The next two tracks feature the Texas guitarist Rocky Athas. The choice of the Sonny Landreth penned “Speak of the Devil” allows Athas to stretch out, laying down some angry, menacing fretwork to illustrate the tension of domestic abuse. Right on the heels comes “That’s Alright,” with Athas moving the song along with a rumbling undercurrent set against the tight rhythm section of Rzab and Davenport, veterans of the Chicago blues club scene. Mayall soars above it all with an insistent aching harp.
The title track finds Mayall reflecting on his life, clearly not content to settle down and rest on his considerable laurels. While he sings “living free and easy/wondering what I am gonna find,” in contrast with his current tour schedule, it’s obvious he still enjoys working and following his own muse. As if to underscore that fact, he also provides the eye-catching cover art for the disc.
The only slight misstep is “World Gone Crazy.” One of four Mayall originals on the album, the lyrical reach seems out of place with the rest of the album. Attempting to cover too many subjects, from political rhetoric, government spending, and middle east war, the song ultimately falls short because it broad brushes complex issues without ever taking a solid position on any of them. But on a record of this quality it is a very small bone to pick.
“Big Town Playboy” relates the story of a man who “walks the streets all day/ won’t come home at night.” The central character’s female companion has had enough of his lazy ways and wants him to get a job. Perhaps one of the best tracks is a cover of Albert King’s “Flooding in California.” Mayall’s gorgeous organ playing shimmers and sparkles, and alone is worth the price of the disc.
It is rare to find someone of Mayall’s stature still giving it his all. Having worked with and mentored a Who’s Who of blues rock artists, including Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, Mayall could easily retire to the countryside and release material from the vaults for the next decade. Instead he pulls his stellar backing band into the studio, turns out a gem of an album, and hits the road. A Special Life indeed.