Among Delbert McClinton's many virtues are his longevity and his integrity, not to mention the humility that gives the title to Cost of Living. Staying power comes at a price, but like his late, lamented Texas blues peers, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Doug Sahm, this Texan can't sell out, because he really does not know how.
Honky tonk is holy in the hands of this man, which is why a song of his called "Midnight Communion is so appropriate. Delbert's dry, weathered voice evokes all the joy and sorrow of a life fully lived, so that when he sings "Kiss Her Once for Me, he communicates the truth of regret as one of, if not the most complex emotions of the human condition: as evocative as Stuart Duncan's fiddle is, the bittersweet touch he gives the arrangement barely scratches the surface of the feeling within the song.
That remarkable tune is only one of a dozen McClinton composed for this album. He makes his own comment on his eclectic vision in "Two Step Too, but again, his reference to the dance barely suggests what a broad amalgam of blues, country, swing, and R&B McClinton's style contains. At this point, he is so comfortable and self-assuredvarious label affiliations, commercial success having come and gone, and Gump-like brushes with celebrity far in the past (Delbert tutored John Lennon for a moment on a '62 tour with the Beatles)that "Right to Be Wrong sounds perfectly natural and just as authentic, as if it was handed down from an anonymous journeyman who first formulated the earthy style.
Delbert McClinton has no pretensions whatsoever, least of all to being a poet, but his use of tongue-in-cheek irony on "Fortunate Few is brilliant in its understatment. The man knows all about desire and so can sound perfectly honest when, on "Alright by Me, he sings, "I got all I need. His joie de vivre is hard-earned but it sounds infectious on "The Part I Like Best; his vocal like a diamond in a perfectly-wrought setting, within the mix of his piquant harp, Rob McNelley's salty guitar and the crisp electric piano of Kevin McKendree.
McClinton's co-production with Gary Nicholson allows the members of his band to shine while fully contributing to these performances. Hear Jim Hoke's saxophone on "I'll Change My Style and how it extends the broad, wry point of view of the tune. Most of these songs are redolent with robust good humor, but that upbeat mood wouldn't work so effectively without the contrasting plainspoken open-heartedness of the melancholy Your Memory, Me and the Blues.
Delbert McClinton's discography is a long one, but you'd be hard pressed to find a disc that more accurately represents what the man is all about than Cost of Living. With the terrific Live album released in 2003 as a companion piece, you might say it's a definitive work, but the man gives every indication that, even at this point in a lengthy career, he's still growing.
Personnel: Delbert McClinton: vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar; Kevin
McKendree: piano and organ; Rob McNelley: piano and organ; Lynn Williams: drums;
Spencer Campbell: electric and acoustic bass; Don Wise: saxophone; Steve Mackey: bass;
Bill Campbell: guitar; James Pennebaker: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel guitar,
fiddle; Stuart Duncan: fiddle; Jim Hoke: saxophone; Al Anderson: acoustic guitar; Tom
Hambridge: percussion, vocals; Gary Nicholson: acoustic guitar; Russell smith; vocals;
Jeffrey Steele: vocals; Bekka Bramlett: vocals; Crystal Talifaro: vocals.