Delbert McClinton: Prick of the Litter

Photo: Todd V. Wolfson

McClinton understands how to lure a listener into an imaginary night club world of sophistication and rural hospitality.

Delbert McClinton

Prick of the Litter

Label: Thirty Tigers
US Release Date: 2017-01-27
UK Release Date: 2017-01-27

Delbert McClinton’s latest release, Prick of the Litter, reveals the honky-tonking Texan still knows how to rock the joint. That doesn’t mean McClinton plays it fast or loud. In fact, he sets the mood by creating a slow and easy groove before taking the songs into another place. McClinton understands how to lure a listener into an imaginary night club world of sophistication and rural hospitality and provide a soundtrack to the thoughts in your head about that person sitting just a few tables away.

The dozen new tracks here could have been created at any time in McClinton’s 50 years of recording. Sure, there are production and other musical elements (for one thing, this disc is extremely clean with zero bleeding noise; when there is no performance, there is no sound) that show its recent heritage, but the music enjoys a broader time span. There is something distinctly old-fashioned here, especially on such tracks as “Jones for You”, that are sung and played straight from today. Perhaps it’s just that unrequited love is such an ageless heartache.

McClinton has always sounded world-weary. His voice bears the traces of aging, but this fits the material. He’s got the blues because of some woman, some debt that he owes, some good time he shouldn’t be having, etc. He’s bragging more than complaining. There’s a serpentine charm to his persona. He promises more than he delivers, but that is an essential part of the delivery. It takes two to get conned. You know he’s playing the role of a showman, but the entertainment rates attention.

On “Pulling the Strings” you know he’s setting you up while letting himself off the hook. “Life’s a bitch yet so sublime / I’m goin’ nowhere, but I’m making good time,” he croons in a voice borrowed from Tom Waits. You want to pull up at the bar and order a double while hearing the story. On other songs, McClinton expresses a desire for physical love in a low and steamy way. He wants a wild woman who understands the pleasures of fried chicken and taking it slow.

McClinton’s backup band, the Self-Made Men, include Bob Britt on guitar, Michael Joyce on bass, Jack Bruno on drums, and Kevin McKendree on piano. They provide lively accompaniment and are joined by a horn section on many tracks. The music fills the room with a big sound even when there are just a few instruments playing. McClinton, McKendree, and Britt co-produced the album.

The great blues singer Lou Ann Barton joins McClinton on the opening track, “Don’t Do It”, where she declares her independence. McClinton’s old musical partner Glen Clark and NRBQ vet Al Anderson contribute to “Skip Chaser”. But it’s McClinton and the band that offer the bulk of musical pleasures on the disc. Even when McClinton painfully reaches for his falsetto high notes on “Middle of Nowhere”, he keeps the music rooted. In fact, “The Middle of Nowhere” seems to be just another way of saying that everyone everywhere is in this alone together.

The album’s title conceitedly suggests McClinton thinks of himself as a pain. That’s not true. Music like this certainly deserves to be heard.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.