June 2001

John Mayall and Friends - Along for the Ride
Eagle Records WK18474
Released: 2001

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]When speaking about blues musicians, the word "legend" is used often. Less frequently heard, however, is the term "legend-maker." A "legend-maker" is a person who, through influence or connections, has a talent for launching the careers of others, who later become "legends." Rarest of all is the individual who can lay claim to both "legend" and "legend-maker." John Mayall earns this title most righteously.

Mayall and his band, the Bluesbreakers, were the training ground for such legends as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce and Andy Fraser. In the words of axe-master Eric Clapton, "John Mayall has actually run an incredibly great school for musicians."

In his latest effort, Mayall reunites many of these legends, as well as a few other masters of music, including Billy Gibbons, Jonny Lang, Steve Miller, Jeff Healey, Otis Rush, Billy Preston, Gary Moore, Reese Wynans, Steve Cropper, and Shannon Curfman. Add to this Mayall's own band members, with talent equal to most legends, and you have a recipe for a cosmic happening. And that’s just what you get.

Each track is loaded -- and I mean loaded like a Colt .45 -- with incredible performances. What is truly special, however, is what the guest stars don’t do: Instead of showcasing their own talents with Mayall "along for the ride," they just add their own special blend of spices to make one fantastic blues stew.

In "Put It Right Back," Billy Gibbons puts in a touch of his Texas buzz-saw. Billy Preston brings some extra soul to the title track. The classic "Early in the Morning" has been covered by everyone from Junior Wells to Van Morrison, but Green, Miller, and Fleetwood complement Mayall’s voice with a special something to make the song new once again. And what’s up with kids these days? The licks of Shannon Curfman and Jonny Lang are pure vintage Mayall.

Yes, bring me a beer and turn up the fan 'cuz this disc is smokin'! It rocks, it grooves, it burns, but my personal favorites have to be when it gets slowed down -- way down -- "hurt me" slow. As Mayall’s tormented voice cries, "…if I don’t get home…would you know how I feel." I find myself hoping he’ll take his time because I’m really enjoying the ride.

I’m always pleasantly surprised by good sonics on a blues recording. I was practically ecstatic here. Imaging, soundstaging, and warmth were all present. The drums were powerful and tight, the guitars focused and snarling, and the vocals right where they should be. I could almost measure how far back on the stage Mayall stood on "If I Don’t Get Home." A few of these tracks could be used for demo material. Isn’t it great to find something different to show off with?

These guys had a lot of fun making this disc. I had an absolute blast reviewing it. If you choose to pass this one up, you’ll be missing one helluva great time.