Record Review - 1 February 05 2003

Since the mid-'60s, John Mayall has released dozens of albums with the various Bluesbreakers lineups that spawned legendary guitarists such as Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. But he's more respected than beloved. His thin, reedy voice, and his bands' ever-changing rosters and spotty releases, have established him predominantly as a committed journeyman with a golden ear for talent.

So it's no surprise that this is the first John Mayall tribute album. While singer/guitarist Debbie Davies may not be a marquee name, she's been on a roll since working with John's wife in Maggie Mayall & the Cadillacs over 15 years ago. Between touring as Albert Collins' right-hand woman and her decade-long solo career, Davies has defined herself as a dedicated blues performer who, like Mayall, has paid her dues working with many of the better musicians of her electric blues genre.

On Key to Love, Davies dusts off the boogie-woogie "Light My Fuse," "Nature's Disappearing" and other Mayall obscurities, along with popular near-classics such as "Hard Road" (featuring a galvanizing Taylor solo) and the zippy "Room to Move." She never hogs the spotlight, keeping the vibe loose yet thumping, and letting guest stars James Cotton and Green shine.

While her rugged cover of Memphis Slim's "Steppin' Out" (one of the first Clapton/ Bluesbreakers showcases) is impressive, it, like the rest of this project, mainly encourages the listener to search out the original.

Debbie Davies plays Blind Willie's Wed., Feb. 12.