At 88 and on his 36th studio album, John Mayall is still capable of surprising.
The veteran Bluesbreaker closes the Sun is Shining Down not with a groan but with a title track that celebrates his good fortune.
“And I’m so glad/the sun is shining down on me/got a home in California/and no place I would rather be,” Mayall – who will retire from the road after a final run ending in March – sings over Carolyn Wonderland’s understated guitar work.
A former Bluesbreaker herself, Wonderland is but one of several guests on the Sun is Shining Down. The biggest surprise is the presence of violinist Scarlet Rivera – best known for her work with Bob Dylan – who lends a bit of whimsy to “Got to Find a Better Way” and “Deep Blue Sea,” which comes off as an unexpected sequel to Octopus’s Garden.”
“Go underwater and see another world of green/fishes go by and I get to wondering where they’ve been,” Mayall sings.
Lest anyone worry Mayall has lost the blues, fret not. Mayall has not lost the blues.
With adroitly arranged horn charts and guitar-playing mates like Melvin Taylor – who, as Wonderland’s replacement, killed one Mayall’s 2021 tour – and does so again on “Hungry and Ready” and “Driving Wheel” – Marcus King, Mike Campbell and Jake Shimabukuro, whose contributions to “One Special Lady” are particularly acrobatic; searing with a light touch, the Sun is Shining Down is a blues album at heart.
One that happens to be full of surprises as old dog Mayall shows off some new tricks.