Delbert McClinton pokes fun at himself in the title to “Tall, Dark & Handsome” just like he did on his last album, “Prick of the Litter.” But album titles only scratch the surface. McClinton’s worldly-wise-ass ways with a word and melodic reach — both Texas-sized — enlighten every second of the 14 songs on this corker of a set.
“When Jules walked in the room this last Saturday night, the monkey on his back was lookin’ for a fight.” McClinton drops that line in “Ruby & Jules” like it’s nothing, his words sprinkled above some spirited, finger-snappin’ swing. But that’s typical Delbert McClinton; his albums are consistently excellent in every respect.
A three-time Grammy winner, the Lubbock, Texas-born entertainer has embodied damn near the entire spectrum of American roots music for half a century. From the five-horns honkin’, Big Joe Turner-like groove of “Mr. Smith” at the outset, to the minute-long, 1920s-styled acoustic blues of “The Poem” that shuts it all down, “Tall, Dark, & Handsome” shows exactly why, step by swaggering step.
For the most part, McClinton sings like he’s 48, not the 78 he is. His melodious rasp of a voice still finds all the right nuances. Up and down he goes, as he relates the tale of a blues man trying to get out of debt in the rousing, seductive rocker, “If I Hock My Guitar.” McClinton does concede his age, with that sly wink in his eye, during the Southern-fried shuffle aptly titled “Can’t Get Up.”
His band, Self-Made Men + Dana, supply supple rhythms and smoldering leads throughout, the various melodies perfectly ramshackle. Dana Robbins stands out on sax, an assertive lady among the Men. Alongside Jim Hoke, Robbins applies the Southwestern tango spice to “Gone to Mexico.” Keyboardist Kevin McKendree may be the MVP. His piano notes spill all over like diamond dice, and the session was cut at his increasingly popular Rock House studio, just south of Nashville. Tall, dark, handsome or not, Mr. McClinton is certainly Mr. reliable, offering up another collection of outstanding music.
— Tom Clarke
Delbert McClinton and Self-Made Men + Dana
‘Tall, Dark, & Handsome’
Label: Hot Shot/Thirty Tigers
Release: July 26, 2019
ABOUT Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.
Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.
Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.