Release date: January 1, 2022
By Linda Cain
Chicago singer Gerald McClendon is known as “The Soul Keeper” for good reason. His dynamic, exhilarating live performances pay tribute to the storied Stax/Volt Memphis Soul catalogue; the versatile tenor can shake your soul and your tail feathers with his spot-on, sweat-inducing renditions of classics by Otis Redding, Al Green, Wilson Picket, Eddie Floyd and more. No dance floor will remain empty when McClendon’s on stage.
But McClendon’s talent doesn’t stop there; he can croon a swingin’ Sinatra jazz standard, soothe you with a romantic Sam Cooke ballad or bring the blues with a B.B. King number. This is a man who can sing the phone book and make it sound great. His newest release (and second collaboration), with partner and sax man extraordinaire Vince Salerno, is further proof of McClendon’s seemingly limitless range.
Salerno is best known as a top call sax player and blues harp blower who can be seen regularly with the Rhythm Rockets, Chicago’s perennially popular swing/jump blues/big band. He’s also gigged with Vanessa Davis Band, Liz Mandeville, Pocketwatch Paul and many others. Salerno stepped out from his 35-plus years as a sideman to make his recording debut as a bandleader with 2019’s Grabbing the Blues by the Horns, featuring McClendon on vocals. The album showcased his versatile style from a funky Earl King cover to the solid blues of Billy Boy Arnold to original instrumentals and covers of hip jazz standards.
The appropriately titled Blues From All Points expands Salerno and McClendon’s musical horizons even further. From Louisiana zydeco to Memphis soul, jazzy instrumentals, swinging Texas blues, Chicago blues, and Stones-like rockers, the CD offers something for all tastes and moods.
A true team effort, McClendon and Salerno recruited some of Chicago’s top talent during some of the pandemic’s darkest days in 2020 to hit the studio. Thomas Klein, who serves as McClendon’s guitarist on stage, produced the sophomore effort which includes venerable jazz players Thomas Linsk (piano, organ, accordion), Michael P. Fiorino (bass) and Chuck Schwartz (drums), who comprise the Thomas Linsk Trio. Ace trumpeter Ron Haynes (Liquid Soul, Rick King’s Royal Hustle and more) contributed his playing and arranging talents; Ellis Clark added his tasty percussion skills as well. Chicago Blues Guide contributors Bill Dahl wrote the liner notes, and Kate Moss designed the CD jacket and graphics.
Blues From All Points kicks off with some Memphis soul -- a smokin’ hot, horn blasting Junior Parker number “Hip City” -- featuring Salerno’s squealing sax and McClendon’s powerful voice beckoning us to work it like James Brown and hit the dance floor.
Then it’s down to New Orleans for a Klein/McClendon original, “Antidote For Love,” on which McClendon wails and moans “kill me with love” about a failed romance; yet the music is fun-loving as Salerno’s tenor grabs on and the syncopated rhythms won’t let go. There’s no antidote for irresistible songs like this.
The lively Louisiana beats continue with Clifton Chenier’s “Ay-Tete Fee”’ as McClendon shouts out to his baby with Creole passion and Linsk rocks out on accordion for this Bayou stomper.
The smoky ambience of the “Do Drop Inn” will draw you inside its doors with this tale of “fun, whiskey and sin” along with the promise of sleazy romance. Linsk’s swirling organ, Salerno’s killer sax solo, along with a taste of the Stone’s “Brown Sugar” riff on the chorus, serve as the soundtrack for this mysterious dive bar. “Was it all a dream or was it real?” McClendon wonders, as the song closes with a dreamy Salerno flute solo, reminiscent of Eric Burdon & War’s trippy classic “Spill The Wine.”
Klein gets to show off his swinging Texas string-bending guitar style on T-Bone Walker’s “Street Walking Woman” as Salerno blows low down sax and McClendon professes his lust for this loose lady.
Chicago blues gets a big bold treatment with Elmore James’ “Highway 49”; McClendon belts it out with gusto as Salerno trades his tenor for the Mississippi saxophone and commences to duet with Klein’s slippery slide guitar, while accompanied by a bouncy piano and shufflin’ rhythm section.
“Flame to Ash,” an original rocker by Klein/Clark, is served up in ballsy, bluesy rock’n’roll fashion that recalls Bob Seger. McClendon’s vocal range is on full display as he belts out the low and high notes while Salerno wails on blues harp and the rhythm section pumps it out.
Blues From All Points includes four impressive instrumentals that are oh so nice on the ears:
Coltrane’s jazzy, upbeat “Bessie’s Blues” features swingin’ solos by each band member, as Salerno switches to honkin’ baritone sax for this one. Junior Walker’s “Cleo’s Mood” has Salerno back on note-scaling tenor with Linsk on swirling Memphis organ to serve up this groovy, funky delight. “Harpacordia,” by Salerno/Linsk, features a uniquely captivating harmonica and accordion duet that totally jams out on this swampy, upbeat shuffle.
“Blues and Trouble” penned by Salerno is an ensemble piece with Salerno’s soulful blues harp duetting with himself on baritone sax! McClendon sings about his woes, with help from “black coffee and whiskey” to get him through the night. Klein’s expressive guitar and Linsk’s tasty piano solo round out this bouncy shuffle to bring the 11-track album to a close.
Blues From All Points was recorded when live music was shut down and the musicians desperately needed an outlet. They created a set of kick-butt tunes in the studio that absolutely must be played live in front of an audience. We hope to see them strut their stuff and perform these great new songs in person soon!
To listen and buy the music: https://www.pravdamusic.com/latest-releases