Imagine . . . there are people in this world who've never heard Delbert McClinton's music. I'll stop short of saying that amounts to a wasted life, but it's definitely a shortcoming.
That's how good he is.
By my calculations Delbert, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, has spent at least 40 years playing honky tonks and beer halls. (He did, after all, teach a young John Lennon how to play harmonica). You don't live a life like that without gaining a fair bit of wisdom regarding the complexities of both life and the human heart. His last recording, 1997's "One Of The Fortunate Few," died an untimely death as the record company folded shortly after its release. Now he's back with arguably his best outing ever, an indie release over which he had complete artistic control. "Nothing Personal" is an intentional misnomer; Delbert wrote or co-wrote every tune here, and the songs clearly reflect his own observations and experiences.
Reviewers routinely make much of the fact that Delbert can't easily be categorized; I'd submit that if categorization is required the best description is simply "quality." From the raucous rockabilly of "Livin' It Down" to the Tex-Mex styled "When Rita Leaves," from the stone country of "Birmingham Tonight" to the Excello-swamp groove of "Nothing Last Forever," Delbert covers just about every aspect of roadhouse rock, soul, and blues.
Impeccable craft is apparent throughout, yet for all the care evident in every note, nothing gets in the way of pure feel; Delbert never fails to find and exalt in the emotional core of each and every tune. He displays the sheer exuberance of someone half his age on flat-out rock 'n' rollers like "Squeeze Me In." But where he excels, and what to me makes him such a great singer, is the way he can express tender heartache that nevertheless retains a dignified strength on a bittersweet ballad like "Don't Leave Home Without It." You might break his heart, but you'll never break the man himself.
And that voice . . . not harsh exactly, but there's a lived-in rasp, a sandpapery, whiskey-and-cigarettes quality to it that lends his every phrase a convincing authority. No matter the subject material, there's absolutely no doubt he has indeed seen it and done it; and when Delbert sings it, you believe.
Delbert is aided and abetted by a crack band that includes such luminaries as Benmont Tench, Kevin McKendree, Johnny Lee Schell and Rick Vito; background vocals come courtesy of Iris DeMent and Bekka Bramlett. Production, by long-time collaborator Gary Nicholson and Delbert himself, is utterly perfect; crisp but not too clean, with a gutsy oomph that fairly reeks of sawdust floors.
No, "Nothing Personal" isn't a blues disc per se; it's way too eclectic for that. But it's got the heart and soul and spirit of the blues, in spades.
And that's what matters, isn't it?
New West Records, LLC.
P.O. Box 4700, Austin, Texas 78765
Web: www.newwestrecords.com or www.delbert.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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