A Special Life

A few days before his 80th birthday last November, the iconic English bluesman John Mayall—whose groundbreaking 1965 album with his band, The Bluesbreakers (with Eric Clapton on guitar), served notice that the blues was very much alive on the other side of the Atlantic—rejoined Rocky Athas, guitar; Greg Rzab, bass; and Jay Davenport, drums for his first studio album since 2009’s Tough. With accordionist C.J. Chenier on board, A Special Life opens with a relaxed version of his dad’s “Why Did You Go Last Night,” on which Mayall’s piano provides a welcome accompaniment. Multi-instrumentalist Mayall, who was here last January in the Sierra Nevada Big Room as part of Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowout tribute to Sonny Boy Williamson, digs out his harmonica on several songs, most notably the title track that celebrates his freedom (“I got no plan to guide me, never plan to fade away”). His sunny keyboard playing on the lilting “Heartache” belies the pain he feels being apart from a new love. Another original, “World Gone Crazy,” addresses the global conflicts that surround us—“It’s so amazing, that guns are blazing/there’s gotta be a price to pay.” Among the covers, Albert King’s “Floodin’ in California” also features Mayall’s guitar playing. Fans of this “blues-a-genarian” are going to love his latest offering.