Delbert McClinton, One of the Fortunate Few

by G. Himes

When Robert Cray and the Fabulous Thunderbirds turned their similar combinations of Texas blues and Memphis soul into hit records in 1986, bar bands all across this land thought they had glimpsed the promised land of a long-awaited blues revival. There has been a flood of soul-blues releases since then, many of which have been respectable, even admirable, but they have lacked the two essential ingredients that gave the genre its artistic peak 30 years ago, as well as its brief resurgence 20 years later–terrific songs and outstanding singers.

Delbert McClinton’s One of the Fortunate Few has both those elements. The guest vocalists include Mavis Staples, Lyle Lovett, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, and Vince Gill, but it’s McClinton’s own coarse-grained Texas baritone–as supple as a snake and as definitive in its bite–that dominates the soundscape. And it’s McClinton’s co-producer and co-writer, Gary Nicholson, who makes the difference in the material. Nicholson, whose day job is writing mainstream-country hits, indulges his blues jones at night and has come up with rollicking uptempo numbers and gospel-drenched ballads.

Most importantly, Nicholson’s lyrics contain both the irreverent wit that Cray lacks and the confessional angst lacking in the T-Birds. The humor crackles in McClinton’s belt-it-out vocal on “Old Weakness (Coming on Strong)” and an aching need is felt in his restrained duet with Staples on “Somebody to Love You.

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