Contrary to a cursory perusal of the tracklisting for Outdated Emotion, Delbert McClinton‘s twenty-seventh album is not comprised solely of cover songs. The Texan soul man intersperses a small handful of originals within the sixteen numbers and their placement, in both the overall track sequencing and in juxtaposition to their immediate surroundings, illuminates a homage to roots that suggests rock and roll, blues, and country music genres are not all that far removed from each other. Yet regardless of what these songs might otherwise mean to McClinton personally, he sings them like they are most important: his engagement is as deep as it is infectious, to both listeners and the musicians who support him here.
It’s fair to say at least one measure of a truly great song is how well it can accommodate a variety of arrangements. Accordingly, anyone familiar with other renditions of “Stagger Lee,” ”Long Tall Sally,” “I Ain’t Got You” and “Money Honey” will vouch for the durable versatility of those compositions. Most likely too, by the time this forty-one minutes of playing time is over, those hearing the material previously covered by, respectively, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, The Yardbirds and Elvis Presley, will be ready to apply positive adjectives to McClinton and company’s interpretive efforts.
Led by father/son multi-instrumentalists (and producer) Kevin and Yates McKendree–notable contributors to John Hiatt’s splendid The Eclipse Sessions of 2019– a fairly limited roster of accompanists belabor their instrumental work no more than Delbert does his vocals. Eleven of these cuts, in fact, run less than three minutes, including an interpretation of Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya,” and even on the soulful “I Want A Little Girl,” Delbert refuses to engage in vocal histrionics. He is similarly subdued in his delivery of the wry original “Connecticut Blues,” where his absorption and processing of blues and R&B influences only highlights what an astute exercise in musicology is the range of material on this LP.
Likewise, McClinton doesn’t succumb to the temptation to show off on harmonica for a Jimmy Reed co-write called “The Sun Is Shining” (this despite the fact legend has it he advised the late John Lennon on the finer points of the instrument). Appearing throughout Outdated Emotion are other musicians equally astute (and restrained) in their contributions: Stuart Duncan (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss) saws a fiddle for “Move It On Over,” while Chris Scruggs (Kacey Musgraves) commandeers pedal steel for the frontman’s own tune “Two Step Too.” Still, as pithy are these performances, there’s no missing the natural joy that permeates them.
That said, hearing this sardonic spoken-word concluding cut, “Call Me A Cab,” it’s hard to tell whether Delbert McClinton intends the title of this album sarcastically, ironically or forthrightly. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the various ways Outdated Emotion can stir listeners and, in fact, it holds the very real potential to move music lovers unfamiliar with its songs as deeply as those who know them by heart.