Eagle Rock [Release date 17.03.14]

With a near 60 album discography, you probably don’t worry too much about the ebbs and flows of commercial success. Suffice it to say that John Mayall remains the most consistently enduring figure in the blues scene, as evidenced by this mid price, three CD re-issue pack from the noughties.   All three albums illustrate just why he’s been cast in his role as a primary blues catalyst, both in terms of material and personnel.

2002’s Stories is probably the most balanced of the three being, a mix of self-penned songs and covers, while the 2005 ‘Road Dogs’ is as the title suggest a (decent) album by a busy tour band that mainly explores Mayall’s own material, while 2007’s ‘In The Palace Of The King’ finds Mayall in his role as an interpreter of Freddie King songs and related material.

‘Stories’ opens with his memories of Little Walter on ‘Southside Story’ and features his own pithy blue sharp style and a better vocal than on the limited ‘Oh, Leadbelly’.

As the album title suggests, the emphasis is on narratives, including the autobiographical highlight ‘Kids Got The Blues’. It’s a song full of  the same kind of optimism that infuses the later ‘Pride & Faith’ and features Buddy Whittington at his best, as Mayall looks to the future: “It’s the same at ever concert, check out the front row, parents with their children watching them grow, …… it wont be long before they’re playing the blues.”

Maggie Mayall and Tom Canning’s ‘The Witching Hour’ is a swamp heavy return to 1990’s ‘Congo Square’, and features a bristling solo from Buddy Whittington. It’s a style that suits John’s range well, as evinced by the hypnotic grooves of ‘Dirty Water’ the lyrical substance and shimmering guitar tone of ‘Kokomo’ and his fiery phrasing on the straight to the vein ‘Demons In The Night’

There’s room for a piano boogie ‘I Wish I Had’, a SRV influenced shuffle ‘Pieces & Parts’, a blues-rock classic in Walter Trout’s ‘I Thought I Heard The Devil’ and best of all the meandering self penned ‘The Mists of Time’, which bottles Mayall blend of blues beautifully****

Road Dogs comprises 13 out of 15 tracks, of self-penned stories, reflections and comments, and opens with a title track mission statement: ‘we are the road dogs, destination everywhere……keep it simple everyday, a well oiled machine, we try and keep it lean, we’ve got a lot of blues to play’ .

‘Short Wave Radio’ is a retrospective, autobiographical song about his discovery the blues, on which he manages to rhyme ‘1947’, with: ‘I first heard Albert Ammons and thought I’d gone to heaven.’

‘To Heal The Pain’ is a typical search for meaning in the post 9/11 world and benefits from Dave Morris Jr.’s expressive violin. Drummer Joe Yuele adds deft brush strokes to underpin Mayall expressive harp playing on ‘Burned bridges’ and John’s back in a blues-rock mode on keyboards alongside a full horn section on the hard hitting ‘Snake Eye’.

His lyrics carry songs such as ‘Beyond Control’ and ‘Chaos In The Neighbourhood’ – effectively a showcase for teen protégé Eric Steckel – while he’s in tour mode on the swing-laden ‘You’ll Survive’. Buddy Whittington sparkles on his own ‘Awestruck & Spellbound’ with Mayall on piano and while none of these songs are memorable, they all have a sense of place (no pun intended), on an album that is almost like a diary of a touring musician.  ***

In The Palace Of The King is mostly a covers driven tribute to Freddie King, with related songs and a few John originals

‘You Know That You Love Me’ features a hot horn section and is all you would want from any Bluesbreakers line-up. ‘In The Palace Of The King is given a fiery rework, the bass heavy groove ‘I’d Rather Be Blind’ nicely frames Mayall’s nasal vocals, and John extends himself on the ode to his late mum on the heartfelt ‘Time To Go’.

‘Now I’ve Got A Woman’ is one of those magical Mayall grooves that brushes over you as the band cooks eloquently, and while his vocals strain a little on ‘I Love You More Every Day’, he’s bang on the money on ‘Help Me Through The Day’.

Freddie King would surely have enjoyed both Robben Ford’s contribution ‘Cannonball Shuffle’ and Mayall’s homage to him on ‘King Of Kings’.

Despite choosing the oft covered ‘In The Palace Of The King’ as its title, the final CD of this triple pack is another good effort and worthy of this latter day snap shot of Mayall legacy. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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