Gerald McClendon

Gerald McClendon

Sweet soul music – It’s that magical music whose classic sounds made history with legendary artists like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Solomon Burke to name just a few. Those greats have disappeared, leaving only the echoes of their soulful essence. But there’s one soul stirrer whose voice still caresses a lyric like a lover should – Chicago’s Gerald McClendon. He’s a shamefully unheralded classic R&B stylist with a voice so smooth and a feeling so deep that he’s known as “The Soul Keeper.” And best of all, he’s got a new album to showcase his rich vocal stylings.

McClendon’s latest, Down At The Juke Joint, on Delta Roots Records, overflows with throbbing old-school soul, with songs created by criminally talented songwriter, drummer, and producer Twist Turner, and brought to life by the soul keeper’s passionate pipes. The dozen songs here offer a heartfelt selection of lover’s laments and smooth ballads meant for late nights filled with languorous glances and slow dancing.

The opener, “Back Where You Belong,” sets the mood with a sensual sax wrapped around remorsefully smooth vocals: “She didn’t leave a card or a letter, not even a see you later / Come on home, back where you belong.” The regrets flow on with the tearful “It’s Too Late, She’s Gone” – “I tried to apologize, teardrops in my eyes / But it’s too late, too late, she’s gone.”  The mood shifts with the upbeat “Down At The Juke Joint,” a rhythmic ode to good times: “You can come as you are, check your attitude at the bar / sit down and have a taste, don’t let the whiskey go to waste.” Then the mournful “House Ain’t A Home” opens the door to more love lost: “You see a house ain’t a home / When your baby pack up and gone.”

On the melodic “So Long,” McClendon smoothly turns the tables on a lover as he’s the one to say it’s over – “I can’t take it no more, think I’ll walk out the door / I said so long, baby I’m gone, so goodbye.” There’s a funky feeling to open “Talkin’ Smack,” with another strong vocal turn – “Tryin to play me, for a fool, you see / But you’re only foolin’ yourself, it don’t matter to me.” “Only Time Will Tell” is a gorgeous love song, built atop a towering vocal effort and subtle sax work: “Our love grows stronger, every day / deeper and deeper, in every way.” The whimsical “She’s Tryin’ to Drive Me Crazy” takes a lighthearted approach to an over-eager suitor: “Well she’s tryin’ to drive me crazy, but I just won’t give her the key.”

In the melancholy of “Cryin’ Time Again,” McClendon weaves a tapestry of despair: “Darkness is all around me, I wonder will I ever see the light.” Somehow the unspoken joy in his voice suggests that he will. As if to answer “Cryin’ Time,” the lilting lyricism of “You Make Me Happy” promises a love-filled life: “More precious than diamonds, shine just like gold / Our love grows stronger, it never grows old.” The promise of undying love sparks “I’ll Be In Your Corner” with the vow that “I’m the one who’ll treat you right.” All of which leads into the closer, “You’re So Fine,” where he makes a poignant request: “if you’d only give me a chance, to make you smile to make you laugh.”

“Down at the Juke Joint” is a soulful journey of deeply rich vocals and luxurious musical arrangements, all elegantly wrapped around the many shades of love by the soul keeper – Gerald McClendon. Sweet soul music, indeed.

Jim White (a former music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette & now writes the Blues Roadhouse)





JUNE 7, 2024