Delbert McClinton – Live From Austin : Album Review

More from the Alligator vaults to delight, possibly the best singer not on the tip of your tongue; Delbert McClinton.

Release Date: 21st July 2023

Label: Alligator Records

Format: Vinyl

I remember the first time I heard this fella, astonished that he seemed so much a secret. This was back in the days of all local libraries having a record and, later, a CD section, where, for a small fee, you could borrow discs for a week or so. Thank goodness home taping was illegal, or who knows what sort of trouble I could have got into! But the person in charge at Solihull had a wide ranging and eclectic taste, with McClinton’s eponymous 1993 album shouting at me from the racks.

Back then I defined my tastes by genre, silly boy, with Mr McC really messing with my head; was this rock, was this blues, was this country? All of these and more, trademarked by a never more grit’n’gravel holler. Since then I have always kept out half an eye for this journeyman performer, in action since 1962 and still on the go, with a handsome set of releases under his belt. This I had not caught, being not normally a fan of live recordings. Not normally…

Live In Austin is a benchmark as well as a brand. The list of players who have issued product from here is long and illustrious, the great and good from, largely, the southern states, with the odd unexpected outlier. So we got Willie Nelson, we got Johnny Cash, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Hiatt and Dwight Yoakam. Heck, even good ol’ boy Richard Thompson gets one.

McClinton’s dates from 1989, and showcases him with a top notch band, tighter than a Lubbock mosquito’s chuff, brass blasting over a never more meat and potatoes blues rhythm section, replete with howling guitar and harmonica. Harmonica? Did I say he taught John Lennon how to play the harp? Well, he did, and he can blow a scorcher, up there with Charlie Musselwhite in the stakes of 2nd gen blues men.

It opens with applause. Of course it opens with applause, and you can soon see why, as the ensemble whip into the tried and tested formulaic chug’n’choogle of Maybe Someday Baby, one of his own songs. Formulaic? As in if it ain’t broke. The brass are cooking, the harp a searing hot knife through the deep fried licks of the band. The rhythm section define rhythm. Lipstick Traces you’ll know, the rendition a brisk syncopated canter, that allows guitarist Stephen Bruton, the great late Stephen Bruton, to squeeze in some neat licks, saxman Donald Wise and pianist Nick Connolly also getting chances to shine.

Delbert McClinton

You’ll swear Standing On Shaky Ground might be where a certain Stevie Wonder got the idea for a certain funky tune, but you’d be wrong; it was written 3 years later, an overlooked hit in 1975 for the Temptations, written by legendary Funkadelic guitar man, Eddie Hazel. Indeed you may remember the Elton John/Don Henley duet version, but despite that being a credible version, it ain’t a patch on this one. And I’ll bet our Elt had heard this one beforehand, too.

Sandy Beaches slows things down, demonstrating the soulful prowess inbuilt to McClinton’s larynx, a cross between Otis and Michael McDonald. The horns are perfect, and the backbeat from the wonderfully named drummer, Harrell Bosarge draws due attention. It’s hard to believe it a seated audience, such is the dancehall atmospheric, exemplified by the foot to the floor 12 bar of Thank You Baby, where the singer stretches out on his trusty harp, before handing the baton to Bruton, for some more economical guitar boogie. “C’mon, let’s do it one more time” is always what you want to hear on a live record, and we do, the N’Orleansy strut of B Movie Boxcar Blues following in that same vein.

I may have mentioned Otis, with the next song, I’ve Got Dreams To Remember, belonging to that iconic singer. Few can match Redding’s grasp of delivery, but McClinton can, his band channelling the full Stax. And for those who sometimes question the purpose of baritone sax, check out Mark Kazanoff. With little time for any much slow, it’s straight into the sass of Let Me Be Your Lover, and I’ll swear you’ll wish you were there. Or maybe cross-border in Louisiana, with Going Back To Louisiana being a terrific jump blues, riddled with some western swing. I’m a sucker for this sort of shuffle and found myself chair dancing as I listened, if to the bemusement of the dogs. Great saloon bar piano adds to the exhilaration. With the next song having me wriggle ahead of it starting, with worried thoughts of Saturday Night telly coursing through my consciousness, I can report You Are My Sunshine contains no Morecambe and no Wise. Indeed, it is near unrecognisable, transformed into a murky gospel blues romp. Which is the maintained theme for the final song, Givin’ It Up For Your Love, aka his big hit number, number 8 in 1980, a rendition which would do Sly Stone no harm, and with a good deal more wallop than the Jerry Williams original. And that’s it, even if, I’ll bet, he could have played all night and possibly did.

Lovely to see this set getting a new polish and being presented again, perhaps to catch a new audience. New cover art is sadly not included(!) The sound quality is exemplary, perhaps as befitting an original TV broadcast show. And has had me revise my opinion around live records, which, looking at the roster of shows available, Live From Austin, could prove expensive…..

Here’s a thing! How about learning to line-dance as you enjoy Going Back To Louisiana?

Delbert McClinton: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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