REVIEW: Delbert McClinton Gives a Big Dose of the Blues on ‘Tall, Dark, and Handsome”

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When you get a Delbert McClinton album, you know to expect some blues. The new album Tall, Dark, and Handsome certainly is a blues album on which McClinton shows he can bounce easily between styles while still remaining firmly in the blues.

The album begins with “Mr. Smith”, which has a big band feel to it – and well it should since 11 people participated in the song. Quentin Ware (trumpet) and Roy Agee (trombone) come to the forefront in this swinging tune. When you hear it, you can’t help but think that this song should be performed by a well-dressed group on an old-time bandstand.

Blues has long been known for hard-luck stories like the one in “If I Hock My Guitar”. Bob Britt lays down a wicked guitar part backed by Kevin McKendree’s rolling piano part and Jim Hoke’s baritone sax while the narrator tells his sad tale. Namely the narrator is so lowdown that he was turned down when he applied for a position as a street sweeper. Of course the dilemma is how can this poor narrator play the blues if he hocks his guitar.

The album includes a couple country blues jams like “No Chicken on the Bone”, which features a sort of saloon piano part by McKendree and a fiddle part played by Stuart Duncan. Meanwhile, Hoke plays a clarinet part on “Let’s Get Down like We Used To” that lends a Pokey LaFarge vibe to the song.

The deeper you go into the album, the more you realize how important Kevin McKendree’s keyboard parts are. Not to say that he is any more important than the other members of the band, but his keyboard parts influence the overall sound whether it’s the Los Lobos style piano in “Gone to Mexico” or the Memphis Slim style rollicks in songs like “Loud Mouth”.

It’s no surprise that a fair amount of self-deprecating humor is included on this album. In the upbeat “A Fool like Me”, he sings, “How can I love somebody who would fall for a fool like me? The lyrics in “Can’t Get Up” present the picture of a man who used to be a dynamo, but with age he finds he “can’t get up to get down like I used to.” Joe Maher (drums) and Glenn Worf (bass) provide an easygoing rhythm while McKendree brings a soulful sound with his organ part.

If you’re already a fan of Delbert McClinton, this album won’t disappoint you. He is a blues man who shows he is as comfortable with country blues as he is with piano-driven blues. Tall, Dark, and Handsome will be available everywhere on July 26. Order your copy here.

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