talents as a musician and composer.
As usual, Mayall leads from the front, playing piano and harp throughout, and occasionally chipping in with guitar. Most of the fretwork is left to Buddy Whittington, another addition to the legacy of fine Bluesbreakers guitarists. One previous incumbent, Coco Montoya, returns on "The Strip," where he delivers a slightly out of place rock guitar solo. Thankfully Whittington remains much more firmly anchored in the Blues.
The core of the material is piano/guitar based. There is the added bonus of a horn section on several tracks, however, and this really fleshes out the band's sound. By way of contrast "Bad Dream Catcher" is a duet between Mayall and Hooker, and the band get another break on "Ain't No Surrender" where Mayall accompanies himself on piano.
Lyrically, the most intriguing track is the seemingly autobiographical "Always a Brand New Road." The song offers a potted history, in general terms, of Mayall's many years as a musician. It was therefore rather surprising to see that the song's composers were actually Whittington and drummer Joe Yuele. A tribute to the boss, maybe?
"Padlock On the Blues" is a good solid album, which includes several great moments. It should delight Mayall's fans, and is worth checking out even if you are just curious to find out where he's at. It may be more than 30 years since a young Eric Clapton occupied the guitar seat, but John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers can still churn out quality Blues.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.