Delbert McClinton recently turned 60, an age that once would have spelled obsolescence for a rocker. But at a time when more and more of his peers are finding renewal in late middle age, and helping their followers do the same, he refuses to fall back on any laurels. On Nothing Personal, his first album for New West Records, the Texas-born, Nashville-based singer departs the major-label route and its attendant commercial ploys to go his own way with a set of strong, evocative, room-warming originals.
Tagging roots-music styles, McClinton greases the transitions between harp-driven blues, chooglin' swamp rock, aching Texas ballads and more with easy authority. Hints of other artists come through the songs. Marty Robbins haunts the affecting border tune "When Rita Leaves". Tony Joe White casts a dark Southern shadow on the backwater groove of "Gotta Get It Worked On". You can find Jerry Lee Lewis wherever you want to. But through the gritty elegance of his vocals and the force of his emotion, McClinton presents a united personal front.
As ever, his primary subjects are women, the road, and the midnight blues that lead from one to the other. But as sung from the perspective of a satisfied mind, they take on a new slant: "I finally made some money and that's good/The price I had to pay was rude/But now I'm where I wanna be/Sittin' here watchin' the rain."
McClinton produced Nothing Personal with his longtime compadre Gary Nicholson, who is also one of his co-writers. In addition to being his most consistently engaging album in many a moon, it may be his best-sounding effort. With its doubled guitars and tripled keyboards -- piano, organ and Delbert on Wurlitzer -- the honky-tonking "All Night Long" has a spaciousness to go with its lockstep barroom rhythm. "Squeeze Me In" has a soulful, ass-kicking vibrancy. The slow tunes, the best of which is the confessional blues "Read Me My Rights", glow with feeling.
The supporting cast includes Iris DeMent (who sings backup on the country lament "Birmingham Tonight"), keyboardist Benmont Tench, guitarist Johnny Lee Schell, drummer Ricky Fataar and singer Bekka Bramlett. Clearly, McClinton enjoys being in their company. Both a summing up and a branching out, Nothing Personal leaves you sure you ain't heard nothin' yet from an artist who only gets better with age.