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Mighty Sam McClain - Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey)

14 Tracks; 48:27

Mighty Sam McClain was born in Monroe, Louisiana and began singing with his mother’s gospel group. Sam hit the road as a teenager to escape his abusive stepfather and toured on the infamous “Chitlin Circuit.” In the mid to late 1960’s Sam worked in Muscle Shoals, Nashville and New Orleans with artists like the Neville Brothers and Wayne Bennett. Mighty Sam McClain even had a surprise R&B hit with a soulful rendition of Patsy Cline’s classic “Sweet Dreams.” His career never really took off after that but he never left music behind. By the late 80’s he had relocated to New England and got involved with the recording of Hubert Sumlin’s Blues Party album on Black Top Records. His work led to a recording deal and Sam hasn’t looked back since, recording and touring consistently and collecting accolades for his work.

Mighty Sam McClain has been described as “America’s best purveyor of red clay soul-blues” and he brings his considerable talents to bear on his new disc Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey). The title comes from Sam’s realization that once he stopped drinking a lot of people stopped coming around. Sam says “It came to me like a light out of darkness – I’m not drinking anymore and I’m sharing with folks how I was helped by my faith to stop. That is how the title came to be called Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey). In my excitement, I may have brought too much Jesus to the party for some folks!”

It should be mentioned that Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey) is not a blues album. If it was, there would definitely be too much Jesus. This is a gospel/soul album that dabbles in funk and blues. Not that it’s a bad thing; the songwriting is tremendous and the delivery from Mighty Sam and the band is impeccable. If he sought to inspire, then his divine mission has been accomplished. Sam’s words tell stories, his delivery evokes deep emotion and his long time friend and collaborator Pat Herlehy finds music perfectly suited to Mighty Sam’s words.

The disc starts off with one of the most positive post break-up songs ever committed to tape: “I Wish You Well.” Sam has broken up with the lady in question but wants the best for her and pleads for the erstwhile couple to keep love in their hearts. Scott Shetler’s saxophone wraps itself around the melody and underscores Mighty Sam’s passionate pleas. “Missing You” is a slow jam that features Pat Herlehy’s bent note guitar lines crying out as Sam prays for God to help him get through missing you. “Can You Feel It” is another overtly religious track, which is ironic since the low down funk and ripping guitars will surely make you want to do the Devil’s work.

The title song starts off with a string arrangement that almost sounds Beatlesque but it soon gives way to a smooth jazz, soul production complete with Wes Montgomery style octave playing from Herlehy as Mighty Sam explains the necessity of too much Jesus. The album closes with another funk workout called simply “Dance.” Mighty Sam wants you to express your joy through prayer and dancing. Prayer and dancing seem to be the unifying theme of Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey), which features syncopated beats, pulsing horns, and frisky keyboards on several tunes. Mighty Sam has found joy through God and music and it seems the best way for him to express it is by extolling the virtues of spiritual movement. It’s not about lust or bumping body parts on the dance floor. It’s about unleashing the inner joy and allowing the energy to make your body move. Mighty Sam may have invented a new sub-genre: Gospel Funk. Just don’t do the nasty; keep it classy.

For better or worse, gospel and soul music is now covered by the Blues umbrella. It shares common antecedents for sure but they took diverging paths years ago. Anybody remember when the blues was Devil’s music? Sure you do. However, Mighty Sam McClain is a talented musician and deserves to be heard. Sadly, modern R&B is dominated by soulless producer-created acts that fail to realize soul isn’t found in auto-tuned perfect pitches and digitally controlled beats. Mighty Sam knows soul is found between the beats, in the breaths before a line is sung, and in an occasional cracking voice or spontaneous laugh. It’s about unleashing your imperfections and standing your ground. It’s from the heart and it’s rarely perfect; it fits right in with the blues, back where it all began. It might be Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey) for some, but for many of us it will be just right. Somebody get me a shot.

Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit


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