Delbert McClinton and Self-Made Men + Dana
Tall, Dark & Handsome
(Hot Shot/Thirty Tigers)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
If there is one guy who has earned the right to wear a t-shirt with the cliché “Been there-done that” emblazoned on the front, it’s Delbert McClinton.
The Texas bred singer-songwriter has been a professional musician for 60 some years; hanging out with the Beatles in 1963, backing blues legends like Bo Diddley, releasing 25 previous studio albums (and winning three Grammys), inspiring the Blues Brothers, starting a successful Americana cruise with artists as eclectic and rootsy as he is, and writing a 2017 biography. And those are just the highlights. Even at 78 years old he continues to tour.
At this late stage in his career, he doesn’t need to record new music. But, like the blues icons that inspired him, McClinton is a lifer. And while Tall, Dark & Handsome may not be his finest moment, it’s a sturdy, unflinchingly eclectic indication of his diversity and sheer professionalism.
From the swinging big-band shuffle of the opening “Mr. Smith” to the closing autobiographical acoustic Delta blues of “A Poem” with the opening lines of “I was born and raised in Texas but I’ve been a lot of places,” McClinton covers a large swath of musical ground in these 14 tracks.
His grainy voice that has always been rough around the edges definitely shows additional wear and tear these days, but that’s to be expected. Still, the pure joy and enthusiasm that powers tunes like the standard Texas shuffle of “Down in the Mouth” and the New Orleans second-line strut of “A Fool Like Me” pushes everything into a Lone Star groove that can best be described as McClinton-esque. Even the obligatory “I’m getting too old to do this” track called “I Can’t Get Up” is infused with a natural swinging blues making it one of this collection’s many standouts.
Delbert pens or co-writes this set of all new originals, but it’s the arrangements of tunes such as the walking bass driven supper club jazz of “Lulu” about an old flame who left town but has returned to rekindle the relationship against the singer’s wishes (“you can go to hell but you can’t stay here”) that kick the proceedings into high gear. On “If I Hock My Guitar,” McClinton recycles a Chuck Berry riff as he sings about deciding whether to eat or play the blues. And he shifts into Dan Hicks’ peppy country swing on the humorous “No Chicken on the Bone,” complete with fiddle and backing female vocals. For “Gone to Mexico” the music chugs into percussive Ricky Ricardo territory as McClinton moves to the titular country to forget a broken relationship.
Have we heard it all before? You bet. But that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, especially since everyone involved is clearly having a blast. In other words, it’s McClinton as we’ve come to know and love him, cranking out another solid disc of Americana, Delbert-style. It sounds inspired and freewheeling, like he’s just getting started. And considering his age and extensive resume, that’s quite a compliment.