Ronnie Baker Brooks - Times Have Changed & Delbert McClinton - Prick Of the Litter, Two New Must-Hear Albums That Seem Like They Were Made For These Times

The rich keep getting richer,
We can't feed our poor.
The whole wide world,
About to go to war.

Times have changed
Times have changed
Nothing remains the same
Today is a brand new game
Times have changed

So sings Ronnie Baker Brooks on the title track of his new album Times Have Changed. Brooks and Delbert McClinton have released the first new albums to get me excited in 2017. These are not specifically blues albums, but both are steeped in the blues. I don't know if periods of political and social turmoil are specifically conducive to the blues, but I do know two things. Times definitely have changed, and these two records sound especially good right now.

Photos courtesy of Ronnie Baker Brooks

Ronnie Baker Brooks - Times Have Changed
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Ronnie Baker Brooks (RBB) has been called "Chicago Blues Royalty" referring to his lineage as the son of blues legend Lonnie Brooks. His younger brother, Wayne Baker Brooks, has also made his mark as a blues guitarist. According to his bio, RBB first picked up the guitar at age six; at 19 he joined his father's band where he played with many of the guitar greats. Since going solo in 1998 he has made four albums, the latest of which is Times Have Changed, just released. Produced by Steve Jordan, Times Have Changed is as strong a soul album as it is a superb blues album.

The album opens with a familiar (if you were around in 1968) cover version of Joe Tex's "Show Me". Brooks' version is so true to the original that I went back and played both for comparison, and the Brooks version is far and away better. Brooks' vocals are not only perfect but I love when he calls out guitarist Steve Cropper, who was such an integral part of the house band at Stax Records in Memphis. I'm not going to try to single out each and every track here, I encourage you to listen to them all, either with the track list below, or using the Spotify link above.

Lonnie Brooks guests on the instrumental "Twine Time" and you will have as much fun listening as they were obviously having in the studio when this was recorded. The title track follows, which is an RBB original, and his observations are as perceptive as his presentation is powerful. The tune features heartfelt lyrics, an indelible melody, and a pleasing finish provided by Memphis rapper Al Kapone, who Brooks calls a bridge between the blues and hip-hop.

The legendary Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland joins RBB for a positively stunning version of the Eric Clapton/Robert Cray composition "Old Love". This is so good that I am certain it would turn Clapton into a fan, if he's not already. "Come On Up" is an unstoppable powerhouse RBB original that features guests Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals) and Lee Roy Parnell. The album closer, "When I Was We", sounds like the great lost 60s soul track and this glorious finish was also written by Brooks.

This is one of those albums on which every track excels. I urge you to check out the album trailer, below, then listen to some of it. If you find this music at all appealing, you might be fascinated, as I was, to read Ronnie Baker Brooks' description of making the album. I'm going to give you a little of it below, just to whet your appetite; read this excerpt then follow the link at the end to read the full story.
...“We used the same mics that Al Green used on his record”, says Brooks. “Matter of fact, we were using much of the same band! It kind of took that vibe.” The first track recorded was a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly hit Give Me Your Love. The second, Twine Time, the instrumental jam from Alvin Cash.

“To be honest with you, when Steve said ‘Man, we need an instrumental,’ the first person I thought of was Freddie King. Steve wanted something more appealing to all people, not just guitar players. He said ‘What about Twine Time?’’ I said, ‘Is he serious?’ Yeah, Twine Time. But that song was a key to this album. Man, that just lit the fire for this record. It became one of the funnest tracks we did"...
Read the full story.

Watch the album trailer:

Track List - Click on song name to listen.

01. Show Me (feat. Steve Cropper)
02. Doing Too Much (feat. “Big Head” Todd Mohr)
03. Twine Time (feat. Lonnie Brooks)
04. Times Have Changed (feat. Al Kapone)
05. Long Story Short
06. Give Me Your Love (Love Song) (feat. Angie Stone)
07. Give The Baby Anything The Baby Wants (feat. “Big Head” Todd Mohr & Eddie Willis)
08. Old Love (feat. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland)
09. Come On Up (feat. Felix Cavaliere & Lee Roy Parnell )
10. Wham Bam Thank You Sam
11. When I Was We (feat. Archie 'Hubby' Turner)

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Photos courtesy of Delbert McClinton

Delbert McClinton - Prick Of the Litter
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Stream on Spotify

Delbert McClinton is a well respected Texas blues musician, who over the course of decades has been honored with three Grammy awards. The Lubbock native has mastered a blend of blues, rock, and country that perfectly fits his weathered voice.

I first encountered him in the early 70s, when I was working as an FM D.J., and McClinton was part of a duo named Delbert & Glen. After they split, McClinton's solo albums could always be counted on for quality. But now, over fifty years into his career, he has added something new to the mix, it's jazz and it suits him incredibly well. Thom Jurek from explains how McClinton put together the musicians for this project.
The Self-Made Men are a studio and live group assembled by singer and songwriter Delbert McClinton for his 19th album, 2017's Prick of the Litter. The singer assembled them for the purpose of capturing a softer, jazzier side of his sound, inspired by the tunes and music of Johnny Mercer and Nat King Cole. The core band is comprised of seasoned studio and road veterans. The core of the group includes guitarist Bob Britt, keyboardist Kevin McKendree, bassist Mike Joyce, drummer Jack Bruno, and trumpeter Quentin Ware.
The album opens with "Don't Do It" a track that both rocks and swings with a soulful swagger. The song features guest turns by Lou Ann Barton on vocals and Jimmie Vaughan on guitar. McClinton's voice strikes me as somewhere between Louis Armstrong and Steve Forbert.

I love, love, love the band sound that kicks in on track two, "Doin' What You Do", and continues for the rest of the record. The key is the sound of the electric guitar combined with the keyboard, which in this case is electric piano. The rhythm section is right on time, and with McClinton's endearing vocals in a song that begs to be replayed, this tune (by all rights) ought to be his next Billboard charting single.

Everything I just wrote about track two, also applies to track three, "Middle of Nowhere", except that on this one his voice leans more toward a cross between Forbert and Rod Stewart. It's similarly easy to love "San Miguel"; on this one the vocals remind me of Toy Caldwell singing "This Ol' Cowboy" with the Marshall Tucker Band. "Pulling the Strings" is a slow and bluesy number that opens with the great line, "Life's a bitch but it's so sublime, I'm going nowhere but I'm making good time." McClinton's talky vocal reminds of Mark Knopfler's similar humorous persona ("Hot Or What" from Privateering).

"Neva", another deliciously bluesy jazz number, again with McClinton's talky vocal, reminding this time of Tom Waits at his smoothest. "Waits at his smoothest" is not quite the oxymoron that it may seem. On Waits' soundtrack to One From the Heart, his vocals are very reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, so, if we filter them back through Steve Forbert, we've come full circle.

I've cited quite a few touchstones that come to mind listening to this album, and I haven't even mentioned yet Dan Hicks, Southside Johnny Lyon, or Dr. John. It's not that McClinton sounds specifically like any one of these talents, it's just that the songs are so good, the band is so right, and the vocals are so perfect for this material that they inspire comparisons. Every track on this record is another solid reason to love Prick Of the Litter by Delbert McClinton.

Track List - Click on song name to listen.

01. Don't Do It (feat. Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton)
02. Doin' What You Do
03. Middle of Nowhere
04. Skip Chaser
05. San Miguel
06. Pulling the Strings
07. Neva
08. Like Lovin' Used to Be
09. Jones for You
10. The Hunt Is On
11. Bad Haircut
12. Rosy

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