The title to Mighty Sam McClain's latest CD, Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey), is an internal irony explained by the wry observation that, once he'd foresaken alcoholism and adopted Christianity, he, like most newly minted advocates, pushed the religious line too hard and estranged friends. He should've, he more or less now muses, shared a shot or two along with quotes from the Gospels…not that he would drink again, y'unnerstan', he was done with that, but I can just picture the self-effacing grin worn while he referred to the problem. So, is this a Christian album? Yeah, it partly is and partly isn't. Does that create problems? No, and here's why:
When I last year excoriated Mike Scott for his religious abnegationism (here), the complaint was over a completely unnecessary mewling offer of subjugation that has nothing to do with Jesus or his works, a master/slave situation the Christ would've completely repudiated. Scott's sentiment was just so lavishly Stockholm Syndromed that it was impossible for the listener to bear up under lest he or she were similarly crucified. McClain takes the path of gratitude instead, and that's 100% Christ-ian. Rather than fall under the thrall of the grossly perverted bulk of Christianity that I and a few others call Constantinianism, he was instead released from the slavery of alcoholism and is humbled and thankful for that. This rather large chasm between a mindless yearning for chains and the gratitude at being relieved of same makes all the difference in the world. McClain harbors the same sort of sentiment we heard in Danny Brooks' spectacular No Easy Way Out (here), and hellfire, y'all, atheist or otherwise, I loves me a good Jesus song (the guy was, after all, along with Socrates, one of the West's prime anarchists).
That said, this is a highly soulified blues/R&B CD, kind of a cross between Solomon Burke, Robert Cray, Barry White done right, Bobby Blue Bland, and others. The opener, I Wish You Well has a reggae'd Taj Mahal feel to it, and Can You Feel It? is a righteously Sly Stoned-out funkrock number that'll have you out of your chair and shakin' the shake all around the living room (and, whoo-ee!, those sweet sweet background vocals by Concetta are perfect all the way through the disc). It's followed by a horns-dominated Feel So Good—Feel So Right, pure dripping soul with a lead line by guitarist Pat Herlehy that's terse, lilting, and alive with note for note conviction.
Rock My Soul, on the other hand, is much too spare and falls flat, as though it were rushed through both the writing and recording stages. It lacks the lushness the rest of Too Much possesses, and luckily, it's the collection's only downpoint. Tears, on the other hand, is a cross between Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man period and Lonnie Liston Smith's atmospheric tropicality, here masterfully stripped down to essentials but redolent of lonely spaces and sentiment. Beautiful song, lachrymose but charged up with deeply felt conflicting emotions. Y'know, 'soul' isn't normally one of my languages. Womack? Ashford & Simpson? Even the Brothers Johnson. Eh! Sorry but no cigar. But this? I get along with this reeeeeeeeal easy.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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