Delbert McClinton – Prick of the Litter (review)

Delbert McClinton & Self-Made Men – Prick of the Litter (Hot Shot/Thirty Tigers)


How many artists in their 70’s are still consistently releasing music? Of those, how many are putting out albums that rank as some of the finest of their career? There is absolutely only one – Delbert McClinton.

Rock, blues, country – he’s done it all, and has the awards to prove it. Yet, McClinton’s latest project is a nod to the pre-rock music of his youth. Prick of the Litter finds the 76-year old survivor exploring the classic song structures of folks like Johnny Mercer. But, instead of covering old material, he’s written new compositions that emulate that great music. Don’t worry, there’s still several rockers here too.

The LP kicks off with the Texas two-step of “Don’t Do It,” featuring Jimmie Vaughan on guitar and Lou Ann Barton on vocals. Things immediately shift for the incredibly soulful “Doin’ What You Do,” featuring slinky guitar from Bob Britt. McClinton has never been afraid to take a chance, and the Rhodes piano-led “Middle of Nowhere” has him singing an uncharacteristic falsetto.

The smooth “San Miguel” has a cocktail feel, while the eerie “Pullin’ the Strings” sounds like something out of vaudeville. He can still bring the heat, as on the hard rockin’ “Skip Chaser,” just to remind you what he’s capable of.

Side two is arguably even better. “Neva” features McClinton rapping instead of singing – hell, he’s decided he can do whatever he wants. Of course, he pulls that off too.

“Like Lovin’ Used to Be” is absolutely breathtaking. Over jazz guitar chords, piano and light percussion, McClinton sings of “pitchin’ woo” and “two straws in Frosty Freeze.” It’s an ode to a simpler time before social media, when couples actually looked at each other, instead of their phones, and it ranks as one of his finest moments as an artist.

Yet, there’s even more. His trumpet player, Tim Ouimette, wrote one of the best songs about getting older and trying to stay healthy in “Jones For You.” The track is pure New Orleans jazz, with a trumpet upfront, while McClinton sings “don’t miss my mushrooms or sniffin’ glue / I still jones for you.”

The lone cover comes from another Delbert favorite, Percy Mayfield, in “The Hunt is On,” featuring a great sentiment: “I’m trying to find a woman who wants to grow old with me.” The album closes on a positive note with the acoustic “Rosy.”

Ten of the twelve tracks were co-penned by McClinton and his band. He’s seen so much, yet most of the record is surprisingly upbeat, and carefree – you can tell he’s having a blast.

Prick of the Litter is one of the best albums of Delbert McClinton’s long career. For those who miss the days when an album swept you away, this one’s for you. —Tony Peters