John Mayall

Big Man Blues

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Though it didn't see release until 2012, John Mayall's Big Man Blues was recorded during the mid-'80s in Los Angeles. It was a turbulent period for the veteran bandleader, who was overseeing several personnel transitions in his Bluesbreakers. When things are in flux, go back to the basics, seems to be the motto here. Mayall goes to the root for his inspiration, cutting a new version of his hero J.B. Lenoir's "Mama Talk to Your Daughter" and a serviceable live reading of the Jimmy Reed nugget "Baby, What Do You Want Me to Do." On opener "Why Worry,' he takes on the vintage Chicago style, while "Reaching for a Mountain" and the title track take on the funkier aspects of its evolution. Mayall, who is in excellent singing voice here, plays a mean slide guitar, and his harmonica work, as usual, is stellar. Other highlights include the more rock-inflected "Lost and Gone," the Doug Sahm-influenced Tex-Mex blues in "Reaching for a Mountain," and a cooking, choogling live "Mexico." Mayall's band on the set includes Maggie Parker on backing vocals, guitarist James Quill Smith, Christiaan Mostert on reeds and winds, and Soko Richardson on drums. Given that this was issued almost 30 years after its recording date, it's curious as to why so little attention was paid to the final mix -- the sound quality is tinny. Big Man Blues presents the visionary and usually confident Mayall in a period of searching and indecision, but it's this very quality that makes the album -- despite considerable sonic issues and some spotty song choices -- fascinating to hear at least once.

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