Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Dec. 8, 2006
Essentially John Mayall (Eagle)
Once it seemed that all the notable English blues guitarists of the Sixties did time in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Never the best guitarist, singer, or songwriter, Mayall nonetheless had a master's eye for talent and a bandleader's strength. Essentially John Mayall, a 5-CD set from Eagle Records, gathers four of his 1999-2003 releases for the label Padlock on the Blues, Along for the Ride, Stories, 70th Birthday Concert along with bonus disc "Exclusive Live Rarities." There are few surprises: Mayall never varied his style or approach much in his 50-plus albums, but he boasted a powerhouse approach to Chicago-style electric blues that's carried him all these decades. He's the old dog doing few new tricks yet the ones here show him in fine form ("Oh, Leadbelly," "Yo-Yo Man," "Mists of Time," "Somebody's Watching"), and even finer company (John Lee Hooker, Coco Montoya, Otis Rush, Steve Cropper, Billy Gibbons). The rarities and maybe 70th Birthday Concert will be the discs of choice for longtime Mayall aficionados, with former bandmates Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and much of Fleetwood Mac. There's too much repetition of "Hideaway," "California," and "Dirty Water" among the scant 59 songs herein, though some live tracks clock in at more than 15 minutes. With no liner notes or info, Essentially John Mayall resembles a DVD with no extras. That's too bad, because John Mayall's 73 years prove that sometimes longevity beats originality.