Over the course of some fifty-plus years, the bands of John Mayall
have served as a proving ground for some estimable guitarists. Eric Clapton
, Mick Taylor
and Peter Green
are just the most famous axemen who've aided and abetted "The Godfather of British Blues." Yet, in all that extended time, he has never before had a female lead guitarist in any lineups until the enlistment of Texas wunderkind Carolyn Wonderland
on Nobody Told Me
In keeping with other star-studded sessions such as Back to the Roots
(Polydor, 1971), this thirty-sixth studio effort of Mayall's also boasts an impressive and diverse list of guest guitarists in addition to the bluesman's rhythm section of recent years, bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport, who earn their high-profile billing on the CD cover, while a stylish and generally brassy horn section graces a handful of cuts including the opener "What Have I Done Wrong." These various contributionsincluding those of Wonderland who's now touring with Mayallsimultaneously camouflage and illuminate an important but often overlooked thread running through John's career.
The litany of illustrious names with which Mayall's been associated sometimes overshadows the man's scholarly approach to the blues. Over and above his early homages to one of his genre faves, J.B. Lenoir, John Mayall has been a serious student of this music from the start of his over five-decade run. His loyalty to authenticity remains above reproach, a virtue he shares with his co-musicians. On "The Moon Is Full," for instance, Larry McCray's solos and fills bespeak a similarly legitimate devotion.
McCray, one of the less celebrated guitarists on Nobody Told Me
, nevertheless performs with all the precision and passion of his fretboard counterparts. Wizard and true star Todd Rundgren isn't known for roots-oriented endeavors, but he plays as if refreshed by the simplicity of the form and the chance to work in the role of accompanist. In keeping with the piano-dominated, harmonica-accented "Evil and Here to Stay," the Canadian prog-rocker of Rush
, Alex Lifeson, is suitably restrained, while Steve Van Zandt of the E Street band demonstrates his self-avowed loyalty to roots on one of the three originals here, "It's So Tough."
Interestingly sequenced together at the end of the album, another pair of these comparatively slight songs of Mayall's, including the reflective title tune, feature Wonderland. Echoing the deft means by which her slide lines snake through the preceding "Distance Lonesome Train" (where her playing outshines that of the composer's, Joe Bonamassa
, on the following "Delta Hurricane"), the woman reaffirms the wisdom of her enlistment to tour with Mayall and company: the gusto in her guitaring matches that of the bandleader, whose own hale and hearty singing and playing are truly welcome in the wake of some health issues he encounterered subsequent to the original sessios for this LP.
In addition to designing and supplying the cover art, John Mayall co-produced Nobody Told Me
with Forty Below Records founder Eric Corne at The Foo Fighters' Studio 606, using the same Sound City Neve console the former's one-time John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
, drummer Mick Fleetwood
and bassist John McVie
, utilized on parts of Rumours
(Warner Bros., 1977). The result is a pristine but punchy mix. But, there's no more care devoted to the technical aspects of this project than its diversified program of material including worthwhile sources such as the late British guitar hero Gary Moore ("The Hurt Inside") and "Little" Milton Campbell ("That's What Love Will Make You Do"), not to mention Mayall's own wise avoidance of topical themes except for the stiff "It's So Tough."
Like the best of this eighty-four year-old's records throughout the years, this one functions as an impressive blues primer, in part because he no longer works so hard to impressthe music comes to him naturally, in all its fervent beauty.