Mayall reunion project uneven, but fun
It probably wouldn't be possible to over-emphasize the influence John Mayall had on the music of the '60s, '70s and '80s. His Bluesbreakers band was incubator for talent ranging from guitar heroes Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor and Gary Moore to bassists Jack Bruce and John McVie, and drummers Mick Fleetwood and Aynsley Dunbar. Right there is the heart of bands like Cream and Fleetwood Mac.
Like fellow '60s veteran Jeff Beck, Mayall hasn't sat still stylistically while staying active through the years. Although he's remained firmly in a blues vein, Mayall's music has been influenced by musical developments since he started most prominently, the Stax/Volt soul sound of the '60s and '70s, as well as the Austin school of soul/blues that Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lou Ann Barton and Doug Sahm popularized in the '80s and '90s.
Unlike 1999's Bluesbreakers' release "Padlock on the Blues," Mayall's latest "Along for the Ride" groups him with former sidemen and popular blues stars of today rather than his regular working band. Predictably, the results are a bit uneven on some songs, the players click and the music soars; on others, it's flat and fizzles.
Among the biggest disappointments is the song "Yo Yo Man," in which Mayall is joined by alumni Fleetwood, Green and McVie (together for the first time since Green split from Fleetwood Mac in '70). With Steve Miller (yes, that Steve Miller) joining Green on guitar and Lenny Castro of Tower of Power on percussion, this thing ought to sizzle ... but it just kind of grinds along with a midtempo shuffle. Green and Miller remain stellar guitarists, and the McVie/Fleetwood rhythm section has been together so long that the groove is spot on the song itself, though, has no great hook.
Equally flat is "If I Don't Get Home," with Gary Moore on guitar. It just never quite takes off. Nor does the closing number, "She Don't Play by the Rules" with Mick Taylor on guitar.
Unpredictably, the best song was done with lesser-known names sitting in with Mayall. "Early in the Morning" is a vocal duet with Chris Rea ("Fool if You Think It's Over"), and a searing saxophone solo by Dick Heckstall-Smith (who?). Steve Miller and the McVie/Fleetwood/Castro combo provide the rhythm section, so you know the beat is there.
What this album also re-emphasizes is that Mayall is neither a first-rate singer nor top-rank keyboard player. His enthusiasm outstrips his ability at both. What Mayall is good at is finding truly talented musicians and creating an atmosphere of creativity and fun.
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