Starting A Rumor

The two best Bonnie Raitt albums were produced by Don Was.

My favorite is the second, "Give It Up", released in 1972, it’s got an intimacy that was squeezed out of recordings thereafter.  Slick became the norm.  Rough edges denied you airplay.  Just like you had to be beautiful to get on MTV, your music had to sound like it was fashioned by a machine.  What finally blew up Bonnie Raitt was the humanity of "Nick Of Time".  But the piece de resistance was the follow-up, "Luck Of The Draw".  "Something To Talk About" was the hit.  "I Can’t Make You Love Me" became the standard.  But the heart of the album is track 7, "One Part Be My Lover", cowritten by Bonnie and her then husband, Michael O’Keefe.  There’s an intimacy in the track, like you’ve just woken up your lover in the middle of the night.  Not made for the masses, deeply personal, it ends up being universal. As for the lyric…  Maybe you married your high school sweetheart, maybe you’ve never known troubled love, but experience enough relationships and you run into people with problems your parents never told you about.  How can they love you and tell you they can’t live without you, but then leave you?  I used to say my favorite Raitt track was "Too Long At The Fair", but "One Part Be My Lover" eclipsed it.  And then there’s the album’s title track, "Luck Of The Draw".  Maybe you went to graduate school, maybe you’re a professional, you bought insurance and are living off the proceeds.  But for those of us who decided on a different path, we know dead-ends you’re unaware of.  Sure, we’ve got highs that have been extinguished from your dreams, but the whipsaw of emotions, from the victories to the losses, takes an extreme toll.  Yet, we still keep on keepin’ on.  "Luck Of The Draw" is about just this.

I didn’t expect Delbert McClinton’s new record to be good.  I figured one listen at most.  Because not only have my heroes disappointed me, I haven’t loved anything Delbert has done since he worked with the Muscle Shoals players, released music on their long defunct label, decades ago.  But I was curious, because of my relationship with Don Was.  I told him I’d check it out.  Didn’t tell him to have the company send me a CD, or to e-mail me a track, I’ve got Rhapsody, Napster, Spotify…I live in an attention economy, the key isn’t to sell me something, but to get me to pay attention to something.

I found "Acquired Taste" with a bit of research.  At this point, Rhapsody has better inventory than Napster, but at least Napster lists albums in order of release.  Delbert’s new album was atop the list.  I clicked to play it now, and went about my business.  The raucous opening cut sounded like Delbert McClinton, the Texan that the Englishmen fell in love with, but barely tuned in, catching up on e-mail, I wasn’t prepared for what came next.  An intro sound straight off of those twenty year old Bonnie Raitt albums.  Soulful, like someone lived here, that we don’t exist in a world inhabited by machines.  Then came Delbert’s voice.  Like honey dripping on your tongue, I was immediately enraptured.

This is not music the major labels sign, nor know what to do with.  This is the music that made the medium number one in the public’s heart back in the seventies.  In a track you could find humanity, honesty, truth, you had to buy the records to know what was going on, not only in the world, but inside yourself.

For the last few decades we’ve listened to music thinking about marketability.  Where could we expose it, where could we sell it.  And wanting the widest audience, we ended up with the most homogenous music, it meant nothing, if you wanted truth, you tuned in HBO.

But "Starting A Rumor" reclaims what once was.  Put it on, and even though you might be alone in the house, you feel warm, wrapped up in a blanket, part of something, connected with the singer, the song and society.

I could go on, describing it, but just listen.  If you were around back then, you’ll get it.

Meanwhile, even more fascinating is this YouTube clip from something called Dayton RiverBlast.  With people speaking in the background, Delbert does a killer version despite so many not paying attention.  This is the life of a musician.  Believing in yourself, your material, not letting the audience, the response, get you down.  Delbert looks like your next door neighbor, a guy just emerged from his pickup truck, overheated, going inside to down a few beers.  But underneath it all, is years of experience, talent, he delivers, more than Madonna ever could.  It’s not about outfits, it’s about the music, how it touches you.

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