Right now Mighty Sam McClain is at the peak of his powers. Since he came back to recording after a couple of spells away from the business, he has produced a string of quality Soul/Blues albums for the Audioquest label. "Joy and Pain" shows that he's also a dynamite live act. It was recorded during his successful tour of Germany in late 1997 for the German Crosscut label.
The ball starts rolling with "Gone For Good" (a song usually associated with O.V. Wright). The band--more or less the same line-up used on the Handy nominated "Journey" studio album--are as tight as a drum, so they are all in perfect harmony from the word go. They set the atmosphere for the first couple of minutes or so before McClain hits the stage, and then things really warm up.
The next five tunes are all originals, taken from McClain's earlier albums. If you want to know where he's coming from, just listen to his lyrics: "I sing sledgehammer soul / And I sing some down home blues." It's immensely powerful, gut-wrenching stuff too. For the most part it's songs of love and loss, counterbalanced by hope and faith. The way McClain puts heart and soul into his delivery, you know he's experienced them all.
The album closes with another three covers. The first of these (Al Green's "Lord Will Make a Way") is followed by perhaps the most surprising cover: the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Runnin'." For the most part it's played fairly straight but the horn section adds an extra dimension to the song. McClain takes the sentiments of the words "Without love / Where would be now" and extends them into an ad lib section, before the horns bring everything to a rousing climax to end the main part of the show. For the CD, however, there's the bonus of an encore in the shape of a cracking version of Ronnie Earl's "A Soul That's Been Abused," which has some wonderful weeping guitar from Peter Giftos. This was the only song that was recorded at a different concert. It's all cut together perfectly, however, so you can't spot the join.
You would be a fool to miss Mighty Sam next time he comes to your town. In the meantime, "Joy and Pain" provides the next best thing. If he keeps this up, Mighty Sam McClain is going to be pushing Bobby Bland all the way for the Best Soul Blues artist of 1999.
Mighty Sam McClain: www.mightysam.com/index.html
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.