Mighty Sam McClain is that most seasoned and agreeable of old school performers, a master of soul and R&B blues in the manner of Bobby “Blue” Bland, whom McClain has called an idol, and whose influence on him is lovingly pronounced. Tonight’s show at the intimate, out-of-the-way Stone Church (made even more so by a dark, starless night and plenty of car-obscuring fog) was not an all-star salute at Madison Square Garden, planned to the minute and sponsored beyond its ability to breathe comfortably. It was a warm, emotional benefit concert, and for the gathering of townies, friends (Sam now makes his home in New Hampshire) and dance-hearty music lovers in attendance, the place to be.
McClain was in fine McClain form: conversational, casual, and pausing for stories and tangents that ran from hilarious to heartfelt, addressing the tragedies of his native Louisiana with a stately, knowing take on the necessary idea of music as healing. McClain’s voice is such a powerful weapon–an earthy, full-bodied roar with enough of a raspy edge to lend grit to the styles of Bland and Otis Redding, closer to a Little Milton, perhaps–and its protean strains allow him to parse his best material as equal parts preacher, vocalist, and entertainer.
He plays expertly off his seven piece ensemble, which includes longtime guitarist Pat Herlehy and a Muscle Shoals-style horn section, making tandems out of pronounced syllables and trumpet snaps, deferring often to guitar and keyboard solos, swaying casually and feeling a pocket. There’s always been a groovy weave to much of McClain’s music, and lately he seems to have been harnessing it; his newer material, which he and the band offered during the show’s front end, leans definitively in a jazz funk direction. Some of it is as yet undernourished–forgettable when lined up with a well-worn, gripping showstopper like “Give It Up to Love”–but undoubtedly joyous, and befitting the singer’s hearty personality.
Opening act the Scissormen, a duo of guitarist Ted Drozdowski and drummer Larry Dersch, delivered 45 minutes worth of pulsating, psychedelic blues that touched on a range of the genre’s styles and reveled in their connected rawness. Drozdowski — known to savvy Boston music crit readers for his stellar work in the Boston Phoenix, Boston magazine and other outlets — is a fierce slideman, spellbinding in his solos and reverent of Delta, Hill Country, Chicago and Texas styles alike. Though the act would occasionally become schitcky, he left the stage on several occasions to wander through the crowd during a fit of improvisation, picking up forks, knives, wine glasses and plates from awed audience members to use as slides. Live-wire and theatrical, the Scissormen were, especially during swarthy takes of Son House’s “Death Letter,” the traditional “Jumper On the Line,” and an effusive basher called “Whiskey & Mary Jane,” which Drozdowski introduced as something of a down-and-outer tip of the hat to Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer.”