Album Review: John Mayall — Nobody Told Me

In the 1960s when a wider audience of white listeners embarked upon a belated discovery of the blues, it was thanks in no small part to the championing of the blues form by British musicians. The Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Yardbirds all made a point of acknowledging their African-American musical forbears. But the undisputed godfather of that British blues resurgence was John Mayall.

A singer, songwriter, harmonica player, guitarist and keyboardist, Mayall has always been a keen interpreter of the blues, deftly mixing standards and his own original material into a rich musical tapestry. But it’s as a bandleader that he’s most well known; many of those in his employ would go on to acclaim on their own.

Today at age 85, Mayall is himself a grand old man of the blues. Of late Mayall has been touring with longtime associates Jay Davenport (drums) and bassist Greg Rzab. For his latest (and something like his 90th) album, Mayall has augmented that lineup, returning to an approach that has served him well before: working with musical guests.

Nobody Told Me is a solid studio set, and features lead guitarists from inside and outside of the blues idiom. Some guest choices are fairly obvious: Joe Bonamassa takes the lead on a reading of Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong” and one other; Carolyn Wonderland rips it up on three tunes, including a pair of Mayall originals.

Other guests are somewhat unexpected, even for the genre-spanning Mayall. Todd Rundgren (whose own 2011 blues excursion Todd Rundgren’s Johnson was uncharacteristically unsatisfying) plays stinging and melodic lead on a horn-heavy reading of the Jerry Garcia Band’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” Even more left-field is the appearance of Rush’s Alex Lifeson on Jeff Healey’s “Evil and Here to Stay.” But all of Mayall’s choices work.

On all ten cuts, Mayall sings lead; his distinctive voice is in as fine form as it was a half century ago. And for listeners who wish to join in on guitar, harmonica or other instruments, Mayall’s brief liner notes indicate the key for each song.