July 2000

Mighty Sam McClain - Blues for the Soul
Telarc CD-83487
Released: 2000

by Todd Warnke

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]The album title says blues and soul, but the real message is pure gospel. And what a fully conceived and powerfully delivered message it is. McClain has shown great taste in cover tunes on his previous albums (Carlene Carter, Al Green), but here we get his complete vision as half the 12 tunes are written by Mighty Sam alone, while the others are co-written with bandmates, or, on "Battlefield of Love," with his wife, Sandra. And each track is a different take on the importance of love and God.

I know, you read "love and God" and thought Al Green. Think again. And don’t think Al clone, because Mighty Sam is carving out his own space. In Green’s world, love and God are two separate things that often are joined, while in Mighty Sam’s they are different facets of the same idea. So when McClain sings a song to his woman, he sings to her about God. The result is less steamy than an Al Green song, but no less heartfelt.

That heartfelt need to share his feelings about God and our obligation to love each other are the roots of every song. On the album’s centerpiece, the almost-eight-minute "Jesus Got The Blues," when McClain sings about his father’s pain when he hears us say "he don’t even exist," the ache is palpable, as is McClain’s devotion. "Dark Side of the Street" is a plea for understanding, while "Battlefiled of Love" is a reminder that to love is not the easy choice. But the best and purest distillation of Mighty Sam’s message is the chorus from "Love One Another," which simply states that, "We got to love one another, even when we got the blues."

Musically, McClain plays the Saturday-night sound and Sunday-morning lyrical juxtaposition perfectly. The "Mighty Horns," Walter Platt and Joe Casano on trumpet, Chuck Langford on tenor and Kenny Wenzel on trombone, play on all 12 tracks. Their tight, light-heavyweight punch provide the call-and-response choir. Bruce Katz plays piano on all tracks except for "Battlefield of Love," where he jumps to the B-3. Barry Seleen adds B-3 elsewhere. Tim Ingles marks time on bass, while Jim Arnold provides a steady hand on drums. But the centerpiece is Mighty Sam’s vocals, which are laid out not with the simple faith of the untested, but with the power, the majesty and the humility of true and tested belief.

This powerhouse album of soul and gospel is essential music. Believer or not, when Mighty Sam sings, the message is universal.