John Mayall Brings Disciplined Improvisation On ‘Three From The Road’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Its cover photo of the band radiating all the easygoing informality of a family get-together, Three From The Road is replete with the kind of easygoing exchanges of ideas that can abound at such events. And the expressive yet disciplined improvisation of John Mayall and his bandmates takes a variety of forms throughout the ten tracks recorded in Germany in March of 2017. Fortunately, the sound renders the musicianship in such clear detail it compels kudos to the recordists and mastering engineers of this project, as overseen by producer and founder of the Forty Below Records label Eric Corne.

Captured live for the sake of convenience and efficiency after the departure of guitarist Rocky Athas, the realism of this recording comes through from the very beginning, on “Big Town Playboy.” Still, what may be most notable about the depth and clarity of the recording is that because bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport’s respective parts are easy to follow (and worth doing so as during the shared panache on “Jerry Lynn Williams’ “Don’t Deny Me”), there’s no sense of too much space or any missing instruments, etc.

Of course, it helps that, as a reminder of versatility if not virtuosity, the 84 year old ‘Godfather of British Blues’ takes various turns at organ, piano and harmonica here. Yet Mayall’s nothing if not a savvy player: the various fillips he coaxes from his piano on “I Feel So Bad” virtually define tasteful, an attribute also reflected in his singing: he betrays no affectation in his vocals because he knows full well how to let the song speak for itself, lyrically and otherwise.

The span of material on here actually furthers the multiple creative statements by Mayall and company. Besides the familiar sounds of that aforementioned number of Sam Hopkins, there are two original compositions that broaden the band’s grasp of style as much as they supply effective changes of pace: “Streamline” features organ as prominently as “Lonely Feelings” highlights vibes. Meanwhile, jazz icon Lionel Hampton’s “Ridin’ On the L&N” complements contemporary guitar hero Sonny Landreth’s collaborative piece “Congo Square,” at eleven minutes plus the longest cut here.

The sum effect of this range of tunes, highlighted by the deliberately slow-paced “Tears Came Rollin’ Down,” illustrates both the roots and diversity of the blues. It is perfectly apt that, like John Mayall’s fifty-year plus career, Three From The Road stands as irrefutable testament to that tenet.

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