Sound — 10
"The Turning Point" marked a seminal point in my life, as it did in the career of John Mayall, and his version of stepped down electric blues.
This release followed the departure of both Colin Allen and Mick Taylor from the Bluesbreakers Band, finally leaving John free to take his next musical step... A step that was both large and profound. There had been a musical theory kicking around for quite some time, though had not been presented with as much consideration, exploration and fundamental education as John Mayall brought to the idea. This theory involved inherent rhythm, emphasizing the nature of each instrument creating its own rhythm, and decided to dispense with the drums.
Now, doing away with drums at a time in musical history where drums were a symbol of heaviness, often extending into ten and twenty minute drum solos, must have been regarded as revolutionary; and daring at the very least. John also eliminated the dynamically amplified lead guitar, and thus the guitar as the front and solo instrument, which had become a "must" during those early years of rock 'n' roll and blues ... Especially when one considers early works by John Mayall, where he featured lead guitarists and their silver stringed adventures; presenting to the world the likes Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and Peter Green. But what this created, was a blues sound that floated on the air, seeming to have no fixed position, coming at you from all directions at once, and no direction at all.
Lyrics — 10
John Mayall was right. The time is right for a new direction in blues music. Mayall said these words in 1969 when commenting on the new musical avenues explored on "The Turning Point." The late sixties and early seventies saw a sharp decline in blues music and Mayall noticed this fact. "The Turning Point" (aptly named) is a complete switch from the electric days of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. This album is almost entirely acoustic and with the exception of the last track, everything here is blues of a slow and pulsating variety. Mayall and company make use of a variety of instruments including the flute, an instrument that is rarely used in blues music. Recorded live and only operating as a complete group for two months, the performance is surprisingly strong.
The music on "The Turning Point" tells stories. All of these stories are lengthy (somewhat uncharacteristic of the time), personal, and accompanied by a fair amount of soloing from all sorts of instruments. Nothing here is other-worldly with the exception of maybe "Room to Move," but every track is certainly above average blues music. From Mayall's tribute to J.B. Lenoir, to the bass lines that are the backbone of "So Hard to Share," the first six slower blues numbers are vintage Mayall in a new setting. Great songwriting, soloing, and vocals. "Room to Move," the last track, bottles up all of the held back firepower from the slower previous tracks and unleashes it in a soloing firestorm. The group does a surprisingly good beat box solo (yes, beat box...) and Mayall flies on the harp solos that dominate the track. The group is rewarded by resounding cheers from the audience.
Where Mayall was incorrect in his statement was assuming this style of blues would catch. Perhaps this is what he wanted to play and was not concerned with reaching center stage again, but with the mainstream audience of the time going more and more electric, Mayall's shift to an all-acoustic album would do little to curb blues' slow decline. Over forty years later however, The Turning Point has matured into a pillar of sixties acoustic blues that is consistently strong from start to finish. With good melodies, solos, and lyrical development that runs deep, this album sounds wonderful to blues fans like myself. It certainly does not move in the fashion of his works with Eric Clapton or Peter Green for example, but it does have an undeniable groove to it and with the jazz undertones, it should appeal to highbrow blues connoisseurs and casual blues listens alike. The high points to this album are"Room to Move", "So Hard to Share," and "Saw Mill Gulch Road".
Overall Impression — 10
This album is as much jazz as it is blues, with the instruments playing with, and off of each other in a profound way, creating atmospheric effects that are still being built on today. This release blew my mind, and still today I stand transfixed whenever I hear any song from "Turning Point." This is one of those releases that I suggest you buy simply on the strength of one song and one song alone, that being "California." But by the time you get to that tune, you'll be swimming in the deep end, in waters so thick and rich you'll never want to come out. Yes, it's a live album, and I doubt there will ever be another recording of its equal. This was a moment in history...