John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers: A Hard Road [remastered]

Adam Williams

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers

A Hard Road [remastered]

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2003-09-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

More an acquired taste than a mainstream sensation, John Mayall nonetheless merits mention in the annals of pop music's most important artists. By dedicating his efforts to the pursuit of everything blues, Mayall eschewed the trappings of British Invasion era rock and single handedly crafted a genre all for himself. A gifted multi instrumentalist and experimenter as well as a demanding taskmaster, Mayall looked to American blues for inspiration while forging an eclectic brand of music, taking the blues explorations of the Yardbirds, Animals, and early Rolling Stones to far greater heights.

Throughout his most creative period of the '60s, Mayall fronted an ever-changing roster of skilled players known as the Bluesbreakers. A veritable who's who of budding English artists, Mayall's band served as a formidable training ground for the likes of Eric Clapton among others. After Clapton's departure in 1966, Mayall recruited the gifted Peter Green to fill the spot and recorded the album A Hard Road. Some would argue that Green, not Clapton, was the premier young guitarist of the day; with an additional 22 bonus tracks to enjoy, the newly remastered twin disc package lends ample support to that premise.

Mayall's ability to attract and challenge talented musicians was legendary, as A Hard Road's lineup can attest. Backing Mayall and Green are pre-Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Interestingly, as Green was often less heralded than his contemporaries in British music circles, so too was Dunbar, frequently overshadowed by the likes of Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, and Mitch Mitchell. Popular opinion aside, this incarnation of the Bluesbreakers was an impressive lot.

The 14 tracks from the original album blend Mayall's original compositions with several noteworthy covers, (from Freddie King, Elmore James, and Willie Cobb), and a pair of Green's own songs which allow the guitarist to shine.

As strong as this material is, the true value of the remastered A Hard Road comes by way of the second disc. Ranging from several Mayall-less recordings by Green, McVie and Dunbar, to a series of songs featuring Paul Butterfield, the 17 tracks are a vividly painted canvas of blues innovation. Also included is a pair of 1967 offerings with Mick Fleetwood on drums, and a single 1968 effort highlighted by Green trading guitar licks with future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. As with the first disc, original numbers sit comfortably alongside assorted blues covers, as Mayall alternates between vocals, guitar and organ, while Green displays his understated fret board style.

Despite his extensive resume, Mayall's A Hard Road serves as a crowning moment in a lengthy career, as it was recorded at the peak of his British Blues creative sensibilities. Additionally, it puts a definitive face on the enigmatic Green, whose potential was never fully realized as a premier guitarist. While their respective levels of greatness can be argued, there is no denying that Mayall and Green came together for a brief time and created some powerful material in each other's company.

For those who enjoy Brit infused blues and boast a keen appreciation for musical uniqueness, Mayall and his band of merry men fill the bill quite nicely, as the remastered double disc A Hard Road collection is a worthwhile listening pleasure.






The 12 Best Brian Wilson Songs

From massive hits to obscure, experimental pop compositions, Brian Wilson's music is always thoughtful, idiosyncratic, and as thrilling today as it was in the 1960s.


Victoria Bailey's "Skid Row" Exemplifies the Bakersfield Sound (premiere + interview)

Victoria Bailey emerges with "Skid Row", a country romp that's an ode to an LA honky-tonk and the classic California Bakersfield sound.


Activism Starts at Home: A Conversation with S.G. Goodman

Folk rocker S.G. Goodman discusses changing hearts and minds in the rural American South, all while releasing her debut album in the middle of a global pandemic. Goodman is a rising artist to watch.


Shinichi Atobe's 'Yes' Sports an Appealing Electronic Eeriness

Despite its reverence for the roots of house music, an appealing eeriness blows through electronic producer Shinichi Atobe's Yes like a salty sea breeze.


Irmin Schmidt Meets John Cage on 'Nocturne'

Irmin Schmidt goes back to his Stockhausen roots with a new live album, Nocturne: Live at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.


Country's Corb Lund Finds the Absurd in 'Agricultural Tragic'

On Corb Lund's Agricultural Tragic, he sings of grizzly bears, tattoos, hunting rats and elk, the meaning of author Louis L'Amour's fiction, and the meaning of life.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

How Aaron Sorkin and U2 Can Soothe the Pandemic Mind

Like Aaron Sorkin, the veteran rock band U2 has been making ambitious, iconic art for decades—art that can be soaring but occasionally self-important. Sorkin and U2's work draws parallels in comfort and struggle.


Jockstrap's 'Wicked City' Is an Unfolding of Boundaries

On Wicked City, UK art-pop duo Jockstrap run through a gamut of styles and sounds, sometimes gracefully, sometimes forcefully, but always seductively.


Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.


The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.


'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.


Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.


Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.


Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.


The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.


12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.


Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.