One great scene in Cameron Crowe’s 1992 love letter to grunge, Singles, perfectly sums up Gerald McClendon‘s Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now, a beautiful collection of soulful rhythm and blues.
In the movie, Steve Dunne, played by Campbell Scott, and Linda Powell, played by Kyra Sedgwick, eye each other from across a loud, crowded rock club. Steve eventually makes his way over to Linda and goes into his pickup sequence:
I saw you standing there so I thought a) I could just leave you alone, b) I could come up with an act, c) I could just be myself. I chose C. What do you think?
Linda pauses to think for a moment before responding, “I think that, a) you have an act, and that, b) not having an act is your act,” leaving Steve to slink off into the crowd. Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now made me think of that exchange, because not having an act is McClendon’s act.
Many contemporary artists rely on twists and hooks to market their music. It makes sense; there’s so much music released each month, and so many ways for listeners to miss it, a certain school of thought seems to recommend doing something to make your music different, like maybe combining soul and distorted guitar, or blues with trombone; just some kind of tweak to make a record stand out. To return to pickup moves for a moment, in Neil Strauss’s 2005 book about the pickup subculture, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, he’s given the tip “dress more outrageously, wear a conversation piece,” to similarly stand out when trying to attract companionship. McClendon transcends that kind of seduction-through-trickery. He does it the old fashioned way, with a voice as thick and as rich as Turkish coffee and charming throwback soul songwriting.
The pickup thread makes sense, because McClendon’s songs lean on the classic soul ingredients of sex, betrayal, danger, all with a wink of humor. “Mr. Wrong,” with its captivating bassline and pretty electric piano, features the narrator negotiating for a night with someone: “Can I be Mr. Wrong tonight / Til Mr. Right comes along.” “Cut You Once,” reminiscent of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing,” has the narrator confronted by the person on whom he’s been cheating, with said person getting the honor of the chorus: “I’m gonna cut you once / And shoot you twice / You better start running for your life.” Lyrically, it’s everything you could ever want in a soul song.
The tracks aren’t all salacious, though, lyrically nor musically. McCLendon has some serious, almost contemplative tracks that are also joyful. For example, “I Think About You” is a slow soul number. Despite the horns and organs, McClendon’s voice is front-and-center, the music respectfully behind him, making for a somber, spiritual performance that has a wonderful split within it: the huge sound of McClendon’s superb band and the intimacy of his vocal performance. But you can truly hear the difference between the two because of the judicious layering of the track. It’s both soul and blues.
Great music is like love and attraction, in that it hits you suddenly and doesn’t necessarily require your brain to process it. Some music needs to be quantified and some music just grabs you. Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now is the latter. This is an album of pure soul that relies on a talented singer who draws you in to every song. His music makes you sway, bop, and, in general, feel alive. Those are timeless traits that always lead to a successful pickup.
Artist: Gerald McClendon
Title: Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now
Label: Delta Roots Records
Release Date: June 12, 2020
Running Time: 45:04
*Feature image courtesy of the artist