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Gerald McClendon - Let's Have A Party!

Release date: June 25, 2021

Delta Roots Records

By Jeff Johnson

The intersection of Soul and Blues can be a desolate one for Chicago musicians. The larger local record labels tend to avoid the entire neighborhood, while the club scene caters largely to white, suburban audiences and tourists; guitar and harmonica pyrotechnicians are showcased more than powerhouse vocalists who can channel their inner Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett..

Chicago-born singer Gerald McClendon, a.ka. “The Soul Keeper,” has spent most of his lengthy career in semi-obscurity working under these constraints, but he’s hit on a viable vehicle thanks to his partnership with Twist Turner, a blues entrepreneur who seems to get the idea that a great tune and a well-crafted album can overcome most commercial considerations. The collaboration was in full flower with 2020’s Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now, and now the pair strike back quickly with the new Let’s Have a Party!, with the title track serving as a nod to Sam Cooke.

McClendon provides his mighty voice, while Turner records at Chicago’s Delta Roots Sound Studios, where he reigns over his own domain. Turner also wrote all 12 songs on Let’s Have a Party!, plays drums on every track and provides string accompaniments for a couple of numbers. Some 15 top-notch musicians from Chicago and beyond come along for the ride, which can be alternately smooth and soulful, pumped up and funky, straight from the broken heart of bluesville or a classic reproduction of ‘60s R&B.

Sure, there are plenty of “she-done-me-wrong” songs, along with anthemic statements of empowerment and good-timey declarations. But with Turner’s introspective lyrics and McClendon’s gruff yet plaintive interpretations, there’s always a hint of some deeper driving force. On “I Just Can’t Help Myself,” McClendon confesses to his prospective lover that he’s going to hurt his wife and family with his cheating, but the pain so eclipses any potential pleasure that you feel almost as sorry for the singer as he does for himself. “My mind says no but my body says yes,” McClendon laments. His problems don’t end there. On “If It Ain’t the Blues,” he’s losing a fine home and a Cadillac to the repo man, and on “Pack Your Bags and Go,” he’s found another man’s shorts at his bedside and detected a strange scent of cologne on his woman. This is a guy who can’t seem to catch a break, to the point that even the upbeat title track has an underlying sense of sadness.

The musicianship is inspired throughout, notably Joe Burba’s fretwork on most of the lead guitar parts and Rico McFarland’s solos on “I Just Can’t Help Myself” and two other numbers. Jim Pugh on Hammond B-3 and Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi on the Fender Rhodes blend seamlessly on “Throw This Dog a Bone.” Saxophonist Skinny Williams and bassist Johnny B. Gayden also have their special moments.

Maybe it shouldn’t matter whether this material finds widespread acclaim, but it’s just too satisfying to remain in the shadows. Chicago, here’s your blues with a different twist.

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