At age 86, British blues godfather John Mayall is still going strong. In 2016 he pruned his touring band to a trio with Mayall acting as his own guitarist and keyboardist. This date finds him returning to the quartet lineup with a host of all-star axe-playing guests including Joe Bonamassa, Larry McCray, Alex Lifeson, Steven Van Zandt, and Todd Rundgren, as well as his newest touring slinger Carolyn Wonderland (the first female to hold that role in one of his bands). He is also accompanied by his working rhythm section of bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport, with Billy Watts on rhythm guitar, and the horn section from Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Anyone familiar with Mayall's catalog understands his proclivity for hiring the best sidemen -- especially guitar players who have included Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Harvey Mandel, Coco Montoya, and Walter Trout, to name a few. Nobody Told Me was cut in Los Angeles at the Foo Fighters' Studio 606 on the same Sound City Neve console his one-time protégés from Fleetwood Mac (John McVie and Mick Fleetwood) used to record Rumours. Mayall has a way of both purposing his guitarists and focusing them while getting them to open up. The opener is a read of Magic Sam's "What Have I Done Wrong" with Bonamassa. While rightfully celebrated for his technical acumen, Bonamassa is also well known for his excesses. Here he delivers a taught, brief, and biting break buoyed and balanced by the funky horn section. The tune also reveals that in his advanced age, Mayall's singing has lost its nasal quality to become an expressive (and mostly on key) growl. Later, Bonamassa is featured on the punchy, blues-jazz fusion number "Delta Hurricane," which also boasts a burning horn chart. McCray is, as always, all edges and razor-wire, and is given free rein on "The Moon Is Full" and the Chicago-styled slow burner "The Hurt Inside." Former Rush guitarist Lifeson turns in the set's biggest surprise in a cover of Jeff Healey's "Evil and Here to Say," on which Mayall plays his trademark wailing, harmonica alongside his fierce blues piano. Lifeson could easily shred through his breaks, but instead tempers his attack to add to the tune's powerful emotive kick while retaining his signature sound. Rundgren shows his solid grasp on the soul-blues boogie of Little Milton's "That's What Love'll Make You Do," while Van Zandt's fuzzed-up six-string performance on Mayall's "It's So Tough" (backed by the songwriter's sultry, spacy electric piano), is offered with raw, swinging roadhouse intensity. Wonderland shows the authority in her playing via three selections, beginning with the snarling, moody, ropey electric slide blues-rocker "Distant Lonesome Train," penned by Bonamassa. Her house-rockin' boogie comes to the fore on Mayall's "Like It Like You Do," and the long, slow blues of his title track closes the set and she trades lines with Mayall's rumbling piano. Guitar slayers notwithstanding, Nobody Told Me is a hallmark Mayall date, chock-full of great songs and performances that underscore his considerable (and well-deserved) reputation.