Sunday, 13 December 2009

“Blues From Laurel Canyon” by JOHN MAYALL (2007 Decca 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…A New Magic World…Where I Never Felt So Free…"

Arriving in California in late July 1968 for a 3-week vacation - John Mayall met other like-minded people and it prompted a splurge of songs that musically documented his feelings of elation and finally belonging. 

When he got back to Britain - Mayall took his new stripped-down 4-piece band into Decca's Studios in West Hampstead for a 3-day session - 26 to 28 August 1968 - and out popped what many feel is his best album - "Blues From Laurel Canyon" – the entire record infused with reinvigoration and purpose. Here are the Californian details via E17...

The band for the session was:
JOHN MAYALL – Guitar, Harmonica, Keyboards & Vocals
COLIN ALLEN – Drums & Tablas

UK released 3 September 2007 - "Blues From Laurel Canyon" by JOHN MAYALL on Decca 984 083-9 (Barcode 0602498408391) is an ‘Expanded Edition’ CD Remaster with Two Bonus Tracks that breaks down as follows (61:13 minutes):

1. Vacation [Side 1]
2. Walking on Sunset 
3. Laurel Canyon Home
4. 2401
5. Ready To Ride 
6. Medicine Man 
7. Somebody's Acting Like A Child
8. The Bear [Side 2]
9. Miss James 
10. First Time Alone
11. Long Gone Midnight
12. Fly Tomorrow
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "Blues From Laurel Canyon" - released November 1968 in the UK on both MONO and STEREO - Decca LK 4972 and Decca LKS 4972 (Stereo Mix used for CD). The LP peaked in the UK charts at Number 33 in January 1969 and was also issued February 1969 in the USA in STEREO-only on London PS 545 - peaking at No. 68. 

13. 2401 (Single Version)
14. Wish You Were Here (Live)

Track 13 is 'Single Version' of "2401" - the B-side of the "The Bear" which issued on 45 on Decca F 12846 in November 1968 in the UK
Track 14 is a rare eight and half minute live version of "Wish You Were Here" recorded in Sweden in December 1968 with the same band as the album line-up. It was first released on the "Primal Solos" LP in 1977 on London LC 50003 in the USA and then in 1983 in the UK on Decca TAB 66. 

A real let down however is that the MONO mix of the LP didn’t make the CD - but in fairness to the compilers - even if you drop the twelve and half minutes of the two bonus tracks - it would have been a push to get both versions on here intact – and the live track is a great addition – especially for fans of this wonderful band line-up.  

Co-produced by MIKE VERNON (of Blue Horizon fame), the sound quality achieved on the original vinyl albums was famously superb and PASCHAL BYRNE of Audio Archiving has only amplified that in this truly fantastic remaster – ballsy, clean and beautifully clear. The 16-page booklet features the original Mayall liner notes, the lyrics and a detailed and affectionate appraisal of the album by noted writer and project co-ordinator MARK POWELL. There are even outtake photos from the album cover shoot.

The LP itself played like his emotions - tracks segue into each other, which either lifts the mood up or down depending on the tempo of the song – a clever representation of what he was feeling – jumping one moment, mellow the next. Highlights include the blisteringly good "Walking On Sunset" (lyrics above) which itself segues into the slinky and fabulous piano blues of "Laurel Canyon Home" which name-checks Zappa's girl-group signing "The GTO's" - while genuinely lamenting his departure from that Californian suburb in the lyrics "…here's a way of living that I will sorely miss…"  

"The Bear" was a tribute to Canned Heat's lead singer BOB HITE - while the quietly plaintive "First Time Alone" features the echoed licks of PETER GREEN as a guest guitarist. It's followed by superb keyboard work from Mayall on "Long Gone Midnight" which then gives way to the album's big finisher – and what an Outro it is – the stunning nine minutes of "Fly Tomorrow". After Chris Allen's Tabla intro - Mick Taylor finally gets room to stretch out and show how he can play guitar. It's magnificent stuff and when I feature it on a shop play list - it brings customers to the counter asking - "who's this?"

So there you have it – John Mayall's "Blues From Laurel Canyon" is like Blodwyn Pig's "Ahead Ring Out" from 1969 (see review), Fleetwood Mac's "Then Play On" (also from 1969) and Taste's "On The Boards" (January 1970) – a properly great rock album from that extraordinary period of time – and it still stands up some forty years after the event. 

Mick Taylor went on of course to join the Stones and the wow of "Beggars Banquet", "Let It Bleed", "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile On Main St." - and in 2017 aged 83 - John Mayall is still playing the music he loves – the blues – with a little bit of boogie and rock thrown in. 

A fab reissue then with quality remastered sound and annotation. 

Five out of five... 

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