Out of the Blue
Live at Phil Brady's, Baton Rouge, LA 9/15/2005
If you read my last review, you might recall mention of my good friend George. Well, when we all left our various foolishnesses behind, George, a precocious and tenacious salesman in the wholesale liquor trade (a liquor salesman is an excellent roommate to have, by the way. Other folks might have a 6-pack of Heineken in the fridge, we had a variety of microbrews to sample when the urge hit) left the spent carnival ride of Baton Rouge to go on to great fortune wining and dining the culinary elite of New Orleans. A good life indeed. Going to spend a day in the city with George often entailed attending an upscale Sideways type event, sampling bottle of champagne that I could trade my car in for. Unfortunately one of the countless tragedies of Katrina's wrath is the decimation of the New Orleans restaurant scene, as formidable a swat as say the New York music scene.
He spent a couple weeks gathering his senses in town before ploughing his Rolodex and securing a position with a winery in California, so big up, George. On his last night we drag-assed into my favorite old watering hole, Phil Brady's, Home of the World Famous Blues Jam (Yes! that famous Blues Jam!) and luckily staggering distance from the house, and lo, young Clay McClinton, looking resplendent with a gleaming hand crafted Renaissance guitar around his neck, was holding court, getting the small potatoes coke dealers and milfs (and even a few gilfs - the humidity does wonders for your skin down here) to the dance floor. Blessed and cursed with being the son of roots rock legend Delbert McClinton, Clay seems to have inherited his dad's trait for creating the People's Rock, and the ability to turn a shit gig like a quarter-filled bar in nowheresville into a great night out.
His self-released CD reflects a lot of the great things about his live presence:
1) His piano player, Kevin McKendree, is the instrumental star of the outfit. He had the innate sense of what to play and what not, it was a joy. We get a lot of roots rock coming through here and the keyboard player is usually the Achilles Heel.
2) Clay himself is no virtuoso guitarist, singer or even lyricist, but it all works in his favor. His songs are just right. There was nary a cringe-moment in his act, just one excellent song after another, and surprisingly fresh covers of "Dead Flowers" and "Any Way That You Do" to boot.
There are a number of great moments on this CD, like the country-fried Meters juke-rock of "Blues in the Morning" and the resplendent recontextualization of the melody from "People Get Ready" into the superb country shuffle "Lonesome Time." My favorite moments are the singer-songwriter ballad "Jerimiah" where the whole band clicks like a Swiss clock, like how the great songs by Townes Van Zandt work. Also great is the New Orleans funk of "Starting to Itch" with great deep honking horns and just enough of everything to keep it rocking and not venture into the annoying territory in which I find most New Orleans funk resides (we get even more of it than roots rock around here.)
I think that is the key to why I really like this record more than recent releases by roots heavyweights like John Hiatt and even his old man, there is no point on the record where I wanna move on to something else. Its great players playing great songs that they wrote, and nothing more than that. It is not a product of ineptitude, its by judicious use of restraint. Its resisting putting too much icing on the cake, or too much white gravy on the chicken fried steak. Its a great record, and he's a great performer, and if you want to show how cool you really are, drag some friends out to see him when he's half-filling a bar near you. You may not be making the scene, but you will be having a better night because of it.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com