If John Mayall's voice sounds just a wee bit creaky here and there on A Special Life, it's only to be expected. He's 80, after all, and this is his umpteenth recording in a career that's seen him touring endlessly for over 60 years.
There's absolutely nothing creaky about the music though. Mayall has always known how to pick 'em - as the 'Godfather of British Blues,' he helped launch the careers of Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor in the UK before moving to California and doing much the same for Coco Montoya and Walter Trout.
These days it's Texan Rocky Athas handling the guitar duties, while the rhythm section - bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport - hails from Chicago. They provide muscular, supple support for Mayall, who for the most part sounds surprisingly spry and agile. When he does get a bit craggy, it's usually not a bad thing - his voice has always been somewhat reedy, and the gravitas of age adds a welcome weight to both his words and his delivery.
A Special Life, Mayall's first outing in five years, finds the road-tightened band tearing through a handful of classics as well as four Mayall originals, aided by guest C. J. Chenier, who contributes accordion on a pair and co-lead vocals on "Why Did You Go Last Night," the rollicking Cajun-spiced shuffle written by his father, Clifton Chenier, that kicks things off.
In addition to providing lead vocals, Mayall plays harmonica, guitar and keys (including clavinet!), produced the disc, and even provided the original artwork. Any (minor) loss of dexterity is more than made up for in sheer experience - blues is life, as they say, and Mayall has certainly led an interesting one, as documented in the autobiographical title track. Mayall also takes credit for the topical "World Gone Crazy," a moody "Heartache," and "Just A Memory." Rzab and Athas contribute one, while covers include Eddie Taylor's "Big Town Playboy," Jimmy McCracklin's "I Just Got To Know," plus tunes from Sonny Landreth, Albert King, and Jimmy Rogers. It's to Mayall's enduring credit that he makes even familiar classics sound vital and fresh, yet somehow shot through with worldly wisdom.
Mayall's passion and dedication to the blues remain undiminished, and A Special Life is a welcome addition to the discography of one of the music's genuine elder statesmen. Good stuff!