Delbert McClinton’s music has always been tough to classify. I’ve found his albums in the rock, blues, country and even the easy listening sections of my local record store. But when you listen carefully it isn’t that tough to parse out McClinton’s influences. The root of his sound is the Texas swing of Bob Wills mixed with a little Memphis blues and rockabilly. Like fellow Texans Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson, McClinton nimbly bridges these influences to create the kind of honky-tonk music that is a perfect accompaniment to a bottle of beer and a nearby dance floor.
The Ultimate Collection is the most complete compilation of McClinton’s music yet to be released. It covers the early country oriented sound of his ABC records on through his work at Capricorn with a couple of his big R & B hits from Capitol thrown into the mix. McClinton’s more blues oriented music from his work on the Curb and Alligator labels are not included here but, all in all, this about as complete a collection as you can expect for an artist who has bounced from label to label.
The Capitol hits (“Giving It Up for Your Love” and “Sandy Beaches”) are the songs that will be familiar to most people. They are good examples of the blue-eyed R& B that McClinton favored during this period and they both hold up well as radio ear candy. However the strongest material on this set comes from Delbert’s early work on ABC.
“Two More Bottles of Wine” and “Honky Tonkin’ (I Guess I Done Me Some)” are both excellent examples of McClinton’s genre blending music style combining country lyrics with a rock and roll attitude and sounding a little like Garth Brooks with a better singing voice. The high point of the collection is McClinton’s remake of Big Joe Turner’s “Lipstick, Powder and Blues.” This might be the ultimate Delbert song with its raw, bluesy vocals contrasted by a jazzy horn section and a loping Bob Wills-inspired rhythm chart. It is a perfect example of the kind of record that endears Delbert to fans and infuriates record company executives because it is completely unclassifiable and therefore impossible to market.
The Ultimate Collection is a great introductory disc to anyone not familiar with McClinton’s musical repertoire. It ably demonstrates why he is a significant part of the musical scene while remaining a nominal commercial entity.