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Clay McClinton’s musical roots are firmly planted in the Texas tradition he was born into, where the strains of country, blues, rock and roll, and Tex-Mex all blend effortlessly into a sound some call “Texas Gumbo”. With four solo CDs under his belt, and 10 years of constant touring, Clay has honed a songwriting style that succeeds in being both deeply personal yet universal, and his soul-driven delivery, and genuine presence generates new fans at every show. It’s clear the formative years spent on his father Delbert’s tour bus left their mark—the occasional vocal inflection, or chord change will point back to his dad’s influence, but the many miles under Clay’s own tires have shaped a distinctly individual voice and style.
Clay’s fourth CD, Bitin’ at the Bit (2013) is his most ambitious project to date, and marks his first time working with Grammy award winning producer Gary Nicholson. As a long-time family friend, Nicholson was in a unique position to guide the creation of this CD—his experience, mastery, and vision combined with the familiarity that comes from knowing the artist for decades gives the album a personal quality that distinguishes it from the bins full of interchangeable singer/songwriter efforts. Co-writing with Nicholson, his father, Nashville hitmaker and top studio drummer Tom Hambrdige, and Austin-based performer George Ensle, Clay has assembled a collection of tunes that showcase his range as an artist and writer, but this time, with a deliberate focus on the country side of things. “Country has always been a big part of my music, but I guess since I’ve moved back home to Texas, and living out in Hill Country, it’s more upfront now” Clay tells us.
The disc opens with “Wildflowers”, a hard-driving tribute to two well-loved Texas features—seasonal wildflowers and beautiful women, while “The Sound Of A Small Town” gently reminds us of the fading simplicity of small town life. The blues/rock shuffle “Nobody Knows My Baby” is a love song with an upbeat groove, and catchy sing-a-long hook. On the country side of things, “Hydrated” is a romping two-stepper that extols the benefits of a well-balanced fluid intake, while “Victim Of Life’s Circumstances” is a re-working of the title track from Delbert McClinton’s 1975 debut album for ABC. “Stories We Could Tell” is a revved up rocker that laughs at the misfortunes of life on the road. The contemplative “Bound For Glory” is a heartfelt tribute to the great Woody Guthrie, and the emotional, and dynamic performance is a journey unto itself. In the form of a classic country waltz, “A Woman That Can’t Be Explained” plaintively explores the quixotic realm of the feminine psyche. Stretching out a bit as an artist, Clay included a few inspired covers on this CD, one of them the bluegrass classic “Poison Love”. Taking a cue from the Doug Sahm version, the track gets the full Tex-Mex treatment with an appearance by Grammy-winning accordionist Joel Guzman. “What A Little Bit Of Love Can Do” was co-written by Nicholson and legendary Austin songsmith Stephen Bruton. Originally sung by Jeff Bridges in the film Crazy Heart, Clay redefines the tune with a San Antone-like feel and a heart-felt performance. Though not intentional, another “Big Lebowski connection” on the CD is Clay’s cover of the 60s hit “Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In”. A mainstay of McClinton’s live show, the tune received a total makeover in the studio, adding several elements from the groovy Kenny Rogers & The First Edition arrangement. In addition to Guzman, Bitin’ at the Bit also features instrumental contributions from some of Nashville’s top players including guitar wizards Kenny Vaughan, Dan Dugmore, and Colin Linden, percussion powerhouses Lynn Williams, and Tom Hambridge, bassist Steve Mackay, as well as the work of regular touring band members Jon Sanchez on guitar and Ed Friedland on bass.
Behind the recording of Bitin’ at the Bit lies a true modern-day success story. As an independent artist, McClinton needed to raise the funds on his own, and the plan to step up the level of production for his fourth CD meant higher costs than his previous records. Clay took a chance and put together an online Kickstarter campaign where fans could donate to the project, and within the span of a month and a half, they surpassed the goal for the project. While still a modest sum compared to major label budgets, it represents a healthy chunk of change for an independent artist. As a result, Bitin’ at the Bit represents a new level of production value for McClinton, and everything from the sound of the record to the top-notch performances is living proof that the money was well spent.
With a rocking 5-piece band featuring some of Austin’s top players and a brand new CD out, McClinton has been taking the stage at festivals, concert halls and clubs from Colorado to Finland, playing with fire and honesty, leaving no doubt that he’s got his own thing going on.