Every roadhouse musician knows that a groove is better than a rut. This two-disc set by Texas veteran Delbert McClinton offers ample opportunity to distinguish between the two. Against numbing expectation, McClinton and his six-man band of road warriors tear into the familiar “Giving It Up For Your Love” as if it were raw meat, turning the obligatory standard (and Delbert’s only real solo hit) into something vitally renewed.
Yet much of the rest of the performance suggests another night on the endless road that Delbert has been traveling for some four decades. By now, it’s all become so routine that even the “Ooo yeah” that ends “Old Weakness (Comin’ On Strong)” — with its microwaved “Honky Tonk Women” riff — and the lascivious chuckle on “B-Movie Boxcar Blues” sound scripted. Just from the titles, a set list that features “I’m With You”, “Maybe Someday Baby”, “I Wanna Thank You Baby”, “I Want To Love You” and (for a change of pace) “Don’t Want To Love You” could use some freshening up.
There’s no reason for McClinton to focus his music narrowly, for his career has shown rootsy range, encompassing everything from progressive country (his “Victim Of Life’s Circumstances”/”Two More Bottles Of Wine” days) through honky-tonkin’ blues, pull-no-punches rock and soulful balladry (his version of Otis Redding’s “I Have Dreams To Remember”, included here, remains a show-stopper). Yet he now settles too comfortably into the niche he shares with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, offering a brand of bluesiness that sounds more at home at Starbucks than at the shot-and-a-beer joints where McClinton cut his musical teeth.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a journeyman knowing what his fans want and giving it to them. It’s just that McClinton’s third live release, recorded before a Norwegian blues fest audience (which turns “B-Movie Boxcar Blues” into a sing-along chant of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”), too often settles for autopilot rather than liftoff.