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Rockin' Blues Revue: John Mayall / Robben Ford / Eric Bibb

Doug Collette By

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The relish John Mayall displayed as he played and sang demonstrated the continued vigor of a man who
Rockin' Blues Revue
Flynn Performing Arts Center
Burlington, Vermont
November 16, 2005

The Rockin' Blues Revue that appeared on the Flynn Performing Arts Center's main stage on November 16 evoked a hearty response from blues fans and guitar hero-worshippers alike. Yet before the comparatively short show was over, the packaging of the three artists together did as much to accentuate the respective shortfalls of the presentation as illustrate the diversity of styles that reside within the genre of the blues.

Early in his introductory set, Eric Bibb recalled a young Taj Mahal and it was more to do with the gutsy singing and playing than the stylish hat he wore. But the young singer/guitarist has a tendency to the pretty and polite that ultimately undercut a deeper emotional connection for both himself and his listeners.

Bibb's professed admiration for his musical heroes like Rev. Gary Davis and B.B. King may have been the reason for his distance from most of the songs he did (including his own).

Guitarist Robben Ford's days as a session musician likewise sabotaged his portion of the evening as his playing was as slick as his well-tailored suit. With his Gibson turned to markedly high volume, Ford was effective only during softer interludes during his time on stage with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers.

To be fair to both Bibb and Ford, the revue style of this show doesn't lend itself to naturally generating momentum as either musician might given a normal length set when dynamics allow the intensity to grow. That said, both of those musicians might've altered their approach accordingly, Bibb opting for a more intense performance, relegating his softer material to accompaniment by the Bluesbreakers (who surely would've acquitted themselves admirably). For his part, Ford might've hearkened back to his days with Charlie Musselwhite, Miles Davis, or both, and chosen less conventional vocal-oriented material.

Introduced as "The Father of British Blues, with a nod to his recent recognition by the Queen of England, the seventy-two year old Mayall bounded onstage like a man a third his age, feeling as though he was just hitting his stride. Certainly no one on stage in Vermont this night enjoyed himself or his co-musicians more than Mayall did; the relish with which he quickly took an extended harp solo, combined with the beaming recognition of guitarist Buddy Whittington's solos, demonstrated the continued vigor of a man who's devoted forty-plus years to the music he loves.

John Mayall's commitment to the blues is what instills credibility to songs from his latest album Road Dogs. Whether the topical likes of "To Heal the Pain or the otherwise humdrum homage to the road that is the title song, there is a deep devotion to this roots music that ultimately renders this man the most influential bluesman of his time next to his American counterpart, the late Paul Butterfield.

The white-haired Englishman is not a brilliant musician per se, but when he takes a solo on piano or organ, he is as tasteful as Whittington is economical. The Texas guitarist has clearly mastered the rudiments of blues style, but never indulges in effect for its own sake (unlike his guitar partner Ford), which made his humble acceptance of second fiddle to Ford a bit frustrating for the discerning listener.

It was only three-quarters of an hour at most after Mayall and the Bluesbreakers took the stage that they were joined by Bibb and Ford, at which point the show-business aspect of the package tour took precedence over authentic emotional expression, As Mayall's good-naturedly crowd-pleasing harp spotlight "Room to Move progressed(hopefully moving listeners to seek out its original recording on The Turning Point), you had to wonder how many of those in attendance had witnessed the epiphany of The North Mississippi All-Stars at South Burlington's Higher Ground the week before or would rediscover contemporary blues at the hands of Hot Tuna at that same venue at the end of November.

Visit Eric Bibb, Robben Ford and John Mayall on the web.

Photo Credit Olivier Koning


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