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“John Mayall featuring Eric Clapton-"Bluesbreakers" (Limited Edition Gold Disc/Mono)

Reviewed by:

Wayne Klein

Release Date:
Band Members: John Mayall Organ, Harmonica, Piano, Vocals, Layout John McVie Guitar (Bass)
  Eric Clapton Vocals Ernie Campagna Production Coordination
  Gus Dudgeon Engineer
Track Listing: 1.)-All Your Love 9.)-Ramblin’ On My Mind
  2.)-Hideaway 10.)-Steppin’ Out
  3.)-Little Girl 04.Another Man 11.)-It Ain’t Right
  4.)-Double Crossing Time  
  5.)-What’D I Say  
  6.)-Key To Love  
  7.)-Parchman Farm  
  8.)-Have You Heard  


John Mayall's "Bluesbreakers" made after Eric Clapton left The Yardbirds remains a seminal blues album and features some of Clapton's most tasteful, compelling and powerful playing. Mayall became the godfather of the British Blues movement in the 1960's mentoring such players as Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie (all three of whom would become the core of the original Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac), Mick Taylor (later to replace Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones and who has claimed--with justification I believe--that he contributed to the songwriting in the Stones during this pivotal time when Keith Richards was lost in the fog of heroin addiction), Jack Bruce (who would briefly perform with the Mayall-Clapton version and later join Clapton in Cream) and many other notable figures. ***

To state that Mayall mentored these major talents is to understate his importance as well--he was a key performer in the growing blues scene of the 60's, 70's and continued to release albums into the 21st century. His mournful vocals, keyboard and harmonica playing became a pivotal part of his combos sound (Mayall also played guitar although he wasn't quite as accomplished a player as the other lead players that passed through his band). Although he wasn't a great front man (Bruce and Green were the best front men that he had during the 1960's), he was an important force and talented band leader who could recognize and develop the talent of those around him without sacrificing that talent to his own ego. ***

This early in Clapton's career you can clearly hear the influence of blues players such as Buddy Guy, Albert King and others that made an early impression on Clapton. I'd love to also see AF tackle the seminal Green collaboration "A Hard Road". Mayall's reedy vocals on this album nicely compliment Clapton's playing. Clapton performs an early lead vocal as well on the album hinting at his later more confident delivery with Cream and Derek and The Dominos. He and Mayall collaborate on one of Clapton's earliest compositions "Double Crossing" which is clearly derivative but hints at the potential that would blossom when Clapton himself became a band leader with the Dominos before drifting into making a series of memorable but less than earthshaking albums from the 70's until today. ---

Sound: This remaster focuses ONLY on the mono version of the album which previously appeared with the stereo in the deluxe edition (which has inferior mastering by Jon Ashley)and the MFSL (which demands a hefty price). If you already have the stereo version (which sounds fine on the version that Bill Levenson ushered on to CD), then all you need is this edition to make your collection complete. Mono was considered the go-to version in the UK at the time with more time often spent on the mono mix (which is much the same with The Beatles catalogue up to "Revolver" when we began to get more balanced stereo mixes that didn't essentially slap two different mono tracks togethre with one focusing entirely on one set of instruments and the other focusing on vocals. This is also true of The Who and Stones catalogues of the time. In the case of all three bands especially regarding their singles the mono mixes in most cases blow away the stereo mixes of the same songs) as a result most purists consider the mono mixes to be the definitive versions of many albums out there. ***

What's different here is that in the stero mix Clapton's guitar often has to compete with Mayall's organ or other sonic details while in the mono mix Clapton's guitar is up front and presented with remarkable clarity and detail. I personally prefer the mono version for that reason alone but there are those that don't care for mono mixes and there are other alternatives on CD for those people. Mayall's organ which fights for attention during Clapton's solos in the stereo mix is buried further back in the mix during these pivotal moments. As a result many of these recordings sound substanially different than their stereo counterparts (none of these are mono fold downs, i.e., where the mastering engineer takes the stereo mixes and just combines them without regard to how it will sound). ***

Remastering engineer Kevin Gray has done a terrific job with the material here. He has stayed true to the original sound of the recordings and has chosen to not use noise reduction (which often buries the sound of the recordings under a dull and flat blanket) and the EQ choices are exceptional. Be aware however that this is tape hiss evident (that's a good thing because it indicates that the recording hasn't been tampered with when it comes to noise reduction)in the recording so if that bothers you this version may not be for you. ***

There's plenty of headroom as far as dynamics go and the mono mix here sounds warm with a great deal of sonic detail without sacrificing anything. This doesn't have any of the problems of some earlier AF releases such as peak limiting ("The Pretenders") applied after it was mastered, the cross over fades missing ("Heartbeat City"), etc. It's a marvelous job all around. ---

Bonus Tracks:

Sadly, there aren't any bonus tracks here although most of those including the singles released by Mayall and Clapton from this time frame (including "Bernard Jenkins") are available on both the Clapton boxed set and the expanded single disc version of this album (they are also included on the expanded double disc version of this album but, again, the mastering on that edition is pretty harsh sounding). ***

The packaging is nice but as with all AF releases there isn't any special effort to include liner notes (beyond the original ones in very tiny type face). As with most AF and MSFL releases the focus is on replicating as much of the original artwork as possible and focusing more on the SOUND of the recording rather than the "packaging" (the major labels now do a poor job on the former but a great job on the latter). ***

There are going to be those who want to know how this compares to previous editions of this album on CD. Since every edition except the MFSL and the deluxe edition focus exclusively on the stereo tracks it's difficult to compare them. I'd note, however, that these recordings here sound warm, natural and have a lot of dynamics (as noted earlier) and detail making it essential for fans of this classic album or the blues. If you're happy with your stereo version or don't care for mono, again, this version probably isn't for you. ***

This was around the time that the "Clapton is God" tag (and, in fact, there is a "Clapton is God" sticker cleverly affixed to the shrink wrap. Don't throw it away--peel it off and put it on the CD!) started because of his blistering, brilliant playing and phrasing. "Bluesbreakers" provides Clapton with the perfect place to express his blues roots. The album also features one of Clapton's earliest lead vocals as well and although he clearly wasn't a confident singer yet, he handles it well. The only guitarist/vocalist that surpassed Clapton with Mayall was Peter Green who eventually went off and formed Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (not to be confused with the Buckingham/Nicks/McVie version that sold millions of records). Mick Taylor's tenure in Mayall's band came very close to both Clapton and Green's tenures as well. ---

Final Words: Kevin Gray's remastering is marvelous. My only complaint (and it is a minor one)is that the single/b-sides that Clapton made with Mayall aren't included here as well (since they were originally in mono they would have made a perfect fit). I did email Audio Fidelity when they were going to release this suggesting they include the single/b-side(s) and/or also include the stereo version for completists but evidently because of the licensing agreement it would have increased the cost significantly and delayed the project. ***

Either way this is the definitive mono version of the album available on CD--it blows away the Astley Deluxe remaster in every way imaginable except for NOT having the single/b-side(s) and/or liner notes on the recording of the album. ***

This edition available as a numbered limited edition (5000 copies) in a slipcase like the old DCC Gold discs. Highly recommended.



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