Recording of June 1990: I'm With You

Curb D2-77252 (CD only). Justin Niebank, Carry Summers, engs.; Delbert McClinton, Barry Beckett, prods. DDD? TT: 34:11

It's 1975, Saturday night. Disco is still a phenomenon of big-city gay bars. Punk? The Ramones, man. You're way off in the hinties of Northern New Mexico, at the Line Camp, a huge barn of a roadhouse on the edge of Pojoaque, lurch-dancing in post-hippie beer/grass style with hundreds of first-generation freaks turned carpenters and adobe makers, Hispanic Vietnam vets looking permanently spooked and moving quietly, ranchers and their full-skirted wives doing some tight-lipped Western Swing in the back, a few ancient cowboys limping around with deep-ploughed faces and Camel-rasped voices, and what seems like half the heavy-set Tewa populations of the Northern Rio Grande Pueblos.

The long trestle tables with the flowered plastic tablecloths are yellow and sticky with sloshed beer pitchers, and booming and echoing through the sour, smoky air is a rabbit-punch rhythm section, horns so tight and dry they sound like snare drums. Up there singing is a compact little white dude hunching up his shoulders at the mike, spewing out some of the best R&B harp-blow you've ever heard between the verses, and it ain't Paul Butterfield.

"Del-berrrrrrrrrt!!!" Some biker's chick in tight black Levi's has hoisted her butt up over Delbert's monitor and she's slewing it back and forth at him like a pro. Her old man locks eyes with Delbert, points at his old lady's gyrating gluteus maximus, and, black eyebrows arching like humping caterpillars, mouths "For you!" The ultimate tribute.

It's 1990, another Saturday night. The Line Camp is closed; the building's since been a feed store and a discount furniture outlet. Delbert's voice is rougher, the gut's softer, those hungry, hopeless eyes staring out of his roadhouse tan are damn scary, and he's not having as much fun as he used to—a hard life, the road—but close your eyes and the music is just as good-dancin' as ever. I'm With You is McClinton's first studio album since Plain' from the Heart in '81, and a tough followup to last year's Live from Austin (Alligator AL 4773, reviewed in Vol.12 No.8). The band is totally new, and the production is just a tad slick, but Muscle Shoals producer Barry Beckett is about as good as they come for this kind of Deep-South R&B. Synthesizers are kept to a minimum, drums are real, and, I swear, it sounded almost more like a live album from a club with a Bose 901 PA system than Austin did—this is what it's like to be at a Delbert McClinton gig, regardless of sonic virtues or the lack. The sound is clean, pristine, multi-mono all the way, but most of it's live in the studio, with great licks'n'fills by guitarist Anson Funderburgh.

The ten tunes, like the album, are short; no gimmicks, no frills, Delbert getting in and out fast, nothing wasted and hardly a harp or git-tar solo in sight. "Crazy 'Bout You" has enough energy for three songs, and in his new originals—the first in almost ten years—Delbert's still coppin' that ol' just-a-simple-country-boy blarney 'bout seein' more back alleys than a garbage truck and smellin' worse. It still works, and he still tells a story better'n any other bar-pounder I know. Like in "Who's Foolin' Who": "I went and bought a ticket on a midnight flight / Had to get home to my baby last night / Jes' about the time I put the key in the do' / I heard somebody runnin' 'cross my flo'." All in about 15 seconds over a New Orleans/Texas groove that never stops. And he burns fast in "My Love is Burnin'": "My love is burnin' baby at both ends / Hot on the outside and hot on the in- / I want to be more to you than just a friend."

Put on I'm With You, break out the Herradura Añejo, and get up'n'dance even if you don't feel like it. Believe me, you soon will.—Richard Lehnert