CD Reviews for 08/26/05 – McClinton,Bruton,Hiatt,Cooper by Dan Ferguson

Have to say that if I had to pick an independent label that’s making the majors nervous, it has to be New West Records. The onslaught of Americana and roots releases from the label continues with new albums from three of the finest in the business in Delbert McClinton, John Hiatt, and Stephen Bruton. The label also pulls one out of left field with the New West debut of the one and only Alice Cooper called Dirty Diamonds. We shine the spotlight on each of these this week.

Delbert McClinton
Cost of Living
New West NW6079

Riding higher than ever in what could be considered the twilight of his career, I hear lots of people say that Delbert McClinton would be nowhere without Don Imus steadily plugging each of his new releases on his nationally syndicated radio program. Whereas a little free publicity of that type certainly can’t hurt, if you don’t have the talent and the chops to back it up, all the kudos in the world can’t help you. When it comes to Delbert McClinton, we’re talking chops to spare and his latest release called Cost of Living just may be the most complete first-track-to-last album he’s made. A honky tonk roadhouse vet who has paid his dues time and again, that signature Southern vibe is all over the Cost of Living. Call it a gumbo of R&B, blues, country and rock, not far removed from McClinton’s sweaty live shows. Musically speaking, Cost of Living takes the listener on a journey to those Southern outposts that have most influenced McClinton’s own sound since the dawning of a career where way back in the early 1960s he tutored John Lennon on how to play the harp. McClinton co-wrote all but one song on the 13-track Cost of Living with the lone exception a cover of bluesman Jimmy Reed’s “I’ll Change My Style”. The album begins appropriately enough with a supple dose of New Orleans thanks to the rhythmic shake and bake of “One of the Fortunate Few”. It leads things off in party style. From there it’s into the down and soulful twang of “Right To Be Wrong”. “I’ll Change My Ways” is pure crawfish circuit swamp pop, triplets and all, while “Dead Wrong” is riff-rockin’ goodness and “Two Step Too” a dose of down home Louisiana through and through. “Down Into Mexico” adds a border tinge to the proceedings and could be classified as McClinton’s own “Streets of Laredo” while “Kiss Her Once For Me” with its fiddle and steel guitar is as pretty a country ballad as he has ever recorded. In short, the looks are plenty on Cost of Living with nary a misstep. McClinton’s distinctive rasp sounds as fine and soulful as ever and his backing band in lockstep with the multi-flavored approach. If Cost of Living proves anything, it’s that Delbert McClinton is getting better with age. Recommended. (New West Records, 9215 Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90212, or

John Hiatt
Master of Disaster
New West NW6076

I’ve got to confess that over the course of his last few releases, I thought the music and songs of singer/songwriter John Hiatt had begun to lose their vigor tending towards the stale side of things. That all changes with Hiatt’s second longplayer for New West Records called Master of Disaster. On it he cooks up a soulful roots rock stew under the watchful eye of legendary producer Jim Dickinson. For this album, gone is Hiatt’s regular band The Goners and in its place Southern-fried blues rockers the North Mississippi All-Stars of which two of its members, Cody and Luther Dickinson, are the sons of Mr. Dickinson. Joining the All-Stars is Muscle Shoals session ace David Hood on the bass. With all the new surroundings, Hiatt sounds as invigorated as ever delivering an album that can stand toe to toe with some of his best work, namely the 1987 release Bring The Family and 1988’s Slow Turning. Master Of Disaster is an album mired in the spirit and groove of Memphis, which is completely in keeping with producer Dickinson who calls the city home and does much of his production work out of that town. Influences span the complete palate of American roots music from the title cut which kicks things off in rocking fashion to the folk blues of “Wintertime Blues” to the country strands of “Old School” to the beauty in the sparseness and simplicity of “Cold River” to the total soul of “Find You At Last”. Hiatt’s unique rasp finds it place time and again no matter the style with the North Mississippi All-Stars backing him like they’ve been with him for eternity. Not that John Hiatt ever left the music world, but here’s a nomination for Master Of Disaster as comeback album of the year.

John Hiatt performs at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston on August 30.

Stephen Bruton
From the Five
New West NW6077

Singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Stephen Bruton may be the least known of this week’s Compact Capsule artists, but he’s arguably logged more miles as sideman, bandleader, and producer than any of our entries. A Texas native who has called Austin home for the last 20 years, Bruton learned about music at an early age thanks to his dad who ran a record store in Fort Worth as well as playing drums in a jazz band. The sum total exposed Bruton to a bounty of sounds from jazz to blues to country to pop to classical. The 1960s found him playing music and hanging with pals like T-Bone Burnett and Delbert McClinton. His break came in 1970 when in New York City to catch friend Kris Kristofferson play a gig, he invited Bruton to play lead guitar in his band which he accepted. At the time Kristofferson was on the verge of greatness. Bruton would spend a good chunk of the next two decades working for Kristofferson, not to mention touring with Bonnie Raitt. He’d begin producing records in the mid 1980s with credits to date including albums from Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marcia Ball, Alejandro Escovedo, Hal Ketchum, and Chris Smither. He’d release his first solo album, What It Is, in 1993 for a small Austin label. Suddenly Bruton was receiving attention for his own work and particularly, his songs, which have since been covered by folks like Raitt, Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Patty Loveless, Jimmy Buffett, and Martina McBride. From The Five is Bruton’s fifth solo longplayer and is a characteristic blend of contemporary blues rockers with the occasional introspective moments which also more often than not draw from the blues. Over the course of each of his solo releases, the seasoned professional Bruton has always demonstrated an uncanny ear for melody and a good hook, not to mention the ability to turn a phrase. From The Five stays the course and is one good listen.

Alice Cooper
Dirty Diamonds
New West NW6078

What with a roster that includes the likes of McClinton, Hiatt, Dwight Yoakam, The Flatlanders, and Old 97s, when the new release from Alice Cooper showed up in the mail brandishing the New West Records imprint, let’s just say I was a bit surprised. Still rocking hard, a once through of this debut for New West called Dirty Diamonds had me feeling 18 again. The songs are a free for all bunch with the female persuasion providing the fodder for the first four cuts each of which come off as prototypical Cooper in all his feistiness. Never afraid to push the envelope, he does exactly that on tracks like “The Saga of Jesse Jane” all about a cross-dressing cat jailed in a Texas town and “Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)” on which he takes aim at the Paris Hilton’s of the world. Here’s thinking Cooper fans will find much to their liking on Dirty Diamonds.