Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Delbert McClinton

  • Victim of Life's Circumstances [ABC, 1975] B+
  • Genuine Cowhide [ABC, 1976] B
  • Love Rustler [ABC, 1977] B-
  • Keeper of the Flame [Capricorn, 1979] B
  • Cost of Living [New West, 2005] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Victim of Life's Circumstances [ABC, 1975]
Any old boy who can get arrested for "cuttin' up some honky with that bone-handled knife" has earned this perfect new-rockabilly title. But as you might expect, he has more to say in the action-packed tales of adventure ("Honky Tonkin'," "Morgan City Fool") than when he's trying to prove he's a grownup ("Lesson in the Pain of Love," "Troubled Woman"). B+

Genuine Cowhide [ABC, 1976]
Texas partisans tout this whoopersnapper as God's own leather-lunged, bicentennial, rockabilly truth, but I can't hear it. He's not ravaged enough; his crazy enthusiasm sounds too professional, too glib; there are none of those spaced-out moments that lend such vulnerability, and credibility, to a Billy Swan. Does this mean I'm complaining that Delbert sings too good? Could be. B

Love Rustler [ABC, 1977]
McClinton's cult sentimentalizes bar music. The fact that bars encourage a relatively innocent functionality--pleasing a small concrete audience rather than a [ . . . ] make them any more "authentic" than studios: McClinton is essentially a male Texas version of Linda Ronstadt--a strong-voiced, versatile singer who doesn't seem like an especially interesting person. This means not only that he's at the mercy of songwriters and arrangements but also that he isn't likely to have very distinctive taste in either. The title cut is a classic, and several of the remakes are worth hearing more than twice, but asa whole this album is as pleasant and forgettable as a Friday night out. B-

Keeper of the Flame [Capricorn, 1979]
McClinton's cult sentimentalizes bar music--having established that a saloon is as fruitful a nexus for music as a studio, they go on to claim that it's better ("more authentic"). But despite his superior sense of rhythm, Delbert's basically a male Texas Linda Ronstadt--a strong-voiced, versatile performer who doesn't come across on record as an especially interesting person. This not only puts him at the mercy of songwriters and arrangements but limits his taste in both. Album number five, his second for Johnny Sandlin and Capricorn, is probably his best since number one--funkier but less directly dependent on r&b, longer on originals than his last two for ABC, and opening with great readings from Chuck Berry and Randall Bramblett. In short, as enjoyable and forgettable as a Friday night out. B

Cost of Living [New West, 2005]
"One of the Fortunate Few" Choice Cuts