|In the age of Spotify, making a playlist of songs from your favorite artist has become as easy as the click of a button. Texas troubadour Seth James has taken that obsession one step further and made a deep dive into the catalog of one of his all-time heroes, Delbert McClinton, and recorded an album of his songs as a loving tribute. The eleven-song collection, Lessons, includes well known hits from the four-time Grammy winner and some lesser known “Deep Cuts” from a member of the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame.
For James, the natural choice for this endeavor was to partner with Grammy-winning keyboardist, guitarist, producer, songwriter and engineer, Kevin McKendree, who worked with Delbert for over 25 years. James & McKendree built an All-Star band for the sessions at The Rock House including the rhythm section of Delbert’s band, drummer Lynn Williams, and bass player Steve Mackey along with studio ace Rob McNelley on guitar, the horn section of Vinnie Ciesielski, John Hinchey and Jim Hoke and backing vocalists Nick Jay and Alice Spencer to give each track depth and authenticity.
James has the uncanny ability to match the vocal style of McClinton, who created a signature blend of blues, R&B, rock, country, soul and rootsy funk that earned him the moniker “The Founding Father of Americana” by Rolling Stone. Following the intro, “Honky Tonkin’ (I Guess I Done Me Some)” from the 1975 album, Victim Of Life’s Circumstances, is the prototype for that sound with its greasy groove, hot horn jabs and soulful vocals that recount the life of an outlaw. Tulsa shuffle “Real Good Itch,” features gritty B bender guitar from McNelley and nibble piano from McKendree. The 1990 rhumba, “Who’s Foolin’ Who,” is reworked as slinky down tempo funk number and the burning swing of “Maybe Someday Baby,” comes in as hot as the version from McClinton’s 1989 Live From Austin album. Another sordid tale of murder and mayhem, “The Rub,” is expertly delivered by James as would a thespian reciting a Shakespearean soliloquy.
The epic storytelling continues on the swamp pop ramble “Morgan City Fool.” James and the crew dig into “Victim Of Life’s Circumstances,” playing the oft covered Tennessee two step with renewed fire. The horns are front and center on the sardonic soul driver “Lesson In The Pain Of Love,” and the piano driven “Ruby Louise,” is another fantastic remake of a track from McClinton’s 1975 debut album that defined the juncture of blues and country in a way that’s reminiscent of the early Sun Records, without being rockabilly or retro.
McClinton recorded several versions of “B Movie Boxcar Blues.” Here James tackles the much-loved tune with gusto swapping out the harmonica for hot sax solos from Hoke before the band busts into a double time outro as a tip of the hat to Jake and Ellwood. The sentimental ballad “Take It Easy” closes the set; a choice that showcases the depths of McClinton’s songwriting and ability to peel away his machismo and reveal his vulnerability.
With Lessons, Seth James and Kevin McKendree pay tribute to Delbert McClinton’s greatest skill as an artist, which is to surround himself with talented and gifted individuals, who help manifest his dreams and ambitions into reality.
Rick J Bowen