Tough

John Mayall

On his 57th (yes, that 57!) studio album Tough, "The Godfather of British Blues" at 76, John Mayall lays out words of wisdom on his latest 11-track, self-produced tome. The CD features Mayall on piano, organ, six- and twelve-string guitars, harmonica and vocals, along with his always reliable band of bluesbreakers. "Nothing To Do With Love" opens with Mayall's cutting harmonica, the band's in-the-pocket beat, then comes the organ chunk of the poppy "Just What You're Looking For". A down-home electric blues of Walter Trout's “Playing With a Losing Hand,” features the incredible Rocky Athas on guitar. “An Eye For An Eye” rolls around Mayall's organ and piano and the pump of this fantastic band playing a smoky-jazz joint shuffle.

This is familiar blues territory, brilliantly played and pretty much what you would expect from Mayall and company. The band is rounded out by Greg Rzab on bass, Tom Canning on keys and backing vocals, Jay Davenport on drums and Maggie Mayall on vocals. “How Far Down,” the fifth song in, is another thing entirely. A lone acoustic guitar opens this fantastic rendition of the Gary Nicholson tune about watching a loved one hitting the very bottom. Once again, it's the band builds the foundation for Mayall, whose blaring harmonica and life-stained vocal grinds against the instruments to make this one of the best of the CD.

“Train To My Heart” sees the band really rocking, the first time they get this loud actually, and as the liner notes declare here is “another awesome guitar solo by Rocky Athas.” The self-penned “Slow Train To Nowhere” sees Mayall singing his heart out on a slow blues. Elsewhere, Athas backs his boss on “Numbers Down,” a fun, upbeat song and probably the most commercial one on the CD, with his wife lending her pipes to a solid melody line.

“That Good Old Rockin' Blues” is just that — a little harp to starts things off, a simple lyric, not a stand-out but a decent Mayall tune to tap your foot to. We get mellow again (and this is really what I like from Mayall) with the mournful “Tough Times Ahead,” supporting a lyric I think about sums up what this collection is about. And it all ends with a 40s-like jive jumpin' of “The Sum Of Something.” a Curtis Salgado tune the liner notes claim “perfectly sums up the themes of the album both in title and subject matter.” I'm not so sure Mayall is breaking any new ground or if he is really saying anything important about the state of the world. In the end, this new Tough stuff from the blues legend with a great band is just the break we need.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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