A little soul was needed for everyone Friday night, as the threat of soggy weather loomed over everyone’s heads. Sam McClain, a Louisiana native who now makes his home in New Hampshire, asked those gathered to hear him to help him pray for the rain to stay away. Despite everyone’s best efforts, that didn’t quite pan out — which was all the more reason to celebrate that much more during his performance that evening.
McClain got his start touring the Southern circuit during the 1960s. His contemporaries, including Al Green and Sam Cooke, saw more success, but McClain never caught on. But no matter, as he now is receiving his due as one of the great soul singers of his generation. A six-piece band, composed of a killer horn section, a keyboard player (playing a Hammond B3 with a Leslie cabinet, no less), and a mean drummer and bassist, played McClain on, in true soul singer fashion: The band gets it started, then the singer comes to take it to the next level. That’s how a professional does it, and that’s what McClain is.
Great soul music is all about big things — love, pain, loneliness, joy and God — distilled into the smallest of emotions. And as a great soul singer, McClain sang about all of that. When he sang about sadness, you felt sad. When he was joyful, you raised the roof. And when he sang about love, well, all the couples on the floor got a little bit closer.
McClain played mostly originals, excepting a fiery take on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” His song “New Man in Town,” featured on the TV show “Ally McBeal,” was a show-stopper, combining all those wonderful elements of soul music: sharp, symphathetic horns, a mean rhythm section and one big, beautiful voice. Everyone needs a little soul now and again. And everyone at the American Folk Festival on Friday night got just that.