NOBODY TOLD ME John Mayall (Forty Below) *****
In a string of impressive late career records, John Mayall is about to release a beauty- possibly the best of his legendary career. Nobody Told Me hits store shelves February 22nd with a boss list of guest guitarists. ‘Blues Summit’ discs have been done before by others, but rarely have they been this spine-tingling.
As Talk About That was coming out in 2017, John was dropping hints about Nobody Told Me. This is a great sounding disc, with production once again being shared by Mayall and Forty Below label founder Eric Corne. JM’s long time rhythm section is formidable, including the articulate bass work of Greg Rzab and fluid backbone of drummer Jay Davenport. Contributing on rhythm guitar is Billy Watts from Lucinda Williams’ band.
The list of guitar players? Oh wow; Todd Rundgren, Steve Van Zandt, Alex Lifeson, Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray and Carolyn Wonderland. Having all these rock players gives the songs teeth with solos that, on occasion, make the hair on your arm stand straight up. Plus John’s vocals are better, more varied than they’ve ever been. “This project has been a true labour of love for me and I can’t wait for people to hear the fireworks that took place” John says. He is so right.
At the age of 85, John Mayall has just done a blues record guys half his age would kill for. Nobody Told Me is the balls- I can’t imagine anyone being a blues fan and not wanting to have this. Remember, February 22nd… don’t be late.
KEY CUTS: Evil And Here To Stay (w/ Alex Lifeson), Distant Lonesome Train (Carolyn Wonderland), What Have I Done Wrong (Joe Bonamassa)
WHO SHOT JOHN? Eric Schenkman (Vizztone) ****
A raw blues adventure here from the Spin Doctors’ guitarist, his 3rd solo outing. Dirty and visceral, Who Shot John is pure groove magic.
Who Shot John mixes Schenkman’s hit-making abilities with emotional guitar playing and unfettered vocals that grab you by the ears as if to say “listen to this!” You know Eric from the Spin Doctors of course, but he’s also worked with Carly Simon, Natalie Merchant, Noel Redding, Jerome Godboo, Phoebe Snow and Corky Lang. If you know Spin Doctors’ last studio album, If The River Was Whiskey, then you know that as a singer and guitar player he speaks fluent blues; this disc underlines that point.
No small part of the magic of Who Shot John? is the interplay between Schenkman, drummers Van Romaine (Enrique Iglesias) and Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) and co-producer/ bassist Shawn Kellerman. “All of us are live players” Eric notes. “These guys love to play live (and) you can feel that throughout the album.” That’s where some studio albums come off stiff, particularly in the blues. Music is a living, breathing thing, and songs like these should not be approached like jigsaw puzzles.
Who Shot John? is a groovy, noisy adventure that will really light up your stereo. It’s far from perfect and, frankly, a little bit messy… but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
KEY CUTS: I’m Alright, Who Shot John, Fortune Teller
PEACE OF MIND Danny Lynn Wilson (Swingnation Records) ****+
Some roots albums play like studies in technique while others feel like a private conversation with someone with thoughtful insights. Peace Of Mind is the latter and Wilson has some profound inner experiences to share with you.
Peace Of Mind is, naturally, fairly quiet for the most part. Danny’s guitar playing is elemental but expressive, and his band (along with producer/ multi-instrumentalist Dave Gross) gives his songs and lyrical observations the breath of life. When he’s not rockin’ it up on a cut like Too Many Hounds, Danny’s voice has a relaxed sort of Leon Redbone/ Mark Knopfler vibe that makes it pretty easy to enjoy.
Through all the ups and downs of life, Danny Lynn Wilson has discovered the power in the intimate connection of the universal language of music to make things better. His song writing approach reflects his belief that the everyday struggles are worthwhile for the experience they allow us to gather as we journey onward. By maintaining the belief that he is forever a beginner, Danny’s songs come with insights we can all relate to.
Quite by accident I was drinking a nice cup of tea while listening to Peace Of Mind, (how rock & roll, I know!) and the two just seemed to go together. If I were to sum this disc up in one word, it would be ‘chill’. This thoughtful meditation on the things that bring you peace of mind will be good and needed company for me this year- maybe you too.
KEY CUTS: When Will The Loving Start, Too Many Hounds, Long Way Home
7 MINUTES LATE Chris O’Leary (American Showplace Music) *** ½
A new record from the voice of Levon Helm’s Barnburners. Roughly equal parts blues, country, Motown and New Orleans funkification, 7 Minutes Late is robust company.
Chris was born to sing the blues, and judging by these 12 cuts he’s a helluva songwriter too. He sang for Levon Helm’s Barnburners for 6 years as they toured Canada and the U.S. lighting up stages. As such, this US marine vet has shared bills over the years with Bobby Keys, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmy Vivino, Jeff Healey, Albert Lee, Warren Haynes, James Cotton- the list goes on. They say to judge people by the company they keep, so I’m inclined to hold Chris O’Leary in pretty high regard.
One of the most gratifying things about 7 Minutes Late is the variety of feel. From rockers like What The Devil Made Me Do to the slinky vibe of Your Day Will Come which follows it to the heartfelt ballad Daddy’s Here that ends the album, there are songs here for almost every mood you might find yourself in. The icing on the cake is Chris’s harp work, and some great guitar playing from Peter Hopkinson and Greg Gumpel.
Chris O’Leary isn’t some wanna-be bluesman, he’s the real deal. He won the 2011 Blues Blast Award for best new artist debut CD (Mr. Used To Be) and was also a 2011 American Blues Music Awards nominee for best new artist. Now excuse me while I dive in and go for another swim- I’m 7 Minutes Late!
KEY CUTS: Your Day Will Come, 7 Minutes Late, Daddy’s Here
FOOL Joe Jackson (EarMusic) ****
It’s been quite a while since my last Joe Jackson album, but after hearing the new single Fabulously Absolute it felt like time to jump back in. I got lots of I-Tunes cards for Christmas and put them to good use. Fool, Jackson’s 20th album, is pretty excellent.
Joe Jackson and his band went straight into the studio after the final date of their last tour, in Boise Idaho of all places. The goal was to record while the band was still hot and loose and, judging by Fool, it worked a treat. Produced by Jackson and Pat Dillett this disc has a vital sound and energy to it, not unlike the sort of angular alt/pop the Joe broke through with in ‘79. If I had to characterize Fool against Jackson’s earlier work, I’d say it’s a cross between Look Sharp! And Big World- maybe closer to Big World.
“I never have an overall theme in mind when I start to write songs for an album, but sometimes one will develop” Jackson says on his website. “In this case its comedy and tragedy, and the way they’re intertwined in all our lives. The songs are about fear and anger and alienation and loss, but also the things that still make life worth living; friendship, laughter, music, or art itself.”
If Jackson’s older albums are a cold beer in a loud club, Fool is a nice glass of scotch in the lounge as you sit around the table with chums trading stories. That, my friends, is a fine evening well spent.
KEY CUTS: Fabulously Absolute, Strange Land, Big Black Cloud
BEEN MEANING TO TELL YOU Ina Forsman (Ruf) *****++
Incredible- there’s just no other word to describe Ina Forsman’s new album. She’s a Finnish singer whose voice combines Adele’s power with Ricky Lee Jones’s playfulness and Christina Aguilera’s vocal acrobatics, making Been Meaning To Tell You one of the very best albums I’ve heard in the entire time I’ve been writing record reviews.
Ina already had an album mostly written when, while gigging in New York in 2016, she lost her phone- and with it every last scrap of new material. It took her two more years to write a fresh match of songs, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “At the end of the day, I’m happy I lost my phone” she says. “I lived a little more life, and wrote better songs with more emotion.”
It’s easy enough to get lost in Ina’s wonderful voice, but pull back if you can and take in the complete songs. From the soft purr of a track like Be My Home to the rapid fire punch of Get Mine then the conversational flow of Figure, this is a disc that delights at every turn. Her band plays with a sort of jazz acumen that keeps pace with her voice through slow blues, acid-jazz, rafter-shaking soul and even Latin rhythms. Been Meaning To Tell You ends with a Grammy-worthy acapella performance of Sunny, an absolute master-class for singers that will melt your heart.
Been Meaning To Tell You is one of the best albums you’ll ever hear, and I mean EVER.
KEY CUTS: Sunny, Miss Mistreated, Who Hurt You