(Hot Shot/Thirty Tigers)
4 out of 5 stars
In the early ’70s, way before the term Americana was coined, some artists were already deep into the sound. Delbert McClinton is near the top of that list. There just aren’t many of his peers still active, vibrant, and releasing new music.
McClinton famously taught John Lennon the basics of the harmonica when he toured in Bruce Channel’s band in the early ’60s with The Beatles, opening the show. And that’s just a minor tidbit on a career biography that easily fills a page of small print on Wikipedia. While he’s never been a huge star (although the 1980s “Giving It Up For Love” notched in the top 10 for a short while), McClinton’s eclectic mix of tough soul, blues, rock and roll, country, Tex-Mex, some reggae, jazz, and zydeco has rightfully made him a roots icon and headliner for a dedicated cult audience.
Fast forward six decades to this, McClinton’s 27th studio album (there have been a handful of live ones and compilations too). The Texas-born and raised frontman reaches back to record songs by artists that have influenced him. Not surprisingly that list is as diverse as his music. It includes classics and a few obscurities either written or sung by a varied set of legends including Little Richard (“Long Tall Sally”), Jimmy Reed (“Ain’t That Lovin’ You”), Hank Williams (“Jambalaya,” “Move It on Over”) and Ray Charles (“Hard Hearted Hannah”).
McClinton also contributes five new tunes showing he’s still compelling as a songwriter who can crank out a batch of tunes that easily slot into the retro vibe of this album without sounding stale or like weak copies. Check out the frisky Texas Swinging “Money Honey” and the shuffling Lone Star blues of “Sweet Talkin’ Man” for proof that even in his early ’80s and recently retired from the road, McClinton hasn’t lost a step.
Even if some of his choices are on the obvious side, he digs into Hank Williams’ hits with enthusiasm and a palpable love of the material. He pulls out that trusty harmonica for the feisty rocking R&B of “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” and the slower bluesy “The Sun Is Shining,” the latter sounding like something Big Joe Turner might have recorded. There’s plenty of old-school country too with a fresh original “Two Step Too” (I like to listen to rock n’ roll/But honey, I like a two step too) that could be an obscure Bob Wills gem. And speaking of rock and roll, McClinton tears into “Long Tall Sally” as if he just heard it.
Credit goes to co-producer and longtime shotgun riding multi-instrumentalist Kevin McKendree, along with his similarly talented son Yates, for keeping the sound fresh and lively on an album that’s as much fun to hear as it seems McClinton had recording it. He obviously has some more wrinkles than the high school yearbook cover shot, and his still expressive, flinty voice shows some of the wear and tear that years on the road will create. But this music is just as spirited and energized as what he was playing in his younger days which in itself is reason enough to add this to your collection. Or for newcomers, start here and work your way back to relish some of the most honest, unpretentious Americana ever recorded.