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Delbert McClinton, Room to Breathe

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Out in Central Illinois, Delbert McClinton is an ol’ friend: regular fixture in the music bars (High Dive in Champaign, Lafayette Club in Bloomington), favored among the area rhythm-and-blues FM deejays. I’m not a Delbert junkie, but I have friends who are: the kind of guys who think that rhythm-and-blues can be fully framed between the last few Clapton/B.B. releases – with an occasional John Lee Hooker cut thrown in for “rootsy” authenticity.

Borrowed McClinton’s latest, Room to Breathe (New West Records), from one of ’em the other day to and get a handle on this hard-working barroom belter. Found myself listening to a slick set of country-tinged middle-aged-crazy r-&-b. As ritual as the Hives and just as satisfying, I bet, to fans looking for its particular generic comforts.

The disc opens with “Same Kind of Crazy,” a slice of country funk with oozing electric guitar and B3 fourishes that pretty much sets up the rules. When Delbert sings about “crazy,” the prime image you get is of Bruce Dern frolicking in a hot tub w./ Ann-Margaret (not a bad vision, I must admit). Nobody’s burying their mother in the back yard here: just gettin’ drunk and occasionally feeling sorry for themselves, giving unfaithful girls the kiss-off (best of these: “Won’t Be Me,” which catalogs everything the singer won’t do for his ex-) and winding in shady deals that inevitably fall apart.
Rest of the disc pulls from seventies r-&-b, Ray Charles countrypolitan, Jerry Lee and guit-fiddle country. “Lone Star Blues” is the obligatory pull-in-a-lotta-country-names-for-the-chorus number; “Don’t Want to Love You” is the inevitable stringed ballad. Through it all, there’s Delbert’s mild/gruff voice. You always get the feeling that he knows and has seen more than he’s willing to show you, but that’s okay.
Case in point: the disc’s concluding song “New York City.” In a year where everybody else writes post-9-11 mourn, here comes Delbert and the band, doing a proto-swing paean to the city that never sleeps (“Late nite skyline, that’s when it hit me/Well, I’ve got to have me some of that New York City!”) How typical, how restrained – and how middle-age cool.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.