Stories: 7/10; Road Dogs: 6/10; In The Palace Of The King: 7/10
John Mayall: Stories/Road Dogs/In The Palace Of The King
Three studio albums from the 2000s by the enduring pioneer.
Released prior to Mayall splitting The Bluesbreakers in 2008, these albums feature guitarist Buddy Whittington, bassist Hank Van Sickle, drummer Joe Yuele and keyboardist Tom Canning.
Mayall doesn’t stray far from the electric blues he recorded in the late 60s when Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor were his consecutive lead guitarists. Although these albums lack the innovation of those days, and Whittington can’t match Clapton’s flair or Green’s soulful playing, the band acquit themselves well. As for Mayall’s voice, it was never as strong or expressive as Stevie Winwood’s or Eric Burdon’s and, here, it occasionally sounds strained, but, with many songs looking back on his past, his vocals – heavy with experience – fit the material.
Stories (2002) is the most impressive album overall, with better-crafted songs and more varied styles. Mayall pays tribute to his heroes, first to Little Walter on the driving Southside Story – with great harmonica from the bandleader – then on Oh Leadbelly, an attractive country blues. He pays further homage on the stop-start, riff-based Short Wave Radio from 2005’s Road Dogs, where he namechecks Albert Ammons, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Maceo and Muddy Waters. Elsewhere, Stories mixes the pace, incorporating Whittington’s stretched-out atmospheric solos on Mists Of Time – an eight-minute meditation on Mayall’s memories – but the rest is too often generic blues rock.
Having pinned his allegiance to Freddie King back in 1966 with his cover of Hideaway, Mayall devotes In The Palace Of The King (2006) to the Texas blues guitar hero. Whittington adopts the great man’s style on the swinging R&B cut, Now I’ve Got A Woman, and the tough blues Going Down. Robben Ford guests on his own rocking blues instrumental Cannonball Shuffle, written in the style of King, while Mayall’s own piano-led song King Of The Kings celebrates King’s influence on British blues, most overtly on the line: ‘Clapton, Green and Taylor, he showed them all the licks to play.’