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Mighty Sam McClain has come a mighty long way since his homeless days in New Orleans. Today McClain is reborn both professionally and spiritually, and widely acclaimed for his authentic Southern soul. A terrific singer, McClain has also come into his own as a songwriter. Blues for the Soul may be McClain’s best album yet to me, it's the best since his comeback release Give it Up to Love (1993).
McClain is a deep-soul singer in the tradition of Bobby "Blue" Bland and Otis Redding. You’ll find a motherlode of soul on his latest biscuit. Blues, R&B and gospel fuse easily on the album, which contains 12 original songs elevated by Sam's earnest vocals, a flaming four-piece horn section, and Bruce Katz’s pumping piano.
One big difference between this recording and some of McClain’s past albums is that many of the songs here are up-tempo and even danceable. McClain’s vocals are as heartfelt as ever, but he adds some growly wailing to the mix, particularly on rousing climaxes to "Going Back to New Orleans" and the irresistible "Sing Me Some Blues." The horn section is more prominent, with crisp, intricate arrangements by trumpeter Walter Platt. And ace pianist Katz (ex of Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters) is given plenty of space to work his magic.
The usual McClain themes of love and religion dominate. A born-again Christian, McClain gets overly preachy on "Jesus Got the Blues," an emotive slow-blues number that’s saved by Katz’s soulful piano work. More successful is "Not I," a rollicking gospel number. Of the secular tunes, the best are the pulsing "Dark Side of the Street," the funky "Going Back to New Orleans," and "Sing Me Some Blues," a jazzed-up shuffle that’s arguably the best song on the CD.
Mighty Sam McClain lives up to his nickname here his vocals are intense, and the horn-based band is excellent. Highly recommended.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.