Sixty years on, living legend Delbert McClinton hasn’t lost a bit of steam. Tall, Dark & Handsome marks a return to his signature roadhouse rocking blues sound as his last effort, Prick of the Litter, ventured into a late-night jazz club vibe. Surely, he mixes it up with some swing, Tex-Mex and other stylings but it’s all American roots music, Texas-style, the kind that Delbert’s been laying down for six decades even though he’s resided in his adopted hometown of Nashville since the ‘80s. Oh, and that album title is indicative of Delbert’s sly, wry humor. The last adjective aside, he’s not tall and much more gray than dark at this point.
These are all written or co-written by Delbert, one of those artists who clearly has first-name recognition, the surname being an unnecessary accompaniment. Heck, even his website is Delbert.com. With the foundation of his time tested road band, The Self-Made Men, instrumentation runs the gamut from fiddles and accordions to horns and the conventional keys, guitars, and rhythm section. You’ll even hear a clarinet solo. The Self Made Men are; saxophonist/vocalist Dana Robbins, drummer Jack Bruno, bassist Mike Joyce, guitarists Bob Britt and James Pennebaker with Kevin McKendree and Dennis Wage sharing keyboards.
The foundation is sturdy and augmented by several long-time cohorts including multi-instrumentalist and Nashville treasure Jim Hoke, trumpeter Quentin Ware, trombonist Roy Agee, drummer Joe Maher, bassist Glenn Worf, and a few other choice guests including McKendree’s son, Yates, who plays guitar on “Loud Mouth” and ace fiddler Stuart Duncan on “No Chicken On The Bone.” Wendy Moten, Vicki Hampton, and Pat McLaughlin along with a few others are the background vocalists.
The first single, the Texas blues styled “If I Hock My Guitar” has already been hailed by prestigious publications on their “Best Songs” list, describing it as “short, sly and swaggering, mixing a strut-worthy groove with plenty of fretwork fireworks.” It’s the story of a downtrodden guitarist who weighs his craft with a visit to the pawn shop. The second single “Gone to Mexico,” written by Delbert, is a rework a tune that first appeared on his son’s Clay’s 2010 album Livin’ Out Loud. The booming and blaring horns make the song just explode as it begins with the line – “gotta get away from the cell phone.”
“No Chicken on the Bone” is a humorous slice of western swing, or, better said, Texas swing. The opener “Mr. Smith” brings the patented Delbert shuffle. The jazz waltz “Let’s Get Down Like We Used To” treads into vintage territory, featuring a clarinet solo from Jim Hoke and an ebullient chorus. “Loud Mouth” and ‘Down in the Mouth” unfiltered blues while “Ruby & Jules” is straight from ‘50s early R&B, replete with barrelhouse piano. “Any Other Way” is the disc’s only true ballad. “Can’t Get Up” is an acknowledgment to aging. “Temporarily Insane” is one of the less accessible tracks as Delbert rasps, half-sung, half-spoken over dissonant piano chords. He closes in a similar fashion with acoustic guitar backing for “The Poem.”
Those two misses aside, this is the Delbert we’ve long known and enjoy, doing it as only he can.