Phoenix Blues Society-Bluesbytes

Big Dave McLean has been the heart and soul of the Winnipeg blues scene, dating back to the late 60’s/early 70’s, influencing many of the artists from the area, including Colin James.  His ragged but right guitar work, harmonica, and gruff vocals are perfectly suited for old school, down-home blues.  McLean has recorded rather sparingly over his lengthy career, but recently signed with Black Hen Music to release his seventh album, Faded But Not Gone, which finds the legendary artist joining forces with label mate and guitarist extraordinaire Steve Dawson, who produced the session in Nashville, TN.

The dozen tracks on the new disc include five McLean originals and seven covers, and he’s backed by a formidable band which includes Kevin McKendree (keyboards), John Dymond (bass), and Gary Craig (drums), with guest appearances by James, Colin Linden, and The McCrary Sisters.  McLean’s mother and brother passed away just before sessions began for this album, so you can feel the ache, sense of loss, and healing on every track.

McLean’s originals include the autobiographical “I Best Choose To Sing The Blues,” which features Linden on slide guitar and Dawson on lap steel. “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even,” “Shades of Grace,” a poignant tribute to his mother who sang “Amazing Grace” to him as a child, and “The Fallen,” a stunning piece written for his brother, who had passed away the week before it was recorded.  He also covers tunes by Skip James (a powerful solo reading of “Devil Got My Woman”), Ray LaMontagne (a funky version of “Devil’s In The Jukebox”) , The Wood Brothers (“One More Day”), Tom Waits (“Mr. Siegal”), and Tampa Red (a spot-on “Dead Cat On The Line,” with mandolin from James).

McLean shines on guitar and harmonica, and his gravelly vocals are just what the doctor ordered.  Dawson provides his usual spirited support on a number of stringed instruments (National steel, lap steel, pedal steel, banjo, acoustic and electric guitar, Weissenborn) as well as organ.  Their efforts make the entire album a pleasure to listen to.  Faded But Not Gone shows why Big Dave McLean is such a big deal in Canada, and why he should be a big deal everywhere.