in performance: delbert mcclinton

delbert McClinton.

delbert mcclinton.

Around the halfway point of his sold out performance last night at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort, Delbert McClinton offered a new song about some old experiences. During Bad Haircut, the veteran Texas roadhouse and roots music stylist reflected on some wilder extracurricular activities from years gone by with keyboardist Kevin McKendree. “We used to go into outer space on occasion,” the singer remarked. But the tune was more than idle (and possibly dramatically enhanced) boasting. It was also a crisp Americana joyride that started off as a playful piano blues before erupting into the sort of sly raconteur-ing that has made McClinton a concert favorite of Kentucky audiences for over four decades.

But last night proved to be something of mixed performance blessing with the already pronounced scratch of McClinton’s vocals sounding noticeably coarser and more worn than in recent years. A product of aging? Perhaps. McClinton turned 75 in November. Was the culprit something more fleeting, like a simple cold or throat ailment? Maybe. But from the instant the first syllables were sung during the show opening cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River, McClinton seemed content to perform with a vocal range that was noticeably compromised. What was on display was a more tentative roar that, while missing much of its high end, was still capable of conveying several shades of his Lone Star blues and R&B roots.

The vocal harnessing certainly did not do the show in. As usual, McClinton came armed with a wonderfully versed band steeped in the traditions of Muscle Shoals soul (on Going Back to Louisiana, which was further colored with Creole accents of percussion and brass), Lone Star country blues (Gotta Get It Worked On) and rich roots-directed balladry (the delicious encore of Sending Me Angels). Credit McKendree, tenor saxophonist Dana Robbins and guitarist Bob Britt for much of the ensemble’s buoyancy and invention.

There were also instances when McClinton’s singing was serviceable and soulful enough to keep the party moving. But it was also a little disheartening watching the singer having to scale back at times from his once-tireless Lone Star tenor and play some of the songs safe – a point underscored during Bad Haircut.

“I don’t want to make a fuss,” he sang with subtle but struggling command as the song concluded. What a shame. A fuss was always what McClinton was best at.

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