october 2008

Delbert McClinton and Friends
Directed by Jay Curlee
JC Communications
Run Time: 113 minutes + 1 hour of bonus footage

With some sizzling live performances filmed on board his 2006 "Sandy Beaches" cruise supplemented by a wealth of vintage photos, footage and reminiscences of his early scuffling days and a trying, 50-years-plus journey to solvency and sobriety, Delbert McClinton recounts his life and times in vivid, highly entertaining fashion in this documentary, which was awarded Best Documentary 2007 at the Woods Hole Film Festival. Interspersed amongst some riotous tales of Delbert and his band's misfortunes back in the day (as related by Delbert and some of those stellar bandmates, including the estimable guitarist Stephen Bruton, who also has a red-hot solo moment performing "Right On Time") are some powerhouse live performances, among them two ferocious workouts by Rodney Crowell and his own incomparable band (with Will Kimbrough on guitar) leveling the crowd with two tunes from his then-current Fate's Right Hand album; a scintillating greasy southern soul turn by Jimmy Hall on "That's The Truth"; some poignant Louisiana memories courtesy "Sandy Beaches" cruise veteran (12 times) Marcia Ball on a moving rendition of Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," with its account of devastating flooding, its solemn refrain of "they're trying to wash us away/they're trying to wash us away" and a swipe at an inept President still piercing and enraging in light of recent events (Ball returns to shake the joint up with a frisky version of one of her signature tunes, "Let Me Play With Your Poodle"); some Cajun madness courtesy the raucous Wayne Toups band (McClinton describes Toups as "a card-carrying crazy" before the music begins); and some fine, elegant songcraft courtesy the ever-reliable Al Anderson in a songwriters' showcase, knocking the elegiac beauty "Another Trip Around the Sun" into a long, beautiful arc of serene self-assessment. Anderson's appearance is prefaced by his, Delbert's and friends' reminiscences of early, troubled cruises (troubled by weather and mechanical problems) that would have sent travelers fleeing, or at least to the bar for a long stretch, had they known how close to disaster they were. Of course the spotlight belongs to Delbert, whose seven numbers are typically incendiary and include fan favorites such as "B-Movie Boxcar Blues" and "Two More Bottles of Wine," plus a great, horn-enriched R&B romp through "Hammerhead Stew" complete with a heaping helping of Delbert's wailing harmonica, and the low-down, dusty blues of "Watchin' the Rain" played over the closing credits. The rich selection of bonus clips from various cruises include a powerful bit of country rock common sense in Jeffery Steele's surging "Help Somebody," Buddy Miller delivering a literate, ominous critique of confusing times and a generation's legacy to its children, framed in the howling guitar, anguished vocals and thundering drums of "Worry Too Much"; a chip-off-the-old-block cameo by Delbert's son Clay, whose personal, vulnerable revelations in the driving southwestern country of his "Worn Down to the Bone" and in an accompanying interview clip make you want to hear more from him. Whitey Johnson, Terry Allen, Pianorama, Bob DiPiero, Chris Stapleton, Al Anderson, Stephen Bruton and Teresa James round out the bonus footage. The DVD is available in high-def and standard versions and a rich 5.1 surround mix. Kudos to director Jay Curlee and his active camera for capturing the energy of the live music and the audience on board in a seamless mélange of long shots and close-ups, and for the spot-on pacing of the casual interview and gripping musical segments. In the end you want to know how to sign up for the next cruise, because wherever Delbert McClinton and his friends are is where you wanna be.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024