John Mayall – So Many Roads: An Anthology 1964-1974 [reissue]

January 01, 1970





John Mayall is often described as the grandfather of British
Invasion blues. A who’s who of British rock got started in his band The
Bluesbreakers including Eric Clapton; his Cream bandmate Jack Bruce; John
McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac; and Mick Taylor, who
would later go on to play lead for The Rolling Stones. With talent like that it
didn’t take long for Mayall’s students to surpass their teacher, leaving him as
something of a musical footnote. The 4-CD box So Many Roads can be seen as an attempt to reclaim Mayall’s place
in history. As such, it’s only partially successful.


One thing the set, which covers Mayall’s career from
1964-1974, does well is show the breadth of Mayall’s talent. Over the course of
a decade, he proved himself adept at fiery electric blues, rootsy acoustic
blues, jazz fusion and Les Paul-style jazz guitar. The problem is that the set
also highlights Mayall’s major shortcoming, namely that he’s good at a lot of
things but not one of the greats at any of them. Not surprisingly, he made his
best work with his best collaborators. It’s hard not to think that each of them
left not just because of Mayall’s demanding ways, but because they knew they
could do just as well, if not better, without him.


That’s not to say they didn’t make some incredible music
during their time together. The stuff with Clapton positively smokes and the
Peter Green era offers an impressive array of high-energy blues (especially on
“Ridin’ On the L&N”, which comes with an assist from Paul Butterfield) and
moody, atmospheric numbers.


The later material is mostly enjoyable, but less consistent.
On the positive side, there’s the impressive roadhouse piano blues “Prisons on
the Road” and the down-home harmonica jam “Room to Move”. But you also get the
failed cautionary tale “Accidental Suicide,” in which a Jimi Hendrix tribute
featuring Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor is completely ruined by bad singing and
even worse lyrics. The set itself is beautiful, with comprehensive information
on each track. The liner notes, while informative, focus more on the comings
and goings in Mayall’s band rather than putting his music in a larger context.  


While not a must-have, So
Many Roads
is a worthy compilation. Despite the occasional misstep, there’s
a lot of great music here that’s worth rediscovering.


Call It Stormy Monday,” “Ridin’ On the L&N,” “Room To Move,” “California”  HAL BIENSTOCK


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