[11 July 2013]
Delbert McClinton has been rocking out successfully for more than 50 years. The 72-year-old Grammy Award winner first hit the charts back in 1962 playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s million selling “Hey Baby” that took him on a tour of England, where John Lennon asked McClinton to teach the Beatle how to play the mouth harp. So it’s no surprise to hear McClinton declare in the first line of the first song on his latest record, “I ain’t old”, followed by the explanation, “but I’ve been around a long time .“McClinton takes a stand right from the start, but he is not alone. He’s joined by fellow Fort Worth musician Glen Clark. The duo last made a record together more than 40 years ago. The two have pursued separate careers, but remained friends over the decades.
Many of the songs on Blind, Crippled, and Crazy explicitly deal with the topic of age as the two men energetically refute the notion of being too old to rock and roll and too young to die. This is not Dad rock, it is mad country rock Texas style with the blues and honky tonk thrown in. The men are not bragging about being old, nor do they think that aging gives them any special insights into life, love, and the human condition. “If I live to be 110 I‘ll probably never know what it’s all about”, they sing. Alternatively “Same situation, I didn’t learn a thing”, they croon elsewhere. They have been around the block a bunch of times and made many mistakes, and even though they should know better, they still behave the way they should not.
While the lyrics are important here, and both McClinton and Clark are accomplished songwriters who wrote or co-wrote all of the material here, it is the moxie in which they perform the songs that matters most. When McClinton takes the lead on the animated “More and More, Less and Less”, the ache in his voice suggests he has had his fill of life experiences even as his strong intonations reveal he has not defeated. McClinton is not bragging or complaining, just telling it like it is. “Nothing worth standing in line for anymore / And dangerous things don’t thrill me like before”, McClinton throatily sings with conviction. In other words, he has been there, done that, moved on.
When the reedier-voiced Clark takes the lead on the romantic “Just When I Need You the Most”, he expresses the strength love has given him without being schmaltzy about it. He testifies to the power of secular devotion in warm tones and clearly conveys the passion underneath his feelings. In addition, when both singers join together, such as on the chorus to “Sure Feels Good” that affirms it “sure feels good being me”, the two maintain their individuality and commonality as their voices weave together more than strictly harmonize. They play off each other in the way old partners can when they instinctively know where the other person’s voice is going.
The two Texans also have lots of fun, especially on the rowdy “Tell My Mama” and the rollicking “Peace in the Valley” that implicitly mocks the famous staid old country gospel song of the same name. As a whole, the album can be defined as barroom music where good times are promised in the sound and rhythms and the whole lot of shaking going on. That’s especially true in terms of the backing band, particularly in the hot piano playing of Bruce Katz and Kevin McKendree. However, McClinton and Clark are the stars here, and they take their accompanists to a place where even old men can rock out without seeming dated or worn. The two may not be blind or crippled, but they are crazy good!