The Flame Still Burns
In the world of blues music there are the low-down blues, the dirty blues, even the downright funny blues. On his latest release Big Dave McLean kicks off the album with what could be best described as “the snarling pissed-off blues.” On the lead track “Tough Times,” McLean is unemployed. Is he depressed? Damn straight, and he’s gonna get in somebody’s face about it. He isn’t singing in the voice of a man resigned to his situation. No, he rails against it with the rage of one about to go postal. Time to lock the door and call in the dogs.
“Tough Times’ begins with the melody of an old gospel song, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” before launching into a vocal assault that could best be decided as a roar. This is the voice of a man you want to avoid at all costs. You sure don’t want to ask how he is doing, because he is going to tell you in no uncertain terms. And that is what makes this record so enjoyable.
McLean, whose voice at times sounds like a dump truck full of gravel and broken glass, and at other times like a wounded animal, is a load of fun. The overall tone of the album is what I would call porch music, and I mean that as a compliment. “Dead Cat on The Line” is a genial toe tapper, country blues at its best. I can hear Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry doing this one, grinning from ear to ear. The resonator, mandolin, banjo, and brushed drums add an almost rag time feel to the song, one that merits the “repeat” button on the CD player.
McLean does a fine cover of Ray LaMontagne’s “Devil’s in the Jukebox," from LaMontagne’s Pariah Dogs record. On “The Fallen,” a McLean original, Big Dave sounds wounded and weary, but the edginess in his voice keeps the vulnerability in his delivery from turning saccharine. A weeping pedal steel adds a haunting backdrop that McLean uses to great effect.
The devil, long a bane to man’s existence, and a frequent guest star in many a blues song, reappears on the closing track. To finish out the record McLean covers Skip James “Devil Got My Woman,” and we know that song all too well, don’t we? McLean reminds us anyway, and the result is a great time. This record goes really well with a rocking chair, a glass of whiskey, and an afternoon of nothing else to do.