Sunday, June 19, 2016

CD Review: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In London 1967 - Volume Two (2016)

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In 1967 - Volume Two
As the old counter-culture saying goes, “too much of a good thing is never enough.” It’s particularly true in this instance – the (mostly) unexpected arrival of a second volume of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers' Live In 1967 – which gives foaming-at-the-mouth fans like myself a baker’s dozen of rarer-than-rare, previously released anywhere on the planet, historic albeit lo-fi performances by a short-lived but influential superstar Bluesbreakers line-up.

As so kindly explained in my review of the first Live In 1967 collection, a hardcore Bluesbreakers fan from Holland named Tom Huissen hid a one-channel reel-to-reel tape recorder under his jacket while attending several John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers shows in London back in swinging ’67, using it to record the band’s performance each night. The tapes were stored in a dusty attic somewhere and unheard for better than 40 years until they were acquired by Mayall. These rusty, antique tapes were restored to something resembling acceptable sound quality by Forty Below Records’ Eric Corne, and a compilation of the band’s best performances from the period was released in early 2015 as the aforementioned Live In 1967.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ Live In 1967 – Volume Two

Fast forward roughly a year and this second collection offers so much bluesy goodness that Mayall fans should be swooning in their buttermilk (or an equivalent alcoholic beverage). Thirteen  new (old) tracks featuring frontman Mayall, the legendary Peter Green on guitar, and a rhythm section comprised of bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, who also performed similar duties for a little band you may have heard of by the name of Fleetwood Mac – whatever happened to them, anyway?

As I also mentioned in my review of the first volume, the audio quality here is quite different than what many music fans are used to hearing from digitally-recorded albums that have had the stuffing squeezed out of ‘em by Pro Tools. The performances here are deep and hollow and somewhat boomy, like you might hear when you’re standing against the back wall of your favorite club. Recording tech in ’67 was Cro-Magnon level at best, and Huissen’s good intentions were somewhat defeated by his primitive recording rig. Corne has done an admirable job of cleaning up the sound, though, and if what is essentially an audience-sourced bootleg is too raw for your tender ears, grab me a tissue Nancy ‘cause I’ll be laughing until I cry over what you’re missing...

Tears In My Eyes

At its heart, Live In 1967 – Volume Two is another superb collection of firecracker performances that display just how white-hot this particular Bluesbreakers roster could be on even the smallest of stages. Mayall’s original “Tears In My Eyes” is a smoky, slow-burning blues dirge captured live at The Marquee Club in London. Mayall’s vocals are somewhat obscured, but not even the lowest of fidelity can rob his voice of the deep-blue emotion welling up through the microphone. Green’s guitar licks are spot on, complimenting the boss’s vocals and channeling some serious Buddy Guy-styled soulfulness.

An already rowdy Sonny Boy Williamson deep track “Your Funeral and My Trial” is made all the more raucous by Mayall’s raging harmonica riffs, Green’s energetic guitar bashing, and a rhythm section that stays out of the way while still building a firm musical foundation. “So Many Roads,” recorded but not used for the A Hard Road album (it shows up on expanded CD releases), is an eight-minute-plus blues jam that showcases the immense chemistry of the band, with Green’s amazing fretwork meshing perfectly with McVie’s strong bass lines and Fleetwood’s propulsive, high-energy percussion.

Sweet Little Angel

A cover of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel” is played slowly and soulfully, Mayall’s falsetto vocals complimented by Green’s jazzy guitarplay and Mayall’s own subdued but timely keyboard flourishes. Green’s guitar licks pierce the cloudy sound of The Ram Jam Club to establish the song’s blues bona fides while the rest of the guys nicely fill in the edges. T-Bone Walker’s blues standard “Stormy Monday” is cut from similar cloth as “Sweet Little Angel.” A fiery, mid-tempo moan designed to singe the side-stage curtains at the Klook’s Kleek club, the performance further cements Green’s status as one of the finest British blues guitarists of the 1960s, his instrumentation running parallel to Mayall’s mournful vocals and keyboards, the two working in tandem to kick out a phenomenal reading of an old (even in ’67) blues treasure.

The instrumental “Greeny” is really a guitar-driven excuse to allow the master instrumentalist to vamp onstage for six-plus minutes, the McVie-Fleetwood tag-team delivering a steady boogie beat while Mayall pounds the keys in the background. It’s a fine example of Green’s six-string prowess, the guitarist throwing blues, rock, and jazz licks into the blender and coming up with a heady brew, indeed. Mayall’s “Chicago Line” features his locomotive harpwork, Fleetwood’s tribal drumbeats, and even an engaging, hypnotic McVie bass solo while a cover of the Otis Rush gem “Double Trouble” – another cutting-room outtake from A Hard Road – further highlights the band’s ability to wrest the essence of a vintage blues classic and make it their own.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

I’m not really sure why John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers original Live In 1967 album received no love from The Blues Foundation earlier this year – not a single damn Blues Music Award nomination – but then again, I can’t find a BMA nomination for anything Mayall has released over the past couple of decades, an egregious oversight that should be remedied immediately by his induction to the Blues Hall of Fame (yeah, I don’t know why Mr. Mayall, O.B.E. hasn’t been provided that honor, either...).

But I digress with my well-meaning (and accusatory) rant…Live In 1967 – Volume Two is a welcome bookend to its predecessor. This additional volume offers more of a good thing by documenting the explosive performance ability and musical chemistry of a Bluesbreakers line-up that blinded like a supernova, if only for a meager three months, before burning out and splitting into two separate celestial bodies. Mayall fans, and those who genuflect before the altar of British blues, will find Live In 1967 – Volume Two an enchanting trip back to swinging London for some of the best blues you’ve never heard. Grade: B+ (Forty Below Records, released May 6, 2016)

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