Personnel: John Mayall (vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, Clavinet, Wurlitzer organ); Rocky Athas (guitar); Ron Dziubla (saxophone, horns); Mark Pender (trumpet, horns); Richard A. Rosenberg (trombone, horns); Greg Rzab (bass guitar); Jay Davenport (drums).
Audio Mixer: Eric Corne.
Recording information: House Of Blues Studio, Encino, CA (2015-02-24&2015-02-25&2015-); House Of Blues Studio, Encino, CA (2015-03-01_2015-03-03&2015-).
Photographer: Triffin Constantine.
John Mayall, the pioneering octogenarian British bluesman, has been on a late-career tear. Last year's A Special Life received wide approval from fans and critics alike, while its supporting tour found him playing well-attended shows. Find a Way to Care, his second date for Forty Below Records, is again produced by Eric Corne and features the same band that's been with Mayall for years: guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, and drummer Jay Davenport. A horn section also augments select tracks. The material, as usual, is divided between originals and covers. This is a Mayall album that -- uncharacteristically -- focuses on his keyboard skills: he manhandles B-3, Wurlitzer, piano, and clavinet (and also plays harmonica and some guitar). His hard-grooving Hammond on Percy Mayfield's "The River's Invitation" seamlessly weaves roadhouse blues and vintage R&B. Mayall's grimy Wurlitzer fuels a thorough reinvention of Lightnin' Hopkins' "I Feel So Bad," with meaty fills interacting with the horns. His 12-bar piano progressions and chord voicings on Don Robey's "Mother-in-Law Blues" are fat and greasy. Athas gets plenty of playing time too. His stinging leads pierce through swaggering horns and Wurlitzer on the title number. The B-3 and clavinet on "Ain't No Guarantees" are meaty and tight, underscored by breaks from Davenport and a deeply funky bassline from Rzab. Lee Baker, Jr.'s "I Want All My Money Back" finds the band in a house-rocking groove. "Ropes and Chains," co-written with Rzab, places the clavinet and bass (the latter played like a lead guitar) way up-front in the mix. Chicago blues frames the tune, but skittering cadences and deep down-home funk add a new textural palette. "Crazy Lady" is a solo piece for vocals and piano that displays Mayall's ample knowledge of the New Orleans piano tradition, nodding to both Professor Longhair and Fats Domino. Mayall also gives props to British blues guitarist Matt Schofield and co-writer Dorothy Whittick in a moody, steamy reading of "War We Wage," with a great solo by Athas. Mayall's voice is beginning to show its age (on the slow tunes in particular), but he can still sing and shout clearly. Find a Way to Care doesn't break new ground, but it is exploratory. Mayall is still actively seeking the depths of the music he's been playing for nearly 70 years. His vast experience as a bandleader has made him hungrier; he still pursues the music with the fervor of a man less than half his age. If you're a fan, you need to grab this one. ~ Thom Jurek