John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers

John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers
In the Palace of the King

Eagle Records

By Brian D. Holland
August 2007

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The latest release from John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers is number 56 for the 74-year-old, who still records and tours like he’s a 23-year-old youngster.

Mayall, dubbed the “king of British blues” often played tribute to the man he likes to refer to as the “king of the kings." Indeed, the music of Freddie King has been an ongoing affair for Mayall & the Bluesbreakers since the ‘60s, when he and Eric Clapton did the legendary "Hideaway," and others.

Shortly thereafter, Mayall did "The Stumble" and "Someday After A While" with Peter Green at the guitar helm; and then "Driving Sideways" with Mick Taylor.

It seems only right that Mayall would finally get around to making a record with a Freddie King theme.

Buddy Whittington, Bluesbreaker guitarist for the past 14 years (he replaced Coco Montoya back in 1993,) is Texas born and bred, just as King was. He displayed his instrumental prowess on guitar, just as the aforementioned Bluesbreaker icons did before him, when he played on the King instrumental "Sen-Say-Shun", for Mayall’s Blues for the Lost Days album, released in 1997.

That amazing skill has sustained and sharpened over the years. The tone of his ’63 Stratocaster shines on every cut on Mayall’s new disc. Whittington displays amazing control and dexterity throughout, and has an incredible flair for King’s style.

His vocal ability shines as well on the Leon Russell classic "Big Legged Woman."

Special guest guitarist Robben Ford shines on his own composition, "Cannonball Shuffle." The song struts along in 12-bar instrumental fluidity.

That said, let’s talk about the protégé himself, and more about being “In the Palace of the King.” Besides sharing the production credit, Mayall did most of the vocals, and played piano, guitar, and harmonica on the album.

It begins with King’s "You Know That You love Me", originally from Freddie’s Takin’ Care of Business record (Charly, 1985). Not to say he does the best blues vocal ever heard, but Mayall belts this one out just as well as he has ever done, which is quite phenomenal. His love and enthusiasm for this music only strengthens with each changing year. Whittington is everywhere on the neck of his Stratocaster on this uplifting and optimistic tune.

Next is the potent "Goin' Down," penned by Don Nix and covered by many over the years. The Bluesbreakers rock up this legendary gem.

"Palace of the King" had to be included, of course. Heavy on horns and Whittington lead guitar, the Don Nix and Donald "Duck" Dunn original is a fine allegiance to the Texas blues guitarist.

The tribute is continued later when the band struts into the inspiring Mayall original, "King of the Kings." I’m sure this song will live on for years to come, in the performances of many forthcoming artists as they acquaint new blues fans with the King.

Freddie was known not only for his original songs, but for the style and flair he brought to the songs of other people. This Mayall tribute album grasps that concept in a fine manner. The compositions of Mayall, Don Nix, Leon Russell, King collaborator Sonny Thompson, and others, make this wonderful album complete. Many were Freddie King favorites, which make it only right.

Recent Mayall albums, like anything else, might not always possess the magnitude of clout that propelled his earlier stuff into the limelight. But that doesn’t confirm excellence by any means. After all, the style, sound, and everything about the music was in its infancy back in those days. Though guitarists like Green, Clapton, and Taylor were the talisman of the early albums, in truth, just as Walter Trout, Coco Montoya, Buddy Whittington, and others who followed, the thing they had in common was that they all had been lucky enough to receive the initial push that was needed to boost their career into overdrive.

That push was John Mayall.

However, let’s not draw a line yet, because this Bluesbreakers album also proves that recognition doesn’t stop there. Let’s all tip our hats to the great Freddie King. This is a fantastic album and tribute by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers to the King who’s often shadowed by the other two. That’s what keeps the blues alive: payback and respect. It all leads to years of quality music.

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